The central tenet of cognitive behavioural therapy is that your thoughts will have a direct impact on your mood and behaviours.1
- Thinking the negative thought "I'm a failure" can make you feel worthless;
- Thinking the negative thought "I'm a burden" can cause you to feel shame and self-hatred;
- Thinking the negative thought "I'm not good enough" can influence you not to try something that you really want to do;
- Each of these thoughts - plus many, many more - can contribute to you feeling depressed.
On that note, in this blog post, we'd like to share with you a free excerpt from our Negative Thinking Bootcamp that details 10 thinking patterns - (also known as cognitive distortions2) which commonly fuel depression.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #1: Filter Thinking
Filter thinking is where you filter out all of the “good” or the “positive” in a situation and only focus on the “bad” or the “negative”. This could take the form of, for example:
- Filtering out all of the praise your boss gives you for a project you worked on, and instead thinking “I’m bad at my job” because there was one small area where you made a mistake that they’d like you to fix.
- Filtering out all of the times you were kind, patient and loving with your child, and instead focusing on the one time you snapped at them and thinking that you're a "terrible parent" as a result.
- Filtering out all of the posts on social media you saw of people doing regular, everyday things and instead focusing all of your attention on the one post where someone is on holidays somewhere beautiful – and then consequently thinking that your life is boring because you aren’t on that holiday yourself.
- Filtering out all of the times you said “yes” to doing a favour for someone, focusing on the one time you said “no”, and then consequently concluding that you’re "unhelpful".
- Filtering out all of the positives you bring to a relationship, focusing exclusively on the times when you needed your partner's support instead, and consequently concluding that you're a "burden" and that your partner would be "better off without you".
- Filtering out all of the times when you went along with what your partner wanted to do, focusing on the one time when you stood up for yourself and suggested that you both do what you want to do instead, and then consequently concluding that you’re a "difficult person to be with".
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #2: Overgeneralisation
This is where you make broad, big-picture conclusions about something based on very little information or evidence. Some common examples include:
- Thinking / concluding “I can't do anything right” after making one mistake.
- Thinking / concluding “people are such a**holes” in response to a few users posting mean, abusive comments on social media.
- Thinking / concluding “all men / women are bad” in response to a couple of negative romantic relationships.
- Thinking / concluding “marriage doesn't work” after getting divorced.
- Thinking / concluding “therapy doesn’t work” after trying only a few sessions and/or working with only a couple of therapists.
- Thinking / concluding “it isn't possible to overcome depression” after trying only a couple of medications and reading a couple of self-help books.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #3: Personalisation
This is where you take personal responsibility for things that aren’t in your control, and/or that have nothing to do with you. Personalisation often results in you blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault, and can take the form of, for example:
- Blaming yourself and thinking that it’s your fault that your partner is upset – even when what’s troubling them is actually completely unrelated to you (such as in the case of them having a problem with their boss at work, for instance).
- Thinking “the reason I was bullied as a child is because I'm a loser / because there’s something wrong with me” – when in reality, there may’ve been many, many other reasons why you were bullied that have absolutely nothing to do with you – such as because the bully was struggling with their own pain / demons / inner turmoil, which led them to act in the way that they did; because they were selfish; because they had one or more toxic personality traits; because they lacked empathy; because they had poor impulse control; because they didn’t know how to regulate their emotions; because they had low self-esteem and consequently bullied you in order to feel powerful and therefore better about themselves; because they had a distorted perception of what is “right” and what is “wrong”; because they were jealous of you; because they were unsatisfied with their own achievements in life and so they tried to sabotage yours so that you wouldn’t “surpass them”; because they craved social approval / they wanted to try to improve their social standing; and/or because they were sadistic.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #4: Catastrophisation
This is where you conclude that something is much more drastic, dire or hopeless than it actually is. For example:
- Thinking “I can’t do ANYTHING right” in response to your boss giving you constructive criticism for a presentation you gave (which may be upsetting, but just means that you have room for improvement in this particular area – not that you can’t do ANYTHING right).
- Catastrophising the reality “I haven’t overcome depression yet” into the definitive, all-conclusive prophecy “I will NEVER overcome depression!”
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #5: All-Or-Nothing Thinking
This is where you view something as either one extreme or the other, instead of having a more balanced, accurate perspective. For example:
- Thinking “I’m not as well prepared for this exam as I’d like to be, so instead of acing it, I’m going to fail”.
- Thinking “I know I don’t look my best because I only had two minutes to get ready, so I must look terrible”.
- Thinking “I made one silly comment in my job interview today, so the whole thing was a complete disaster”.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #6: Emotional Reasoning
This is where you reason that because you feel something, that it must be true. However, just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean that it’s true at all (particularly when you’re struggling with depression, which can of course significantly distort the way you think and feel).
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #7: Mind-Reading
This is where you jump to conclusions about what someone else is thinking. For example:
- Mind-reading when it comes to what someone else thinks of your physical appearance – such as thinking “they probably hate my new haircut”.
- Mind-reading when it comes to what someone else thinks of your character – such as thinking “I shouldn’t have said that – they’ll think I’m an idiot now”, “they saw me cry so they must think I’m weak”, or “everyone thinks I’m a burden because I’m not as happy as I used to be”.
- Mind-reading when it comes to the status of your relationships – such as thinking “we’re no longer friends because I arrived late to dinner”, “our relationship is on the rocks because they’re in a bad mood”, or “I have to make everything perfect for their birthday or else they’ll leave me".
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #8: Fortune Telling
This is another example of jumping to conclusions, where you make a prediction about the future and then assume it to be true. And, when you have depression, this most commonly involves making a negative prediction about the future, such as:
- Thinking “this therapist / book / strategy, etcetera won't be able to help me”, without even giving that therapist / book / strategy, etcetera a try.
- Thinking “I just know that dating apps won't work for me” without ever using one.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #9: Disqualifying The Positives
This is where, if something positive happens, you reject it or discount it instead of accepting and embracing it. An example of this would be receiving a compliment, but instead of believing it, disregarding it by thinking, “they didn’t mean it – they were just trying to be nice”.
Thinking Pattern / Cognitive Distortion Which Fuels Depression #10: Should Statements
These are damaging expectations or beliefs you have about yourself, other people or the world about how things should be done or about the way things should be. For example:
- Thinking “I should have a better job by now … I’m such a loser for still being where I am”.
- Thinking “I should have achieved more in my life by now … I’m such a failure”.
When you're fighting depression, it can be really helpful to try to identify and bring awareness to when you may be engaging in one or more of these distorting thinking patterns. This is because if you’re able to recognise that your negative thoughts are indeed cognitive distortions – as opposed to being accurate perceptions of reality – then it will likely become much easier for you to dismiss them and push them from your mind (or at the very least, your negative thoughts will likely lose some of their power over you).
So, for this reason, we really encourage you to try to keep these distorted thinking patterns in mind.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
P.S. If you found this free excerpt from our Negative Thinking Bootcamp helpful and would like to get instant access to the entire Bootcamp in order to learn a wide variety of cognitive behavioural therapy strategies to help you cope with and overcome your negative thoughts, then we'd like to invite you to become a Depression Bootcamps Member - which will give you access to this Bootcamp and many, many more!