8th March 2020


The Power of Thinking

What you think and how you think generally plays the biggest of all the factors that create and maintain depression.  After all, the choices you make in life are derived from your perceptions, whether they are right or wrong.

There are common and easily identified cognitive distortions or errors in thinking that can fuel depression.  Aaron Beck, a well-known psychiatrist, has observed the errors that depressed people frequently make in interpreting their experience and he devised a treatment, known as cognitive therapy.  This is an approach for identifying and correcting the distortions in faulty thinking.  The cognitive model says that your emotions are directly related to your perceptions and it teaches you to deal with your life as rationally as possible.  Being rational means to think clearly and weigh factual evidence before forming conclusions.  There are a number of common thinking errors.  They are:-

The all or nothing syndrome is the tendency to make extreme interpretations, seeing everything in black and white with no grey areas.  Examples may be failing an exam and believing you are a failure, not getting the job you wanted and believing you will never get a job.  This is when you let a small unpleasant experience dominate all your thinking.

 Over-generalization is when a person forms a broad conclusion and then applies it to all situations. For example, if you have a negative hurtful experience in a romantic relationship and then decide that all men are selfish and egotistical and what is the point of ever making another relationship because you will get hurt again.  Believing that all men and women are the same is a distortion in thinking.  There are men and women who can be trusted and are caring and loving and others who cannot be trusted.  You job is to learn to distinguish between the two.

Focusing only on the negative is when depressed people focus and react automatically on the negative aspects, which in turn makes for negative feelings.  If you have a tendency to do this, then it is important to work hard to find positive aspects of the same situation or person that are at least neutral or even positive.  As you become more skilled in doing so you will enlarge your vision to include the neutral and positive.

Disqualifying the positive is the tendency to reject or devalue positive input from others.  For example if you believe that you are never quite good enough and someone says to you “thanks for the meal” and you are disappointed because they had not said, “thanks for the lovely meal that you cooked.”

Jumping to conclusions involves taking a small piece of information and adding your subjective thoughts and reaching a conclusion.  An example might be if someone does not return your telephone call immediately, or when you phone them they sound distant and you interpret this to mean that you have done something to offend and upset them.

Magnification and minimisation means exaggerating negative aspects or minimising positive aspects that happen in your life.  For example “yes, I agree, my daughter rang me today but my son never rings me and I feel very unsupported by my family.

Emotional reasoning is the use of feelings as the sole basis for interpreting your experience.  For example, I feel that my friend is only saying that I am a nice person in order to make me feel better and I know she does not really mean it.

"Should" statements, e.g. “I should ring my sick mother every day,” invariably are patterns of feeling too responsible leading to guilt, shame and self-criticism.  Learning to define clearly what your responsibilities are can help you feel less burdened by other people’s expectations.

Labelling yourself negatively makes it difficult for you to develop your self-esteem and positive self-regard.  If we stick to labels it makes it more difficult for us to change.  Be careful how you label yourself.  Negative labels are things like “I am stupid”, "I am fat”, “I am a failure.”

Personalisation means taking personally things that are not at all personal.  Strive to find reasons for things that happen that does not put you at the centre of things.

Belief systems are patterned ways of thinking that may help you to organise your perceptions.  However when they are inaccurate representations of reality they may lead to depression.

Depression can distort your perceptions and distorted perceptions can cause depression.  The goal is to be as clear and objective about things as possible.  Learning to monitor and correct your own thoughts and beliefs is essential for breaking the patterns of depression and preventing further episodes.  You are not your thoughts, you are not your feelings, and you are not your behaviour.  You are also not your past.  Recognising the limitations of human feelings and perceptions and learning to choose when to “go with them” and “when to put them on hold” is the essence of emotional intelligence.

If we really want to learn how to live life well one of the most effective things to do is to talk to the people who are doing well.  Some may not be able to tell you but if you persist in searching you will eventually find people who can share meaningful things that may help you.

Depressed people tend to isolate themselves and stay indoors which usually increases their depression. Walking, being in touch with nature, getting involved with voluntary groups and having some social contact are all important ways to mitigate against depressed feelings.

To focus on solutions means knowing that your circumstances are, at some level, changeable. Even if you can’t change the external circumstances that seem so hurtful, you can change your reactions to them. Focusing on solutions means being observant that there are times when you feel better and there are times when you feel worse. What are you doing and thinking when you feel better? What are you thinking about and doing when you feel worse?  What can you do more of to increase the times when you feel better and do less of what makes you feel worse?

People who suffer from depression tend to live in the past. They think about past failures, past episodes and past hurts and they bring this hurt into the present.  A step towards feeling better is to start concentrating on the present moment and start living in the present.  It can be a stepping-stone to creating and making realistic expectations for the future so combating helplessness and hopelessness.