The Power of Negative Thinking
Everything good is powerful, but not everything powerful is good. Negative thoughts fall into the latter category. They can adversely impact your relationships, including the all-important relationship you have with yourself.
These thoughts have the potential to reinforce the symptoms of depression and throw up roadblocks on your road to recovery. Recognize this kind of thinking for what it is — damaging and destructive. Here are some common negatives, along with suggestions for effectively managing them.
I Know What I Know
There's a line in Moonstruck, the movie starring Cher and Nicolas Cage, when Loretta (Cher) says to her new boyfriend, “I know what I know.” He's been trying to convince her to consider another perspective on her life, but she's put on the blinders, shut the shades, locked the door, and closed up the house for the summer. She doesn't want to hear anything that will challenge or contradict her thinking. As far as she's concerned, the subject is closed.
Depression can be like that. Your thinking gets narrow and muddled, and you begin to believe there's no other way of looking at the situation. When you find yourself thinking along these lines, take a deep, cleansing breath and say to yourself, “Maybe, just maybe, there's another way to think about this. What do you suppose that would be?” You might not get an answer immediately, but continue in this direction. You can retrain your mind to open itself to other possibilities.
This Is It. My Life Is Over
Perhaps a little dramatic, but sometimes it's easy to think this way when you're feeling hemmed in and shut off from life. With this form of negative thinking, tomorrow will be no better than today, and quite possibly, will be even worse.
“The bend in the road isn't the end of the road, unless you refuse to make the turn” — Anonymous. Life throws some S-curves and some hairpin turns at all of us. You can handle them if you keep both hands on the wheel and go easy on the brakes.
The truth is you don't know what tomorrow will have in store. Nobody does. But one thing is certain: If you expect things to be bad, they will be. You can't control the unfolding of the universe. The only control you have is in the way you react.
When you feel yourself in the gloom and doom — “We're all gonna' die!” — mood, give yourself one of those mental head slaps and replace that thought with something a little more realistic. One word can make a difference. Even if the best you can come up with right now is “Maybe we're all gonna' die” — at least you're beginning to get your mind around some different possibilities. And after all, life is all about possibilities.
Perfect is the Only Option
Perfectionists are prone to depression. If you're a perfectionist, you're hard on yourself and on everyone else, as well. There's only one way to do the job — and that's the perfect way. You want to control the situation.
But there is no perfect way. There's always one more improvement that could have been made, or one more rough edge that should have been sanded off better. You'll never be satisfied, and even your best work isn't good enough. What you're really feeling is that you aren't good enough. Just how good do you have to be? And by whose standards?
Perfectionism lends itself to specific, scripted routines and rituals. In this regard, it shares some characteristics with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — got to do it right. Got to do it again, to make sure it's right. An effective therapy for OCD is desensitization. You learn to go longer and longer without performing the ritual. You learn to accept that you've done the procedure right the first time.
Consider using this technique to manage perfectionism. Set yourself some limits and commit to them. “I'll just fine tune the project two more times and then I'll call it quits.” Then do it and accept the thanks or praise that others give you, with a clear conscience.
It's All About Me
Self-consciousness is an interesting aspect of ego. You feel conspicuous. You think that everybody is focused on you, being critical of you, blaming you, talking about you, and generally, making you center stage in their lives. The result is that you're afraid to make a move for fear of messing up and drawing attention to yourself.
When your mind is working optimally, you understand that your self-worth is not determined by what others think of you. When you're dealing with depression, your sense of self-worth and self-consciousness get all mixed up together. Understand that not everyone is going to like you. If you think about this, you'll realize you wouldn't want everyone to like you.
After all, you have your standards. Not everyone is worthy of your friendship. The person most worthy of that friendship, however, is you. When you find yourself running scared, stop in your tracks. Ask yourself, “What exactly am I running away from?” The next question is, “Why am I doing this?” You most likely won't come up with a very satisfying answer. And that's good. It's time to stop running.
Everything Is My Fault
This is perfectionism's opposite — sort of its evil twin. It's a lack of self-respect. With this kind of thinking, you become the world's doormat. Whatever goes wrong, you feel that somehow you're to blame for the situation. No matter that circumstances may be so far out of your control to make this impossible, you must have caused the foul-up. You feel that you should have done this, or you could have done that, and then everything would be different, somehow.
Pull yourself back to Mother Earth. Nobody has that kind of power. Talk to your psychotherapist to develop strategies that will help you work through these feelings and replace them with more constructive thoughts.
Children can feel the same way adults do, and if your child is coping with depression, this may be an avenue to explore. Psychologists refer to this as “magical thinking.” Here's how it works: A child is angry at a parent and wishes that parent dead. The parent then has a heart attack and dies. The child is convinced that he is responsible for the death. This places an incredible burden of incalculable power on the child and the child can't cope. Play therapy is often used for children who are struggling with these issues.
Truth in Labeling
Sometimes the only exercise people get is in skipping logic and jumping to conclusions. This is common, whether you have depression or not. In this case, you confuse the action with the person who's performed the action.
Here are a few common expressions to illustrate the point. The labeling has gotten confused.
You said, “I can't do anything right.” (You broke a glass.)
You said, “I'm an idiot.”(You couldn't decipher the assembly instructions for that new treadmill.)
You said, “I am such a loser.” (You made a mistake.)
By upping the ante in each of these examples, you've lost sight of the truth, which is: Everybody drops things. Everyone has had difficulty following assembly directions. Everybody makes mistakes. Instead, you've accepted some self-destructive labels: Loser, idiot, inept. Don't accept future deliveries! Next time something happens, accept the responsibility for the action. If you can prevent it from happening again, great! But don't heap abuse on yourself. It's counterproductive.