Disorders and Treatment
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This article was written by Richard Hartnett who is an addiction counselor, author and priest.
We have learned that depression, like addiction, is reinforced by the mistaken way we talk to ourselves. To get out of this quagmire, we need to catch ourselves whenever we use a fatalistic argument. Otherwise we will simply stay stuck in the muck. Recovering addicts refer to this distortion of the truth as “stinkin’ thinkin’”, a term that applies to anyone who has developed a habit of drawing erroneous conclusions.
There are a few forms of cognitive distortions that are employed by people who have depression. These self-defeating statements express the false beliefs that are the foundation of depression. Here is a list of defective methods of thinking that entrap us in depression:
Sally didn't speak to me, so I know she must be angry with me.
When John looked at his watch while I was making my presentation, I knew I was boring everyone.
No one could possibly like me because I'm so stupid, ugly and lazy.
I didn't do anything special. It was no big deal.
When he criticized what happened, he really meant to criticize me.
People are either strong or weak, good or evil.
I shouldn't have to tell people for them to know what I want.
I'm not as together as the rest of my friends.
I'll never find someone who truly loves me.
I never succeed at anything I try to do.
Just knowing our thinking is distorted is not enough to undo it. These thoughts reveal some deep-seated beliefs that we need to challenge. The difficulty is getting past the feeling that our distorted thinking is accurate. Some therapists use affirmations to accomplish this. For example, if someone feels they are worthless, then they can counter this erroneous belief by repeatedly affirming “I am valuable and confident.” The objective is to replace a self-defeating belief with a constructive one.
The irrational beliefs most common among depressed people are:
High Self Expectations
I should be much more accomplished than I am
Over-reaction to Frustration
I feel AWFUL when things don't turn out the way they should
Tendency to Not Accept Responsibility For One's Actions
I'm unhappy with the situation and there's nothing I can do about it
It's easier to just avoid difficulties than to face them
I need someone stronger than me to rely on
Of course we resist exposing these defective underlying beliefs because it would require us to admit our mistakes and to begin to change. It may help to acknowledge that only one side of our personality is invested in these beliefs, albeit a strong side. We might call it The Dark Cloud. This is one way we can detach ourselves from these misleading assumptions. By attributing them to such a depressing figure, we can analyze them objectively. And we also open ourselves to the influence of constructive forces within us.
We know our depression has a powerful effect upon us and others around us. It captivates us into an ever-shrinking space. It leaves us feeling incapable of being liberated from its grasp. When it has advanced this far, it is not hard to realize that we need help. By ourselves we are powerless. And it is having a devastating impact on ourselves and those who care for us. First of all, we need to admit the truth of the situation.
But where are we going to get the help we need? Other people, such as friends and therapists, can give us suggestions, but ultimately we have to evaluate them according to our own best insights. In other words, we have to draw upon our inner resources, as weak as they might be.
In effect we are consulting our spiritual Source. How else would we be inspired to extricate ourselves? This approach may seem strange and unfamiliar, but actually we use it to deal with all the little problems that occur each day.
So how are we going to shed our egoic identity and allow ourselves to be guided by our spiritual Source? Obviously we can’t do it by ourselves. We can begin by becoming quiet and listening. Even if we’re not struck by thunderbolts, we may realize that our consciousness is the soft presence of our ultimate Source.
Depression is a disorder that disrupts our spiritual awareness. It inclines us toward a fatalistic attitude and deprives us of all hope. For this reason, we can use a form of meditation known as mindfulness to restore a positive perspective. Being mindful is not complicated at all, in fact it may be the simplest thing we could possibly do.
Being mindful is just a fancy way of saying we pay attention to whatever is happening right now. When we realize that depression depends upon our interpretation of the past or the future, then focusing on the present moment relieves us of this burden. Most people begin this practice by concentrating on their breathing or on one of their senses, such as hearing, because these events only occur in the present. For example, we become as quiet as we can and notice all the sounds around us, whether they are loud or subtle. It may be the traffic outside, the refrigerator, or the breeze in the trees. Our depression lifts when we are here now.
This form of meditation is easy. And the more we practice it, the less we are bothered by depression. All our anxieties subside as well. Now that’s a good bargain!
One of the most effective tools we can use to extricate ourselves from a depression is to keep a journal. It enables us to engage in some beneficial self-analysis. By writing down our thoughts and feelings, we can extend our reflections as we add to our record. In this way we will be able to detect self-defeating patterns and develop methods to deal with them.
Writing has two big advantages: it gives our thoughts and feelings more importance than if we just let them slide on by, and it enables us to study them more objectively. There is no obligation to write every day, nor to write in a particular manner. It is only worthwhile, however, when we are as honest as we can be.
Some people do not think they have any writing skills. Fortunately a journal may consist of jottings, sketches, outlines, lists, or plans. There are no rules. We just regard it as a tool for self-study. And the inspirations we receive may help others deal with their struggles. We may, for example, discover the different sides of our personality, and this may be helpful to someone else who is unaware of this phenomenon.
When we consider that sadness or depression incline us toward the slow or heavy end of a spectrum, then we need to find a way to move to the other end of the spectrum, where we can feel some vitality and enthusiasm. We can accomplish this by using our imagination to construct an image of ourselves experiencing a counterbalancing emotion. For example, if our disturbing emotion is feeling rejected, then we picture ourselves being appreciated by a group of friends for helping them in some way.
To shift our emotional tone toward enthusiasm, we recall a period or experience we have had in which we felt strong enthusiasm about something, such as a project, idea, event, or person. Then we deliberately get into this mood as thoroughly as we can, feeling it intensely. We take our time and use our imagination to picture ourselves full of enthusiasm. Next we return to our current state of sadness and feel it strongly. Then we shift back into the enthusiastic mood, and we practice this shift several times until it feels familiar and easy.
The purpose of this exercise is to enable us to move out of an emotional disturbance and regain our balance. When we are depressed, we cannot think clearly or make good decisions. But when we are centered and stable, then we can reflect on our depression to learn what information it is conveying to us. By doing so, we are forming a relationship with our Healthy Self, who shows us how to manage our moods and teaches us how to interpret them.
We have examined the various kinds of depression and presented a few methods to help resolve it.
Some of these suggestions may enable us to cope with depression. Of course we can consult with a qualified therapist or counselor if we need additional support. The best time to deal with our disturbance is now.
Richard G. Hartnett, MA, MS, LCADC is a former Jesuit priest who now lives with his wife, Kathy, by a lake in northwestern New Jersey. He has served as the chaplain at Hazelden New York, pastoral counselor at the Chemical Dependency Department of the International Center for the Disabled in NYC, and continuing care counselor at the outpatient Chemical Dependency Program of High Focus Centers in New Jersey. Currently he maintains a private practice in New Jersey. He is the author of The Presence at the Center, Renewing Your Fourth Step, The Three Inner Voices: Uncovering the Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery, and Sobriety and Inspiration: Entrusting Ourselves to the Source of Our Healing and Creativity.
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