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Are Your Own Thoughts Making You Depressed

Are Your Own Thoughts Making You Depressed

by Dr Emma Gray - 27th July, 2015

Are Thinking Errors Making you Depressed

Our thoughts are the result of a filtering process whereby the information that we receive from the outside word is ordered and restructured to fit in with our existing beliefs about ourselves, the world and other people. This means that our thoughts are not an objective representation of what we see but literally our version of events.

Thoughts making you depressed

If we believe that we are worthwhile and valuable as individuals, expect to be treated well by others and believe the world to generally be a safe place we will filter information from the outside world in a way that supports these beliefs and fosters feelings of happiness and satisfaction. It however we have low self esteem and belief we are not good enough, expect to be mistreated by other and believe that the world is an unsafe place information will be filtered to supports these beliefs and result in feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. Below are some of the common thinking filters that people with low self esteem use:

  1. All or Nothing – thinking

You see things in black and white categories If a situation falls short of perfect,you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, ‘I’ve blown my diet completely.’ This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

  1. Over generalization

You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as ‘always’ or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, ‘Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!’

  1. Mental filter

You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

  1. Discounting the positive

You reject positive experiences by insisting they ‘don’t count.’ If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

  1. Jumping to conclusions

You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.
Mind reading – Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.
Fortune telling – You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, ‘I’m really going to blow it. What if I flunk?’ If you’re depressed you may tell yourself, ‘I’ll never get better.’

  1. Magnification

You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the ‘binocular trick.’

  1. Emotional reasoning

You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.’ Or ‘I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.’ Or ‘I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly.’ Or I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second-rate person.’ Or ‘I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.’

  1. “Should statements”

You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be – After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, ‘I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.’ This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. ‘Musts,’ ‘oughts’ and ‘have tos’ are similar offenders.
‘Should statements’ that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: ‘He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative’

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. ‘I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.’ This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite.

  1. Labelling

Labelling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying ‘I made a mistake.’ you attach a negative label to yourself: ‘I’m a loser.’ You might also label yourself ‘a foal’ or ‘a failure’ or ‘a jerk.’ Labelling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist. but ‘fools,’ ‘losers,’ and ‘jerks’ do not. These labels are useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self- esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: ‘He’s an S.O.B Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s ‘character’ or ‘essence’ instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

  1. Personalization

Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, ‘this shows what a bad mother I am,’ instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, if only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.’ Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. Same people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: ‘The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.’ Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being a scapegoat and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato – no one wants to get stuck with it.

If you are suffering with any of the issues discussed in this article and would like to seek professional help then you may find our Depression Page helpful.


Dr Emma Gray

Dr Emma Gray

I am often the first person with whom my patients share significant and intimate thoughts and memories; I never take that privileged position for granted nor the opportunity to help someone to feel better about themselves and discover a more fulfilling life. One of my colleagues once described me as a natural psychologist; I guess she was alluding to the fact that I feel at ease being a therapist, I can empathise with people’s distress and discomfort but don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I can understand their problem and know how to help, it has always just felt like what I should be doing.


Read more about my approach to counselling here...


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