I've talked about learning to be aware of your thoughts and feelings and how they affect your moods. Today I want to talk about a faulty thought process called personalization. If I think in this way, I see everything that happens as being about me. If someone is late for a meeting, I conclude he is failing to respect me. If a friend forgets my birthday, she doesn't care about me.
In reality, there may be any number of valid reasons why someone doesn't do what you're expecting, but if you're a personalized thinker, you never consider alternate reasons, and you're likely to end up angry, hurt, or indignant--in other words, unhappy.
A true example: I was driving on a highway with my then teenage son in the passenger seat when a speeding car passed us and cut us off sharply, nearly hitting my left front fender. My son responded, "What an idiot! Give him the horn, Mom!"
Fortunately, at that point in my life I had learned about personalization, so I quietly replied, "That driver is obviously not paying attention to what he's doing, but we don't know what's going on with him. He may have just lost his job, or learned that someone in his family has been seriously injured. Maybe his wife told him that she's leaving him. If I honk the horn, I may startle him and cause an accident. Better to simply give him plenty of room."
I think my son learned something that day, because he turned out to be a very safe driver.
Recently I read an article that said 80% of drivers surveyed admitted to experiencing road rage. I suspect that shows how common personalized thinking is.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION: My book, EXIT THE LABYRINTH: a memoir of early childhood depression, its onset and aftermath, will be available from Amazon on Kindle for the special price of $2.99 on Saturday, September 24, for one day only.
Just a reminder that my book, EXIT THE LABYRINTH: a memoir of early childhood depression, it's onset and aftermath, will be available for Kindle from Amazon at the special price of $2.99 on Saturday, September 24th.
Because my depression began so early--between the ages of three and five-- at a time I no longer consciously remembered, it affected my life for many years and the origins were quite difficult to discover. In the interim, I learned a great deal about the way our minds work, and I wrote the book in hopes of helping others to find their way out of depression.
Psychologists know that we need to make sense of the events in our lives, so when something happens that affects us, we look for reasons. If our house burns down, we search for the cause of the fire because we want to be able to prevent it from happening again.
In the same way, when events occur that are out of anyone's control--say lightning striking your home --we still look for reasons. Should we have installed lightning rods? Is God punishing us for some misdeed? Can we blame the builder?
Why is it so scary to accept that random things can happen? The knowledge that we can't control everything makes us feel vulnerable, even threatened. Healthy people understand that life has built-in risks; they take reasonable precautions to limit those risks, but they're comfortable getting into a car, for example, even though they know there is some possibility they'll be in an accident. Problems begin when we mistakenly assume we can control everything if only we're vigilant enough. Overprotective parents, control freaks and micromanagers are actually very anxious people, afraid that something will go wrong unless they oversee everything.
Because they believe themselves capable of taking care of everything, they usually see others as unreliable, and they don't trust anyone else to take responsibility. Of course, this behavior leaves others feeling powerless. Growing up with an overprotective parent or living with, or working with, a control freak or micromanager can damage your self-esteem to the point where you feel hopeless, and that can lead to depression.
On the other hand, when you are the one who feels you have to take care of everything, you can find yourself depressed., as I did. When something went wrong, I automatically saw it as my fault. I felt guilty and inadequate and my depression deepened. I had to learn to distinguish between things that were never under my control and things I actually was responsible for. The more I realized that I didn't have to control everything--that I couldn't control everything--the more comfortable I became with life. I had to learn not to expect everything to go perfectly and to deal with the outcome, whatever happened.
It tool a while, but it was worth it!
Okay, you've been feeling down lately, you seem to have no energy, either can't sleep well or are sleeping too much. You can't eat or are eating too much, particularly carbs. Things that used to interest you don't feel worth doing anymore. You find yourself retreating from your friends, don't feel like dressing up or paying attention to your grooming. Moreover, this has been going on for a while and maybe you can't even point to a specific event that brought it on. Sounds like you're depressed. What should you do? This is what I learned from years of fighting depression.
FIRST, SEE A DOCTOR. When you're depressed, your brain chemistry changes, and that can happen for different reasons. They may be behavioral, environmental, dietary, or physiological. Tell your doctor how you've been feeling and review any medications and supplements you've been taking or have recently stopped taking.
Discuss your daily routine. Lack of sleep. sleep disorders, chronic stress and lack of exercise all can affect your brain chemistry, as can exposure to toxic chemicals, pesticides and lack of sunlight. Too much caffeine, allergies, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies can be culprits as well. Your doctor should check for physiological reasons for your depression, such as insulin resistance, chronic infections, and hormone imbalances. Report any familial connections to depression--it may be genetic.
Finally, although it's rare, an inborn abnormality or insufficient blood flow to the brain can affect your brain chemistry.
I haven't said anything yet about antidepressants for a reason. There are some very effective medications available, but if the cause of your depression is due to one of the above reasons, taking a pill may make you feel better for a while, but you're still swimming upstream if you don't eliminate or rectify the cause. You can easily end up on medication for the rest of your life. Furthermore, it is common for your body to become tolerant of medications, so you may have to take more and more in order to obtain relief.
So what do you do if your doctor has checked you out and none of the above reasons for your depression are present? You might need to change your thinking habits because your thoughts can change your brain chemistry! Neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists have a saying: "Neurons that fire together wire together." The more you think a particular thought, the easier it is to think it again, and the harder it becomes to think differently. Thus, if you often think, "I'm a loser," the easier it is to believe it, even if it isn't true. That's why it's easier to learn to do something than to unlearn it. Habits are hard to break, and you have to really work to change your thinking habits. Here's where an antidepressant really helps. It may take a few weeks to alter your brain chemistry, but doing so will make it easier to tackle the work of understanding where and why your thoughts have made you depressed. A therapist can help you understand how your thoughts are making you feel bad, and once you understand, it becomes easier to change. If your thinking habits are longstanding, however, it may take some time.
I know. I've been there.
IN CASE YOU ARE INTERESTED, my book, EXIT THE LABYRINTH: a memoir of early childhood depression, its onset and aftermath, will be available on Amazon for your Kindle at the special price of $2.99 for one day only on Saturday, September 24th.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.