What Are Some Ways That Depression Is Distorting My Perception?

The Depression Project

5 min read

In this video, professional counsellor & Depression Project co-founder Mathew Baker sits down with renowned interviewer Hayden Turner to answer the question: What Are Some Ways That Depression Is Distorting My Perception?

Video Transcript for What Are Some Ways That Depression Is Distorting My Perception?

Hayden:

Mat, a community question: What are some ways to recognise depression is distorting my perception?

Mathew:

Yeah, I think this is a really good question, because especially when you're in a depressive episode, that's when the distortions are the highest. So, the more intense the symptoms, the more intense the distortions.

We call them "cognitive distortions" - where cognitive distortions are essentially things which distort the language in your brain, your thoughts, your cognitions, and the way things are being processed.

So, one example to recognise that depression is distorting things is when you start thinking in the "absolutes".

For example, when you're in a depressive episode, you may have thoughts like, "things will never, EVER get better".

That's an absolute, it's a certainty in your mind, when the future's inherently unpredictable, and there are a lot of choices you can make to influence your future. So to have such certainty about the future is a sign that depression's very much distorting things. That's the first one, I'd say.

Hayden:

That's the first. What are some other signals? You've talked about that overwhelming feeling of, "Is this it? There's no future", but what are some other things that you have come across in your experience?

Mathew:

Another one is how you reflect on yourself - so your perception of yourself.

If all you see are negatives, then that's also very much a sign that depression is distorting things.

After all, we're complex human beings ... we have many facets to us ... many traits ... and depression can sort of blind you to a lot of the positive ones.

For example, there may be times when you made a past mistake or where you have some sort of regret. In these cases, what people often do is they centre their identity around this, and think things like, "I'm a failure, I'm a loser. I'm not good enough as a person" - all these sort of thoughts. But, in doing this, they're also ignoring, minimising or brushing over so many traits they have which are positive. For example, the fact that they treat other people with respect ... that they're punctual and turn up to things on time ... that they're polite ... that they're considerate of other people's beliefs ... that they're honest ... etcetera, etcetera.

Hayden:

Yeah, right.

Mathew:

There's tens and tens, hundreds and hundreds of different positive traits that people have - they're often just not in touch with them as much. And, when you have depression, it's really common to completely disqualify them, reject them, or to be completely blind to them.

Furthermore, depression overmagnifies all the negative traits ... all the imperfections ... all the mistakes.

Hayden:

Yeah. I heard you when we've discussed a similar subject once before about down to the minutia, down to the tiny little things of dropping something or kicking your toe - how you can turn that into, "I can't even walk properly, I can't even walk straight", for example.

Mathew:

Definitely - and that's the overmagnifying of, OK, you made one mistake, one thing you didn't do right, everyone does that in life. But depression will just distort things and convince you, "Oh, it means you have zero redeeming qualities, and you've got nothing at all to feel the slightest bit of worthiness around".

So, that's very much depression - and to help offset this, it can be really helpful to try to bring awareness and to write down your positive traits and the good things about you. For example, are you creative? Are you artistic? Are you generous? Are you loyal? Are you humble? Are you caring? Would you support a friend in need? Are you curious? Etcetera, etcetera.

We have so many different facets to us and I'd say that that's one of the biggest distortions that depression has, where, again, it just blinds you to all this, it wants to reject all of it, and just construct everything around one little thing you did wrong, for example.

Hayden:

Yeah. And that sounds like a positive thing, even though it sounds ... you hear a lot of people saying, "Oh, you should write things down, you should journal things." It does actually make a huge difference. And it's hard to make that first step, but writing those positive traits down on a piece of paper, on a keyboard, whatever you want ... and looking at those positive traits that you do have really will start to give you a concrete look at who you really are.

Mathew:

Definitely - it'll help you recognise the lies of depression, and help you to distance yourself from them.

Now, another really common distortion I want to go into in terms of recognising that depression is lying to you and distorting your reality is personalisation.

In particular:

Depression can lead you to over-personalise things - i.e. it can lead you to take personal responsibility for everything, to blame yourself for everything, and to make everything "about you" in a very self-critical way.

So, for example, let's say that someone crosses the street and looks at you for one second, and they don't look that happy and they keep on walking. Now, this could happen for any number of reasons, but what depression could tell you may be: "Oh, that person can tell that I'm a loser, that I'm a failure. I should have never made eye contact with them - I've now ruined their day". This is an example of over-personalising things - because like I said, there could be many reasons why someone looked at you that way. For example, maybe they were deep in thought about something serious in their life, maybe they were just having a bad day, etcetera. It's probably nothing to do with you.

Another example of over-personalising too would be if you were in a social setting, and you said one little thing which didn't get the laugh that you wanted let's say - which leads you to think "oh, I mustn't be funny, everyone hates me, I've just brought the whole mood of the conversation down. I've just got to shut up forever, and I shouldn't even be here". This is another example of over-personalising - thinking all of these really negative thoughts and making conclusions about what everyone else thinks, and making it all about you - when in reality, you said one thing out of what? Thousands of things in the two-hour period let's say of this social interaction, where there are heaps and heaps of different variables and things going on, even in terms of someone's state. This may have been the third or something interaction they've had that day, and they could be affected by their work, their mind could be thinking about something that's going on at home, etcetera ... but you're assuming they're 100% present with you and that their emotional state is dictated by that one little thing you said, which when in reality, this was one very, very small part of that social interaction, which was one very, very small part of their day. So over-personalising in this way is an example of how depression can hugely distort your perception of things.

Hayden:

So, kind of going back to what I said before, really taking stock, reflecting, having a look at it, unpacking each situation, and writing some of those positive traits down could get you through some tricky, tricky spots.

Mathew:

Definitely, and just not being quick to react to your thoughts. Even just reminding yourself that "your thoughts are not facts" can be very helpful when it comes to recognising depression's distortions.

Hayden:

Yeah.

Mathew:

And just recognising these distortions ... like the one about the "absolutes" we talked about, and making very firm, concrete conclusions about things which are quite abstract and uncertain like the future ... and the over-personalising we spoke of ... and also the over-magnifying of one little thing and drawing all these negative conclusions about who you are and thinking you have no redeeming qualities ... during all these times, it can help if you just repeatedly tell yourself the phrase, "my thoughts and not facts ... my thoughts are not facts..." then you can reflect, and be more likely to realise, "oh, depression's just distorting my reality again". And this could prevent a downwards spiral into depression.

Hayden:

Great. Great insight into it, thanks Mat.

Mathew:

Thank-you.

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