We have seen that if we suffered significant, recurring trauma as children, we are put at increased risk of developing depression as adults (see the DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY section of this site which contains many articles about the link between childhood trauma and depression). One of the hallmarks of depression is, of course, NEGATIVE THINKING.
Fortunately, however, much scientific research has been conducted into techniques those suffering from depression can employ in order to reduce their tendency constantly to think in negative ways ; I briefly describe several of the most effective of these techniques below :
1) LEARNED OPTIMISM :
The psychologist, Seligman, has developed a method by which people who are pessimistic and prone to negative thinking can train themselves mentally to respond to adverse events in ways that are less negative and more optimistic by challenging their initial pessimistic responses.
Seligman developed his idea of how optimism may be learned whilst he was studying a phenomenon known as LEARNED HELPLESSNESS (you can read my article ‘Trauma, Depression And Learned Helplessness’ by clicking here); he reasoned that if people, through conditioning, can ‘learn’ to be helpless they may, too, be able to learn a more positive attitude to life and its vicissitudes.
There exists research to support Seligman’s theory. For example, the findings of a scientific study (Buchanan) conducted at the University of Pennsylvania strongly suggested that individuals with a tendency towards pessimism can be made significantly less vulnerable to depression and anxiety by being taught Seligman’s learned optimism techniques.
HOWEVER, there is a balance to be struck here as constantly striving to be positive and ‘upbeat’ at all times is likely to backfire – it is, I think we can all safely agree, axiomatic that one cannot go through life without encountering distress (some of us more than others, of course). Even so, we can make distress less painful to endure by learning techniques in DISTRESS TOLERANCE – you can read my article about this by clicking here.
(Interestingly, trying to relax can backfire, too – you can read about why this is in my article : Does Trying To Relax Paradoxically Increase Your Anxiety? by clicking here).
2) COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT) :
This can help us challenge our negative thoughts and correct irrational, faulty thinking styles associated with negative thinking (you can read two my articles relevant to this by clicking below):
3) DEFENSIVE PESSIMISM :
Despite the finding that learned optimism can be helpful in reducing depression it may, too, be paradoxically the case that a tendency towards pessimism, in certain situations, can sometimes be, as it were, strategically exploited.
This can be achieved by considering the worst possible outcome of an event in order to put things in perspective (the caveat being that it is necessary to put an action plan into operation to ensure the worst possible outcome does not come to fruition!).
This involves allowing negative thoughts to pass through the mind whilst NOT emotionally engaging with these thoughts or judging them – a simile that is sometimes used is that one should just observe, in a detached manner, these thoughts running through our heads with the same tranquility we would feel were we to be watching leaves on the surface of a river gently flow past us. You can read more about mindfulness in the HYPNOSIS AND MINDFULNESS section of this site.
THE ADVERSITY HYPOTHESIS :
It is important to remember that even very distressing experiences can improve us as a person (e.g. by providing us with a better perspective on life, making us realize what’s important in life, helping us to get our priorities straight, increasing the empathy we feel with others who have suffered in a similar way to ourselves, and toughening us up mentally.
An article of mine you may wish to read relating to this is :
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).