We are what we think
Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Which came first: the depression or the pessimistic thoughts? I can’t answer the first question, but the answer to the latter may surprise you.
In many, many cases depression actually is the result of negative thoughts. When bad things happen, we begin chastising ourselves with such thoughts as: “I’m no good.”; “I’m a total failure.”; or “Nothing ever goes my way.” These thoughts can send us spiraling right down into a deep depression. You see, we are what we think.
This concept is the guiding principle behind Cognitive Therapy. If we think something often enough, we begin to believe it’s true. To conquer depression, we must stop those automatic thoughts and replace them with more positive, truthful ones. By nipping these thoughts in the bud, we can put a halt to depression before it even starts.
Cognitive Therapy is directed at 10 common Cognitive Distortions, or faulty thought patterns, that send us into depression. See if you recognize yourself in any of these.
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: John recently applied for a promotion in his firm. The job went to another employee with more experience. John wanted this job very badly and now feels that he will never be promoted. He feels that he is a total failure in his career.
- Overgeneralization: Linda is very lonely and often spends most of her time at home. People sometime suggest that she should get out and meet people. Linda feels that that is it useless to try to meet people. She believes that no one really could like her.
- Mental Filter: Mary is having a bad day. As she drives home, a kind gentleman waves her to go ahead of him as she merges into traffic. Later in her trip another driver cuts her off. She grumbles to herself that there are nothing but rude and insensitive people in her city.
- Disqualifying the Positive: Rhonda just had her portrait made. Her friend tells her how beautiful she looks. Rhonda brushes aside the compliment by saying that the photographer must have touched up the picture. She never looks that good in real life.
- Jumping to Conclusions: Chuck is waiting for his date at a restaurant. She’s now 20 minutes late. Chuck laments to himself that he must have done something wrong and now she has stood him up. Meanwhile across town, his date is stuck in traffic.
- Magnification and Minimization: Scott is playing football. He bungles a play that he’s been practicing for weeks. He later scores the winning touchdown. His teammates compliment him. He tells them he should have played better; the touchdown was just dumb luck.
- Emotional Reasoning: Laura looks around her untidy house and feels overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning. “This is hopeless”, she says to herself. “Why should I even try?”
- Should Statements: David is sitting in his doctor’s waiting room. His doctor is running late. David sits stewing thinking, “With how much I’m paying him he should be on time. He ought to have more consideration.” He ends up feeling bitter and resentful.
- Labeling and Mislabeling: Donna just cheated on her diet. “What a fat pig I am!”, she thinks.
- Personalization: Jean’s son is doing poorly in school. She feels that she must be a bad mother. She feels that it’s all her fault that he isn’t studying.
If you recognize any of these behaviours in yourself, then you’re halfway there. Here’s a homework assignment for you. Over the next couple of weeks, begin to watch yourself closely for self-defeating ways that you respond to situations. Practice recognizing your automatic responses. Then come back here for the September 6 issue. We will take each of the above Cognitive Distortions and discuss some powerful coping strategies that will help you dispel the blues before they even start.