Depression many times is caused when people will imagine that they have not achieved what was in their ability. They bring a proof from other people who they claim have achieved more in their life or in a certain area but they maintain that they are no different than themselves. The depression is caused by a lack of worth when compared to these other individuals.
The famous psychologist Carl Rogers[i] wrote about when a person becomes depressed and lays out a possible reason for the feeling. Rogers talks about the “ideal self” (who they would like to be) which is not in harmony with their actual behaviour (self image). The lack of inner harmony causes feelings and thoughts of depression, denial and sometimes anger.
Rogers does not write about the different potentials which people have and how we are born with different abilities. This is a fundamental point discussed by the Rambam[ii] who explains that we need to be aware of the intrinsic differences which exist between people from the time they are born. When an individual stops wanting to be someone who they cannot be then they can start to feel happy about being themselves.
When an individual will try to imitate someone who they feel is similar to themselves then they might not even reach their own potential. If someone wants to become an Einstein and figure out new concepts in physics they need to have that potential within themselves. If they are better at being social and helping people (in this specific case having no aptitude in maths) then they will be wasting their potential and time if they try and imitate Einstein. It is also quite likely that they will become depressed because of their feeling of a lack of achievement because the scientific world does not take their ideas seriously.
Even when someone is good at physics, it might not be within their potential to reach the depth of Einstein. Nevertheless, with their teaching skills they might be able to reach students whom Einstein did not have the ability to teach his theories. The truth is that each person has a unique quality which needs to be recognised and then utilised. If a person does not recognise their own potential then it is likely that they will become depressed from a feeling of a lack of achievement.
This is all reflected in a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov (Kesser Shem Tov teaching,4):
Everyone needs to act according to their potential, which is not the case with one who tries to grasp the level of his friend (who has a different potential), he will not achieve his or his friend’s level. This is what is meant (by the statement in the Talmud) that[iii] many tried to be like the Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi) but they did not achieve to become like him. This means that they were not on the level of the Rashbi but they nevertheless tried to become like him, thinking that he was on a certain level (which he was not but he was in fact much greater) and this is why they did not achieve to be like him.
In situations when a person suffers from depression it is important to reach out and find an experienced Jewish orthodox therapist who could help the individual find inner peace. This is not necessarily an easy task and should only be tried by qualified therapist who can use the appropriate therapeutic tools to help.
Yitzchok Kaye BA, Pg. Dip., Msc is a trained, qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who also specializes in other therapies. He helps individuals and couples with their challenges and issues. He has been a practising therapist for a number of Counselling Organisations but now has his own private practice. He is available around the world via Skype. He can be contacted at Yitzkaye@gmail.com
The above article is a general structure for people but for specific problems a qualified therapist should be consulted.
We look at other people within a framework of how we perceive the world and what we think they can achieve. What we think though is not necessarily the true reality as we cannot see what potential the other person really can achieve.
The person they are trying to imitate might actualising their full potential, refining their personality and being the best they can be
[i] Rogers, C (1959) On Becoming a Person – A Psychotherapists view of Psychotherapy