This Article is a reprint by Jennifer Anderson writing for Everyday Health.
Negative thinking can slow depression recovery, and the reason is obvious: If you think negative thoughts, you’re more likely to stay depressed. But what’s less obvious is the way people with depression deal with positive emotions.
Researchers have made a surprising observation: People with depression don’t lack positive emotions, they just don’t allow themselves to feel them.
This cognitive style is called “dampening,” says Chloe Carmichael, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York. It involves suppressing positive emotions with thoughts such as, “I don’t deserve to be this happy” or “This good feeling won’t last.” For example, a new mother with postpartum depression might tell herself she doesn’t deserve to recover because she’s a bad mother for being depressed in the first place, Dr. Carmichael says.
Why do people with depression think this way? Carmichael refers to that negative voice as defensive pessimism — protection against getting high hopes dashed. “You don’t want to be the fool, so you resort to dampening positive thoughts to protect yourself from potential disappointment,” she says.
How CBT Can Help With the Negative Thoughts of Depression
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to help significantly with depression treatment. In CBT, you and your therapist work together to agree on patterns of behavior that need to be changed. The goal is to recalibrate the part of your brain that’s keeping such a tight hold on happy thoughts.
“An unexpected reaction to a major life event might be at the root of the dampening effect,” Carmichael says. “Through CBT, you and your therapist address it and work toward putting it into perspective.”
Regular CBT sessions and work you do on your own outside of therapy can help reinforce the new patterns, “To be able to recognize those negative thoughts and leave them behind can be very liberating,” Carmichael says.
5 CBT Techniques to Counteract the Negative Thinking of Depression
Carmichael has found that people with depression rarely respond well to self-study. For this reason, she recommends committing to CBT for at least six weeks. Your therapist will teach you CBT strategies that can help counteract the negative thinking associated with depression. She or he can also help you stay on track with practicing the techniques. Here are five CBT strategies you might end up working on with your therapist:
Carmichael says that the self-statement shouldn’t be too far from the negative thought, or the mind might not accept it. For example, if the negative thought is, “I’m so depressed right now,” rather than saying, “I’m feeling really happy now,” a better statement might be, “Every life has ups and downs, and mine does, too.” The message tells you that it’s okay to bump up the degree of happiness you experience. At the same time, your mind applauds itself for keeping joy in check to protect from disappointment. “It’s okay to recognize that part of you that’s trying to do something healthy,” she says.
Sometimes self-statements become too routine and need to be refreshed, Carmichael says. She recommends to translate your self-statements into other languages that you might speak, or rephrase them, possibly even bumping up their joyful feelings a bit. “For example, the self-statement “It’s okay to explore my ups” might become “It’s okay to have a super ‘up’ day.”