Depression can be the start of a reorientation in life, a step in the search for meaning, or a chance for letting go of hurtful aspects of the self. It can also be a chance to deal with grief and loss and learn to expand your potential. In order to fight depression, you need to heal the whole person. Each person’s depression is unique. While some elements of it will be in common with other people, the exact combination of factors that develop into depression in any individual are as unique as a finger print. When you are depressed, everything becomes difficult: a task; something to be overcome with effort. Activity that is transparent and barely thought about in ‘normal’ life becomes wracked with difficulty and subject to questioning, sometimes punishing questioning.
Depressed thinking is a key factor in the depression habit. Each of us builds up a significant number of thought patterns or habits in our thinking. Depression and negative thinking are connected to each other in a vicious circle. “A vicious circle is nothing more than vicious behaviors and thoughts done over and over again. Depression has a self-perpetuating momentum that’s difficult to stop, even when sufferers try and try again to not get caught in depression’s snare.”
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. “The complete loss of control over your thoughts and emotions is atrocious. Knowing that your own head can betray you is a very scary thing. I was young, I was loved; in theory I had everything going for me. But in April 1993, in a culmination of what that hawk-eyed genius hindsight would have seen coming for years, I could no longer hold my life together.I was trapped in the most terrifying vortex of all the worst parts of myself and I had no idea how to stop it. I couldn't control my thoughts and I couldn't sleep, so there was no respite. I was in the vortex all day and all night. It is the worst place I have ever been. ” (Aine O'Connor).
Emotions become a problem when we mislabel them. Typically, mislabelling happens when we exaggerate the significance of an emotion or artificially elevate the intensity of an emotion. We develop the habit of mislabelling by placing the same label on a variety of situations with commonality due to a single similar element (rejection, criticism, intimacy, danger).We are inclined to exaggerate the significance of an emotion when our "emotional trigger" is too sensitive. This means we are telling ourselves that a particular situation is horrible when it is merely bad, or that it is hopeless when it is merely difficult, or that we can't do anything when we have merely run out of ideas about what to do. We tend to do this when someone criticizes us. We exaggerate the significance of the criticism itself by exaggerating the importance of the one doing the criticizing, or exaggerating the degree to which the criticism applies to us or exaggerating the criticizer's negative feelings toward us (he hates me verses he is unhappy with this particular behavior). And when we exaggerate our emotional response to criticism we exaggerate our verbal and behavioral responses, too. This is manifested by pouring energy into self-defense, self-justification, denial, and/or attacking our attacker - all of which solves nothing. When emotions are mislabeled - when we exaggerate their significance or artificially elevate their intensity - we turn them into malignat emotions.. Malignant emotions cause us to mentally malfunction and self-destruct. frequent anger is a sign that something is wrong. There are situations in which anger is justified, proper, and helpful. Anger that last to long is anger that keeps eating away at us, slowly but surely destroying us. One way that we prolong or hang on to anger is by reminding ourselves of or rehearsing past situations that have upset us. When we do this, it is our mind and thoughts that cause the past angers to start up all over again. This remembered anger may be felt as vividly as if the situation were happening to us right then. “Often depressed people report having great difficulties expressing any kind of anger. Instead of becoming angry with someone who has provoked them, the anger is turned inward against some part of the self. They don't even kick the cat; they kick themselves. These people have a way of making everything their own fault so that no matter what happens, they can blame themselves.”
When our assumptions, evaluations, and interpretations (beliefs) are irrational, they can lead to anxiety, intense anger, guilt, avoidance, a sense of worthlessness and other self-defeating behaviors. These are the things we need to question, rethink, and replace so that our behavior can be built on appropriate beliefs.
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 see themselves as losers, inadequate, unworthy, helpless, ugly, weak, stupid, undesirable, unlovable, worthless, and other such negative opinions as these.
Deepak Chopra writes:
“Once it turns into a habit, depressed people no longer need an outside trigger. They are depressed about being depressed. A gray film coats everything: optimism is impossible. This defeated state tells us that the brain has formed fixed pathways. “
In spite of what we know, we live according to our beliefs.Core beliefs serve as a filter through which people see the world. Core beliefs influence the development of "intermediate beliefs", which are related attitudes, rules and assumptions that follow from core beliefs. When depressed people's core beliefs are negative and unrealistic, they lead people to experience predominately negative and unrealistic thoughts. Intermediate beliefs can influence people's view of a particular situation by generating "automatic thoughts," the actual thoughts or images that people experience flitting through their minds. Automatic thoughts occur effortlessly, more or less all the time. Most of the time we are unaware that they are occurring, not because they are unconscious sorts of things but rather because we're so used to them that we don't notice them anymore. Automatic thoughts influence emotions and behaviors and can provoke physiological responses.
