A key component of depression is feeling significantly sad and down. As such, if you have been smiling often, other people may not have suspected that you may be struggling with depression— and you may not have realized it, either.
Even if you have been smiling and acting cheerful, have you also been feeling exhausted, perhaps from keeping up appearances, or from avoiding your more difficult emotions?
It is important to be honest with yourself and assess whether or not you may be battling depression, so that you can address it sooner and seek proper help.
This article is not intended to diagnose or self-treat. Please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional if you are struggling.
Here are 6 signs you’re smiling through the pain (hidden depression).
1. Destructive Perfectionism
Some people make the mistake of assuming that because a person appears put-together, they are not struggling on the inside. Have you been dressing and grooming yourself to perfection? Have you been pushing yourself hard at work, school, or at home so that everything is pristine and flawless? Or perhaps in order to keep yourself successful and accomplished at what you do? Are you doing so to the point of being strung-out and worn out from feeling unable to allow mistakes?
It is important to consider the possibility that you are doing so to seem to others that you are on top of your game. You may not want them to see how you really feel on the inside. It is also worth considering whether you yourself do not want to accept that you are struggling and may be in need of help. While it may be a bitter pill to swallow, it is improtant to remember that this bit of vulnerability is an act of true courage that is necessary to overcome for you to start healing and feeling better (Morin, 2021; Rodriguez, 2021; Rutherford, 2019a; 2019b; 2021).
2. Belittling your own hardships in comparison to others’
“I’m fine. I don’t have it as bad as others.” Have you ever thought this way? You might have convinced yourself that you are not depressed by constantly telling yourself that others have it worse than you in life, and, because you are better off, you can’t or “shouldn’t” be depressed.
It is understandable to develop such a mindset, as you may have even been told this by other people in your life. However, to continue to do so would be to invalidate your own feelings and personal experience. All pain is pain, and people from different walks of life can fall into a depression for different reasons. No matter what background you’re from, depression is a very real and painful experience (Rutherford, 2019a; 2021).
Comparing yourself to others goes hand-in-hand with the guilt you may feel from being sad. You may feel guilty that you can not bring yourself to feel happy or content, even though it seems to you like you do not have much to complain about.
You may also feel guilt from worrying about placing a burden on others. You may have noticed that the depression you’ve been experiencing has affected those around you, or you are worried that others will be burdened with the task of having to take care of you–especially if you are used to taking care of others, instead.
You might even feel like you are the one to blame for feeling depressed, and thus shame yourself further into hiding it (Morin, 2021).
4. Toxic people around you
People are often not the best judge of themselves, and it is hard to think very clearly when depressed. While it may be difficult for you to determine if you might be struggling with depression, it might be simpler for you to assess whether you are or have been around people who were toxic to you or constantly hurt you.
Maybe your family did not handle conflict well. Maybe they handled issues with anger, or were generally not a safe space for you. Perhaps you are with a partner now who is emotionally unsafe to you, or possesses narcissistic traits. Your environment may be a sign that your mental health is suffering (Rutherford, 2021).
5. Running from negative feelings
You may not notice how far you’ve fallen into depression if you have been running away from your negative feelings. You might feel the need to keep a tight grasp on control, and expend a lot of energy worrying that something may disrupt it.
You may be suppressing your feelings in order to cope with the needs of the present. While doing so to a certain extent can help you get through the day, locking painful feelings away too rigidly can lead you to dismiss the effect that your difficult experiences have caused you in the past, and in effect, dismiss and invalidate your own feelings. If you continue to do so without giving yourself a safe space to deal with your pain and process your emotions, you may allow your depressive feelings to grow (Rutherford, 2019a; 2019b).
6. Incongruity when discussing heavy matters
Do you find yourself smiling even while talking about traumatic events that have happened to you, or very distressing matters? Perhaps someone had pointed it out to you, or you may realize it now as it is being described. It would be good to pay attention to whether you discuss your darkest thoughts and memories as casually as if you had been talking about what you just ate, or nonchalantly, with a smile on your face.
This type of incongruence between what you say and how you say it could be coming from difficulty with confronting and expressing painful emotions, as well as a sign that you’re smiling through the actual pain of your depression (Rutherford, 2021).
According to the DSM (DSM-5, 2013), to be diagnosed with depression, these symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in your social life, work or school, or other important aspects of life. Symptoms can vary in severity and frequency, depending on the individual. You may experience most of these signs, or perhaps only a few, but more urgent concerns.
For these reasons, it is important to reach out to a professional for a complete diagnosis. If you or anyone you know could be struggling with depression, please do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified mental health care provider.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013.
Morin, A. (2021, March 23). Could you have smiling depression? Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-smiling-depression-4775918
Rodriguez, C. (2021, June 22). Smiling depression: What it is, symptoms, and treatments. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/depression/smiling-depression#what-is-it
Rutherford, M. R. (2019, September 1). The 10 core traits of perfectly hidden depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/perfectly-hidden-depression/201909/the-10-core-traits-perfectly-hidden-depression
Rutherford, M. R. (2019, December 8). Do you have high-functioning or perfectly hidden depression? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/perfectly-hidden-depression/201912/do-you-have-high-functioning-or-perfectly-hidden-depression
Rutherford, M. R. (2021, July 22). How can a therapist “see” through the armor of perfectionism. Psychology Today. Retrieved July from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/perfectly-hidden-depression/202107/how-can-therapist-see-through-the-armor-perfectionism