Many famous people have suffered from depression. History shows that brilliance often goes hand in hand with mental illness. Depression usually brings on an explosive chain reaction of negative thoughts. When people are depressed, negative thoughts occur practically every minute of the day; each time generating more misery and pessimism.
Unfortunately, once this process begins, the depressed person has a tendency to add fuel to the fire and keep it ablaze. The repeated, often almost continuous, negative thoughts keep depression alive and pervert the course of emotional healing.
There are identifiable types of cognitive distortions involved in this destructive process. Negative prediction, being one of them, is a tendency to make highly negative, pessimistic predictions about the future, for which there is no evidence, and which results in increased despair and hopelessness for months. It’s an all-or-nothing way of thinking.
For instance, making statements such as ‘I’m never going to get over this…’ or ‘my life is never going to improve’ and things of this nature, are examples of this type of thinking. Over-generalising negative events in life serves to make us feel hopeless and helpless. If defeated once, we may think we will always be defeated. However, this type of thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Then there is the all-or-nothing type of thinking; which is a tendency to jump to broad, over generalised conclusions about yourself or reality. Our emotions are not necessarily a reflection of reality; just because you are angry with your spouse does not mean your marriage is in trouble. The fact that you feel insecure in a job does not translate to failure. Irrational thinking can wreck havoc in our lives.
There are others who jump to conclusions with an inclination to conclude the worst in the absence of substantial evidence; in other words, coming to conclusions about a person or situation without having all the facts. Another pitfall is mind-reading, thinking we know what other people are thinking and feeling. We usually tend to be wrong because we almost always think the worst.
There is a common tendency when one is depressed to focus selectively on the negative details, to dwell on them and to tune out positive aspects of a situation or of yourself; in other words, a type of tunnel vision. Also, having a type of perfectionist way of thinking can be harmful. When people conclude that they should be wealthier, better looking, and more successful and if you are not it suggests failure is another way we hurt ourselves.
Sometimes, destructive thinking results in people assuming that when something is wrong, then somehow it is always your fault. This is known as personalising of everything negative around you, which is obviously a distortion in your thinking. An example is a man getting to work, he says ‘hello’ to his boss. His boss simply nods but says nothing. The man concludes: ‘Damn, oga must be mad with me; I probably did something wrong.’ This may or may not be an accurate conclusion. If he does not check it out with his boss, he may worry needlessly.
On the other hand, there are many alternate explanations that are possible. The point being that we cannot read each other’s minds. There is a strong tendency for people who feel depressed to over-react and personalise things, especially when they fear criticism or rejection.
Another destructive thought process is insisting that things should be a certain way, and this can be directed towards yourself, towards others and towards the realities of life. This type of thinking always has the effect of intensifying painful emotions; they never reduce misery or change situations.
Each of these cognitive distortions shares two things in common with the others: They distort in some way one’s view of reality (resulting in a loss of perspective, and extremely negative and pessimistic views of oneself, current and future situations) and each cognitive distortion has the effect of intensifying emotional pain. If unrecognised and unchallenged, such distortions in thinking will almost certainly result in an ongoing destructive depressive process.
Throughout this article I have given very simplistic examples of destructive thinking in order to make the understanding of it as accessible to everyone as possible. The reality of it, in fact, is that it is quite a complex and powerful process which can wreak havoc in one’s life.
Instead of using our cognitive abilities to help us flourish, allowing ourselves to become our own loving supporter, often through such destructive self talk we become our harshest critic, our greatest enemy.
These negative thinking patterns are learned and therefore become automatic, deeply affecting our way of experiencing the world.
Having said this, the good news is that if we can learn one way of thinking, with a little effort we can learn new more constructive thinking patterns. There are some systematic techniques that can be learnt on how to reduce and in some cases even halt the process altogether. It is very important to interrupt the process. The first step being to recognise such distortions as they occur.
Focus on thinking constructively, using all your experience to further your growth, learning to replace sabotaging thoughts with rational thinking. This will give you the energy you need to create positive reality filled with positive possibilities.