Learning to recognise negative automatic thoughts is not easy. Most people who have been depressed for a while have tried to cheer themselves up, “pull themselves together” and “get on with things.” It doesn’t work because many of the negative thoughts are automatic and certainly are not deliberate and, therefore, they are hard to change. We are not normally aware of our automatic thoughts.
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.
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. 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 ove rgeneralizations (always, never, the worst, horrible, hopeless) rather than seeing things as they really are.
Those who develop a large number of negative thinking patterns are prone to depression.
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.
Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., author of Listening to Depression, writes:
“If you have been depressed for a long time, you may encounter the obstacle that you forgot what it feels like to be not depressed. Paradoxically, healing from depression may be uncomfortable to you because it may represent new territory for you. In this way, depression becomes like a habit, and may be hard to break. One way to prepare for this obstacle is to remind yourself that you deserve to be free from this habit and that you would rather be afraid than depressed. As in the fear of losing control, even positive changes will bring with them fear and a sense of losing control. As you bring awareness to the threat of changing your life, the choice you would make between comfortable depression and the unknown will be obvious.”
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.
Personal responsibility begins when we stop blaming our circumstances, our past, or other people for our problems and the negative responses we have toward those problems. We can behave or respond to any situation in a positive and constructive manner. Our past becomes a defeating force when we choose to allow memories to bring negative and self-destructive thoughts or behaviors to present situations. Guilt over a past mistake can fill us with feelings of worthlessness and regret. Even more important and basic, we need to look at our beliefs.
With irrational thinking we convince ourselves that things are unbearable or that we should live in fear of something. We then develop intense negative feelings, and the result is self-defeating and destructive behavior. With rational thinking we understand that things can be bearable even though they are unwanted, frustrating, irritating, painful, or sad. We understand that fear is not to rule over us, but help us determine the best course of action. We then develop more positive feelings, and this results in constructive and satisfying behavior.
The first irrational belief says that emotional misery or distress comes from external pressures (circumstances or people) and that we have little, if any, ability to control the feelings that result from those pressures - feelings like depression, anger, or hostility. We fail to recognize the fact that people choose how they will respond.
The second irrational belief says that it is easier and more worthwhile to avoid facing our difficulties than to face them and be responsible. We may believe that immediate relief from problems is so important that we overlook the negative long range consequences of such a choice. We fail to recognize that right behavior may be painful and difficult at first, but it ultimately frees us from the problem and produces a lasting satisfaction and pleasure.
A third irrational belief says that our past remains all-important and has a strong, unavoidable influence on our feelings and behavior today. Many excuse their present behavior by pointing to their past. We’ll make statements like, "You don’t know what it’s like to fear rejection because you come from a secure home. I don’t." We might interpret situations or peoples intentions in light of our past even when it’s unfair to the person we are condemning and it is self-destructive.
The fourth irrational belief says that giving up is better than trying. It implies that life is hopeless and we are, too often, helpless. This leads to withdrawal, depression, suppressed anger, and bitter unhappiness. It even destroys the will to live. “For some people, death becomes preferable to life. It represents a solution to what seems to be the insurmountable problems in their lives. For some people, it is a last, desperate plea to have acknowledged the incredible and interminable pain they are in. And, for some people, it is an angry assault on those people who will be left behind who must deal with the emotional aftermath of a suicide. And, when alcohol enters the picture, the increase in risk becomes substantial. Alcohol is involved with 90% of all suicide attempts.”
When we feel disturbed, but can't seem to recognize any irrational beliefs, the next best place to look is at the consequences of our behavior. If they are self-defeating and destructive, they are the result of irrational beliefs, no matter how satisfying or rational the immediate consequences seem at the moment.
Don't sabotage yourself! Break the negative cycle...
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 that lead to the negative thinking patterns, we can help depressed people realign their thinking with reality.
Sharing a problem with someone else or with a group can give you support and an insight into your own depression. Research shows that talking can help people recover from depression and cope better with stress. Also , examine your life style: Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy foods? Are you living a fairly stress free life? Examine the emotional issues in your life. Are you angry about issues from your childhood or family? Do you have other problem relationships in your life? Do you have problems with your career? Are there other parts of your life that aren't working for you? Do you concentrate on what is wrong in your life?
If you have been depressed for more than a couple months this could be bigger than you are able to handle by yourself. Seek professional help.
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