Woman holding white paper sheet labeled word Depression in hand.

Sharing – What’s going on in depression to make negative beliefs so sticky?

In the article below, Tobias walks us through some of the reality that prevents people dealing with depression can’t just get some new facts and change their beliefs.

Specifically, the problem is not simply that the content of someone’s beliefs is negative in depression; it’s also that there is an inability to abandon these beliefs. Most people develop negative beliefs sometimes (eg, I’m bad at this), but typically revise such beliefs if they receive positive feedback that contradicts them, such as being told that they did well at a challenging task. People with depression, however, often stick to negative beliefs despite having positive, disconfirming experiences.

I think this is important to understand because so often we assume that someone with negative thoughts or doubts about themselves and the people around them just needs to be shown some contradictory information and they’ll move away from it. For many of us, that is true. I can say “I’m bad at this”, or distrust people but if someone were to offer some contradictory facts I might be swayed fro that thinking.

When I was dealing with major depression? There was never enough contradictory evidence that would cause me to rethink my feelings, they were too powerful and they were too much a part of me.

Think of it like politics. There are people in the world who cannot be swayed from certain beliefs, no matter how much evidence is shown to them because the belief is part of how they define themselves. It’s too hard to move away from beliefs that are self-defining.

Well, those of us who have had depression know that those negative beliefs are part of the disease, which is part of who we are. This ability to alter them may not exist in us yet. Telling us to “think differently” might be as effective as telling someone with the flu to keep their temperature normal. It’s not completely in our control to do that, even if all the evidence says those negative beliefs aren’t true. They are part of us.


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