In an earlier article, I talked about Maurice, who is depressed, and his wife, Ella. I described the dilemma his depression puts Ella in. On the one hand, she gets the short end of the stick because her husband’s depression will bring her down, too. On the other hand, she can’t really do much about it if her husband isn’t willing or able to pull himself out of his mood. I suggested she be a willing listener because her empathy may have healing properties.
Today, I’d like to focus on Maurice himself. I mentioned briefly in the first article that it is his responsibility to pull himself out of his dark mood. Now, perhaps you think that sounds ridiculous: If he had the strength to pull himself out, he wouldn’t be depressed to begin with! You’re right. That is the paradox of depression. If he needs mental energy to pull himself out of a bad mood and by definition depression means he just doesn’t have that motivation and energy, how does he do it?
Here are some steps Maurice can take:
- Maurice can begin by recognizing negative thoughts: They are both global and punitive. What does this mean? There are red flags that point out to us when we are thinking globally. These red flags are words we use like, “Always,” “Never,” “I am…” or “You are…” They are evaluative words like, “Worst,” “Stupidest,” and so forth.These red flag words might appear in sentences that Maurice might say to himself such as, “I am the biggest loser” or “I am never going to get a job.”
The key idea here is that no human being can be the biggest loser nor is it true that he will never accomplish his goals. That is just plain silly. It’s illogical. It’s untrue. That is how we recognize global thinking.
In theory, the punitive part should be self-evident. However, people often feel that if a message is “true,” then it should not be dismissed. This is a self-destructive approach and needs to stop. For example, if Maurice thinks that it is “true” that he is the biggest loser, then he gives that thought permission to stay in his head. The real truth is that it’s not true. Punitive messages are usually too global to be true.
- Maurice can sit quietly and visualize a big red STOP sign. He can begin his journey out of this pit of despair by pulling up that stop sign every time he has a negative thought.
- Next, the empty space created by kicking out the negative thoughts from his head can be filled with positive affirmations that are specifically tailored to fight the negative thought, such as, “I am a husband and father. I am not a loser. I had a great job until the economy tanked. I am definitely not a loser. I can be a winner.”
Maurice might tell me that he realizes that logically the affirmation is true and the negative thought is not; he just can’t seem to grab onto that affirmation and run with it. Of course! That is because the process of thinking these negative thoughts has etched pathways in his brain that run almost automatically. (Please see the neuroscience articles on my blog for more on that.) The beauty of this method is that as long as Maurice thinks the new, positive thought to himself, it will etch new pathways in his neural network even if at first they don’t “feel” true. Just by repeating the affirmation, he counteracts the old, negative pathways. This brings him closer and closer to feeling like the new, positive statements are the true ones.
“DrDeb” Hirschhorn, Ph.D. How would you like to start over—with the SAME spouse! Get video tips of the week–subscribe at http://drdeb.com