It is not what happens to us that makes us depressed, situations in and of themselves do not have the power to influence our mood. It is the way that we think about the things that happen to us that effects how we feel.
So in essence, we open the door to negative feelings (including depression, anxiety and anger) with the meaning that we attached to events.
Therefore, if we monitor these meanings and correct inaccuracies and unhelpful interpretations we can protect ourselves against depression.
There are a number of key interpretations of situations that we can make that will leave us vulnerable to depression, these are: personalisation, generalisation of negative consequences, negative evaluation or ourselves, negative comparison with others, hopeless predictions for the future and expectations of helplessness.
This is the tendency to attribute responsibility for everything negative that happens to ourselves, even the actions of others e.g. ‘they did that because I annoyed them’.
The flip side of this tendency is that everything positive that happens is attributed to luck or chance. This means that our self esteem is only every attacked, it is never bolstered and over time such a constant barrage of blame result in low self esteem, a major risk factor for depression.
Identifying this tendency in yourself and attempting to substitute it with the knowledge that we are all internally motivated so what others do tells us about them not us can go some way to counterattack this tendency and protect you from episodes of depression.
It is also helpful to remember that in any interaction we only have responsibility for 50% of that interaction; the other 50% is the responsibility of the other person involved.
Therefore the responsibility for the consequences resulting from any interaction must be shared 50-50 between the participants.
In the next section we will explore some of the key ways of thinking that lead to depression.
Generalisation of Negative Consequences
Generalisation is a tendency to assume that the occurrence of single negative outcome is an indication that all future outcomes in similar situation will also be negative, for example being turned down for a job means that you will never get a job, a relationship ending means you will always be alone.
This tendency however is only applied to negative outcomes, positive or neutral outcomes are dismissed, ignored or minimised so there is no balance in the way that the world is evaluated and as a result the future always looks bleak and hopelessness for the future places you in a very vulnerable position with regards to depression (see part 3 of this blog for more information about hopeless predictions about the future).
If you identify this tendency in yourself try keeping a written record of both negative and positive outcomes so that you can make more accurate predictions for the future and rebalance your expectations of yourself, others and the world.
Negative Evaluation of Ourselves.
This involves not only a tendency to be hyper critical of ourselves across situations but also the propensity to filter out our achievements and successes. Such a negatively skewed way of evaluating ourselves will undermine both self esteem and confidence, aspects of our personality that are pivotal in protecting our mood.
Once identified as tendency this self critical voice or train of thought should be monitored and observed on a daily basis using a diary where you write down word for word your critical self statements and then evaluated their accuracy and helpfulness, correcting where appropriate.
In the final part of this blog we will look at 3 further ways of thinking that if avoided or corrected will protect you against depression.
Negative Comparison with Others
This is the tendency to see yourself as inferior to others, often regardless of the situation. You may tend to focus on those that have achieved more or whose situation is preferable to yours and either discount or ignore those who have less than you.
This imbalance in your perception of the world produces an almost endless supply of evidence to support a core belief of worthlessness or inadequacy which leads to low self esteem and confidence, as we have mentioned before, key risk factors for depression.
To counteract this tendency try to see the whole picture by placing yourself on a continuum that includes both those who you perceive as having more than you and those who you perceive as having less.
Hopeless Predictions for the Future
When we are feeling depressed it seems to be easier for us to access negative thoughts, this is referred to by Clinical and Counselling Psychologists as Mood Congruent Thinking.
When depressed we therefore are more likely to have negative thoughts about our future, usually that we will continue to feel depressed and that this and our situation will never change i.e. we predict that the future holds no hope for us.
To deal with this way of thinking try to get some perspective by reviewing your experiences to date, good and bad, along with what you have learned along the way to help you to make a more accurate prediction of what the future holds.
Expectations of Helplessness
This thinking style tends to work in conjunction with ‘hopeless predictions for the future’ i.e. we predict that our future is hopeless and that we are helpless to change this.
To tackle this way of thinking use a similar approach as that recommended for hopeless prediction, review how you have dealt with challenges in the past and what you have learned from your experiences and then use this to accurately evaluate you capacity to influence what happens to you.
These techniques can provide very effective protection against depression; however, some people need professional support to implement them. If this is the case for you contact the liaison team at The British CBT & Counselling Service who will be able to provide you with information about the type of help our Clinical and Counselling Psychologists can provide.