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There are many theories concerning depression. The approach taken in this chapter focuses on the importance of thinking patterns as the main factor in the cause and perpetuation of depression.
Depressed people have distorted perceptions of themselves, their circumstances, and the people who affect their lives. Primary to these distortions is the emphasis placed on the negative.
Depressed people see themselves as losers, inadequate, unworthy, helpless, ugly, weak, stupid, undesirable, unlovable, worthless, and other such negative opinions as these. They tend to blame unpleasant experiences on some supposed of real defect in themselves - as if there was nothing they can do to make their lives better. And, they tend to be excessively self-critical and self-blaming, believing others are looking them in the same way they see themselves.
Depressed people feel their circumstances and the people around them are the direct and recurring cause of them being deprived, frustrated, humiliated, rejected, punished, or other such things as these. They too often interpret what others do as being done deliberately against their good - as if others are getting up each morning looking for ways to make the depressed person’s life more miserable. They think others are constantly placing excessive and unrealistic demands on their lives, and/or intentionally putting obstacles in their way so as to get in the way of their being able to achieve their goals and find happiness.
Depressed people think of the future as hopeless, and are certain their lives will be as bad or worse as they currently are. If they see any hope or possibility of improvement, they suspect the one offering the hope will "pull-the-rug-out-from-under-them" before they can capitalize on whatever hope is there.
Therefore, a depressed person’s thinking reflects a systematic bias toward the negative, and specifically as the negative affects his life. In other words, he overemphasizes the negative data gathered from life’s experiences while virtually ignoring and even rejecting the positive data. Generally, he distorts his experiences by exaggerating, overgeneralizing, or misinterpreting events in his life. He systematically and seemingly automatically (no longer having to think about what he is doing) selects irrational, self-defeating, and destructive thoughts which not only start, but perpetuate, the depression.
In spite of what we know, we live according to our beliefs. Our beliefs - realistic as well as unrealistic - are developed from our experiences, from the attitudes and opinions expressed to us by others, and from our view of self in relation to those around us. Once a specific belief has been formed, it influences our thinking, attitudes, choices, and behavior until it is confronted and changed. We look at life, interpret circumstances, and seek to understand other’s behavior on the basis of what we believe. Therefore, it isn’t long before any single belief or combination of beliefs creates thinking patterns which become so automatic we are hardly aware we are following the pattern.
An example of this would be a teenage girl who believes she is ugly because someone important told her she was. Accepting the important person’s judgment as true, she establishes a belief about her looks. As she compares herself to other girls, she focuses on those who seem better looking than she, thus reinforcing her belief that she is ugly. If she encounters a group of guys who laugh as she walks by, she decides they are laughing because they too think she is ugly. After some number of such experiences she will have created a thinking pattern which automatically goes into action any time her looks seemingly, possibly, or actually come into question. Now, the cycle is set: each negative judgment reinforces the negative belief which in turn encourages a negative interpretation of future experiences concerning her looks. Of course, this kind of thought pattern is self-defeating, destructive, and only serves to bring more unnecessary misery into her life.
Each of us builds up a significant number of thought patterns or habits in our thinking. Some of them are healthy, constructive, and very helpful for leading happy, productive lives. These are based on realistic beliefs. An example of this is knowing when to use the words "please" and "thank you". For most of us, it is such a habit that we now say it automatically. Remember, though, it took a good deal of thought and discipline, and probably help from our parents, to get the habit started.
The opposite of the positive thinking patterns are the negative thinking patterns. They are irrational, self-defeating, destructive, and bring on such things as hopelessness, despair, and anger. They are based on absolute thinking patterns (something is either good or bad, for me or against me, vital or unimportant, perfect or worthless) instead of relative thinking patterns (something may be neither good or bad - just somewhere in between, neither vital nor unimportant - just useable, neither perfect nor worthless - just average), on overgeneralizations (always, never, the worst, horrible, hopeless) rather than seeing things as they really are. These thinking patterns may feel right to us because they seem to work, at least at first. However, we need to examine the consequences of our thinking patterns beyond the immediate if we are to discover whether they are positive or negative.
Those who develop a large number of negative thinking patterns are prone to depression. As their negative patterns take over, their positive patterns lose significance and they move into depression. This can result from a specific traumatic situation which motivates an emphasis on the negative thinking patterns. Or, it can happen when a variety of unrelated negative situations or negatively interpreted situations bring on feelings of being overwhelmed. Whatever the cause, negative patterns are put into play and the cycle begins. As the thinking patterns go unchallenged and unaltered, the person sinks into depression.
Depressed people excel in recalling unpleasant memories while shutting out good or positive memories. These unpleasant memories reinforce the negative interpretations of current events and interactions with people. They also become a data bank of information which is used by depressed people to determine what the future holds and what to watch out for.
Depressed people develop strong feelings of hopelessness which lead to inactivity, tiredness, and lethargy. They expect negative outcomes, so they lack motivation. In fact, they believe doing nothing is better as it will help them avoid an unpleasant situation. Inactivity, however, allows their minds to focus on the unhappiness and hopelessness of their lives, thus deepening the depression.
There are four thinking errors to look for in depressed people. First, they draw conclusions where evidence is lacking. Second, they disregard certain important aspects of a situation which contradicts their conclusions. Third, they overgeneralize from a single event. And fourth, they exaggerate the meaning or significance of a particular event.
The procedure for helping depressed people is based on why they are the way they are. If the cause of depression is an abundance of negative thinking patterns, then the correction of these patterns may be expected to bring healing. By identifying the irrational beliefs (which are primarily based on distrust of God, and then of others) that lead to the negative thinking patterns, we can help depressed people realign their thinking with reality - a reality which is based on God and His Word.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN DEPRESSION
A. MOOD CHANGES
1. Sadness / unhappiness
2. Discouragement / hopelessness
3. Feeling like a failure / worthless
4. Dissatisfied with most things / bored
5. A sense of guilt / deserving punishment
6. God is out to get me / people are out to hurt me
7. Extreme disappointment with self / self-hate
8. Excessive and destructive self-criticism and blame
9. Thoughts of suicide
B. MENTAL CHANGES
1. More easily irritated
2. Loss of interest in others / withdrawal
3. Difficulty in making decisions
4. A sense of being unattractive / feeling ugly and unwanted
5. Excessive worry or concern over personal health
6. Loss of interest in sex
C. PHYSICAL CHANGES
2. Lack of energy / motivation
3. Not sleeping as well / waking earlier
4. Tiring easily
5. Loss of appetite / weight loss
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