Depression is a very common problem, with around one in five people suffering from some form of it at some point in their lives. There are many potential symptoms of depression, which can include: feeling sad and tearful, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, changes in appetite, insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns, reduced sex drive. There are a number of different types of depression and many contributing causes, but the following factors have all tended to be present to some extent in all the depression sufferers that I have treated.
Having an external locus of control is a key aspect of depression. To recap some of the research, Burger (1984) found that those who believed that their lives were controlled by chance or powerful others had higher levels of depression. Mirowsky and Ross (1990) determined that depression was associated with not feeling in control of either good outcomes or bad outcomes, or of both.
Basically, depression is a combination of feeling low, unhappy and negative, but also about feeling powerless to do anything about it. As well as being ‘external’, people with depression tend to brood and obsess.
People tend to believe that by obsessing about something, they are gaining control and helping themselves to figure things out. In ‘The Consequences of Dysphoric Rumination’ Lyubomirsky and Tkach (2004), discuss how negative brooders are far less likely to use active and effective coping skills to deal with problems or stressful life events than those who do not tend to brood. Obsessing tends to focus all attention on a problem, reinforcing all the negatives, keeping people absorbed in their worries and in fact, increasing their feelings of being out of control.
Social phobia and low self-esteem also often play a big part in depression, for a number of reasons:
Quite often the trigger to start obsessing about something was an event or experience where the sufferer felt judged – either by themselves or by others.
Once depressed, the sufferer tends to isolate themselves because they feel stupid, not good enough, not clever enough to have the skills to stop being depressed.
Because of their low self-esteem and social anxiety, they often engage in frequent self-blame and self-criticism (which of course leads to feelings of misery and negativity). Yet, despite the frequent self-criticism, they rarely recognise that they could be in some way creating their own despair, again often due to a fear of being judged. Instead they often see their depression as a medical condition or as a result of a particular experience. This then further adds to their sense of powerlessness (due to it not being something within their power to change).
You might be questioning what seems to be a self-blame, externality paradox here? Maybe you don’t really understand how someone can be both external and self-blaming? It does indeed seem a bit illogical doesn’t it? Well, people with depression are often strongly self-blaming, continually picking up upon perceived mistakes and flaws. But, although they tend to be very self-critical, most depressed people do not feel that they are in control of their depression or that they can do anything about it. Despite blaming themselves for many specific situations, depression sufferers frequently do also see their overall depression as something outside their control, such as a medical condition or as stemming from a particular experience, rather than due to their beliefs and the way in which they are thinking on a day-to-day basis.
Because of their brooding, sufferers of depression do tend to become a bit self-absorbed (here I don’t mean self-absorbed in a ‘selfish’ sense, but very self-focused) and concentrated on their symptoms. It is easy for someone with an obsessive side to their nature to become caught up in their unhappiness, and to become more and more focused on their problems. Often, people with low self-esteem and social anxiety ‘need’ to be negative. They don’t dare to believe that things could be better, and by being negative they can avoid the terrible ‘double whammy’ of both being depressed, AND feeling like a total failure, because they have tried but failed to improve things.
Additionally, any care, concern or attention a person may receive whilst depressed can help to validate their reasons for being depressed. Everyone (whether depressed or not) wants, and in fact needs to believe that their feelings and beliefs are real. Think about it for a moment… the last time you felt sad, angry, unhappy, pissed-off, in pain or any other strong feeling or sensation what did you do? You almost certainly thought, ‘why am I feeling like this?’ and then trawled through your recent memories and experiences to find something that explained your current emotional state. When you remembered the row you had with your partner earlier that morning, or the fact that the weather had just turned really cold, or the fact that you had started to notice bags appearing under your eyes, your current emotional state was explained, and, although you were suffering unpleasant feelings or sensations, you also felt better because at least you understood why. Things made sense and you felt more in control. The negative outcome of this ’cause confirmation’ though is that it not only EXPLAINED why you were experiencing painful feelings, it also validated them. The way we process this validation is something like, ‘oh right, so I’m depressed because my girlfriend has left me, well that’s understandable, who wouldn’t be depressed if their partner left them, its a terrible thing to happen, no wonder I feel like shit’.
Once your depression has been validated, it’s much harder to dismiss it, distract yourself, or actively put effort in to overcome the depression – because you feel powerless and as though you should be depressed. A similar situation often occurs when friends or loved-ones give support, empathy and love to someone suffering depression. This support can be experienced as validation: ‘I must be in a bad way, or my sister wouldn’t be phoning me’. This just makes the sufferer think about just how much of a bad way they are in. If your support is coming from a person who is having their own emotional needs met through looking after you, then the relationship can quickly become collusive, and the supportive partner becomes a ‘significant other’.
Finally, when you are at a really low ebb and someone shows you some love and attention, it can feel really powerful. The contrast between feeling terrible, and feeling loved and supported can be huge, and this may be reinforcing. Sufferers may (unconsciously) believe that attention would not be forthcoming if they were well, as they do not see themselves as likeable. Here I am not suggesting that sufferers of depression really want to be depressed, or that they are deliberately attention seeking. But, on some level, any care, love and attention that they do gain from their depression may provide some (unconscious) reinforcements for maintaining a depressed state. This may not be the case for all depression sufferers, but most of the people I have treated have felt this way to a greater or lesser extent. Additionally, this is not necessarily the main or only reason why sufferers have depression, but in many cases it is a contributing factor.
The way a person thinks and speaks, i.e. their language, is key in depression. Make sure you really understand the language chapter. Depression is actually one of the easiest problems for a person to overcome – using the techniques in this book. Essentially, all the person needs to do is realise that he or she is not powerless to change his/her situation, and then do something about it! If you have depression, just have another think about the factors I have mentioned and consider which of these play a part in your depression. Remember, this is not about blaming yourself, or beating yourself up, but looking at your ways of thinking and underlying beliefs that are causing you problems in your life, so that you can change them.
The Thrive Programme comes from a completely different angle to any other treatment, therapy or intervention. Using the Programme, anyone can learn how to enjoy good mental health. Thrive is NOT therapy – it’s the complete opposite to therapy – and it puts you in the driving seat. This means that when you do meet a hurdle in life, you’ll be well-prepared to meet them head on, feeling powerful, capable and positive. With the Thrive Programme there’ll be no stopping you!
If you would like to find out more about how I can help you to complete the Thrive Programme CONTACT ME to arrange a FREE, confidential, initial consultation. You may also like to take a look at some video testimonials to see how other people have overcome their depression and in doing so, learned to truly Thrive.