Here is the thing about cognitive therapy, we create our own reality and how we react to situations and stress. Unfortunately, we do most of this on automatic pilot. It is all habitual responses we have taught ourselves over time that we just spew out without thinking about it. In order to treat depression, we have to be mindful of the thought patterns we already have and eventually override them.
‘The flowers are bright, but the person’s mind is dark’. Reality is purely subjective. One can choose a pessimistic viewpoint on an absolutely bright and sunny day, while another person can see beauty in spite of the darkest clouds. This applies in every aspect. The first thing the person must do is embrace the experience of depression. Depression does not occur because of some outside circumstance. It occurs internally, when the body and mind have developed a negative disposition.
Depression is closely linked to the conditions of anguish and anxiety. The person is not consciously aware of anguish. Often times, the condition of anguish was caused by the repression of a past event – perhaps a lost loved one, an emotional breakdown, etc. In regard to anxiety, the cause is usually discovered within conscious levels of thought. It takes a little self-questioning on the person’s part in order to locate anxiety’s root cause.
What lifts depression is the capability to understand it. By understanding the nature of it, the person will be able to identify what it is that’s hiding beneath. Like happiness, depression is influenced by the person’s habits and activities. The things that surround the person strongly influence that person. If the person is surrounded by negativity and fear, then it is likely that they will experience the same. On the opposite end, if the person essentially chooses to be around positive events, then depression would be less of a problem or no problem at all.
Some of the habitual thoughts are in areas of:
Self-evaluation: The depressed mind it an overly critical one. We don’t give ourselves any slack. We make any sort of error and automatically we think ‘I suck’, ‘I shouldn’t have tried’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘It’s hopeless’. As such we blame ourselves for everything wrong and credit others when things go well. We have to avoid black and white thinking, it is not either I am a complete loser or I rock, but endless shades of sucking and or rocking.
Skills: We can make a long list of things we are not good at, or character flaws without acknowledging the fundamental power we have to alter them, and therefore we acknowledge out failures as par the course.
Experiences: We tend to notice the negatives and remember them, but fail to notice the overall positives to an experience, even if it outnumbers the negatives by far. This leads to such things as assuming the worst is bound to happen since your negative history suggests that.
Self-talk: This is crippling to a depressed person because negative self-talk sets you up for failure so that when said failure occurs, you expect it… I guess in an attempt to save ourselves from disappointment. When confronted with a problem instead of saying ‘this will be tricky, but I can do it’ we might say ‘There is no way I can do this.’
Automatic thoughts: We have more than enough time to have programmed ourselves to think and react a certain way. So when something happens in a situation we have a knee-jerk response that is often negative. Anything that involves statements with should, must, always, never. Often we have rigid standards we hold ourselves to, impossible to hold to… like: ‘I have to succeed or I am worthless‘.
Overgeneralizing: Just because I situation went down badly once, does not mean it will always go down the same way. While this seems self-explanatory think of all the times you say ‘this is always the case’.
All this negative background noise really hits us hard. So the idea is to figure out the irrational underlying assumptions we make, then when these occur to us throughout the day replace them with rational responses. Some people would say it is mindful introspection or even positive thinking. Fact is the brain is a broken record that sings the same tune until you override it with something more realistic and functional.
Now at first, you may not catch how many times these negative thought patterns rear their ugly heads, but trust me when you are mindful of your own thinking you will realize it is quite often. The first step is to merely record what negative thoughts are occurring to you and what assumptions they are based on. For example, one of mine is ‘If I am not a functional member of society then I am worthless. I am a liability, not an asset’. What assumption makes this true? That my self-worth is dependant on what I can do while suffering from pain and when I can not do what I feel is necessary then I have no worth at all. Now, this is an irrational belief because our self-worth, or our worth overall, is not merely dependant on what we can do (ie work) in addition to the fact that I am setting myself a standard that is damn high.
Once you find out what thoughts are occurring to you and the underlying irrational beliefs and assumptions you are making you are halfway there. Then it is simply deconstructing what and why you have that belief. Record your understanding of why you have that belief as well as why it is irrational.
Now here is where the positive thinking comes in. Once you have picked out a list of your assumptions and negative talk, have analyzed them as to why they are irrational, then every time during the day one of those knee-jerk thoughts hits you, you simply pause, and actively stop yourself, think the opposite. Every time you actively counter these automatic thoughts the more your brain absorbs the new pattern until your habitual thought pattern is more realistic. So if I think, ‘If I can’t work then I am worthless’ I could think to myself ‘No, my self-worth is not dependant on work alone and my worth to others has little to do with it.’ And finish off with a reinforced positive thought… ‘I am worthy.’
This method worked awesome for me back in the day. I am mindful of the negative thoughts that occur to me now, problem is they revolve around my inability to escape pain, so it can be said the mindset I have now is a pit tricky because pain will not go away, it will affect my life and it is not a state of mind… however, the assumptions I make about my life, my worth and many other things, that come from being chronically ill are open to interpretation and those are the things we can alter, thereby helping us to cope, or react, to pain.