According to Martin Seligman, an expert in Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the main processes by which we develop a depressive thinking style as children is by a tendency to explain negative events as :
- PERMANENT (i.e. not something that is transient and will pass).
- PERVASIVE (i.e. generalizing. For example, failing an exam and saying ‘I’m a failure at everything.’)
- PERSONAL (e.g. thinking: ‘It’s my fault my parents divorced).
Hence, I refer to it as the 3P Theory.
As time goes on, this depressive thinking style can become automatic and ingrained, putting the child at risk of developing fully-blown, clinical depression in later life and leading him/her to start to believe that it is his/her ‘fate’ or ‘destiny to be forever plagued by negative events. that are his/her fault and which s/he is powerless to overcome (also sometimes referred to as LEARNED HELPLESSNESS.
A NEUROLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE :
Furthermore, taking a neurological perspective, the child’s brain (particularly when very young) is very malleable and plastic; this idea can be summed up by the well-known expression :
Neurons that fire together, wire together.’
In other words, habitually thinking in this negative way can alter the brain physiologically, creating unhelpful neural circuits that make negative thinking patterns all the harder to break. Thus, a vicious circle can develop :
- the more one thinks negatively, the more ingrained these neural circuits become in the brain which, in turn, lead to an even greater intensity of negative thinking…and so on…and so on…
HOW CAN THIS PROCESS BE PREVENTED?
In relation to this question, Martin Seligman made two main points :
- Children can be taught how to think more positively and optimistically.
- The protection afforded to the child by successfully teaching him/her more helpful ways to think (e.g. mote positively and optimistically) lasts for years.
In relation to this, you may be interested to view his book entitled: ‘The Optimistic Child’ by clicking here.
Childhood Trauma And Its Link To Depression And Anxiety by David Hosier MSc.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).