Posts Tagged ‘pesimistic explanatory style’

How You Think, How You Feel

November 18, 2019

This title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is the fourth post on this book. By the late 1960s Joseph Wolpe and Tim Beck had drawn the same conclusion about depression. The conclusion was that depression is nothing more than its symptoms. It is caused by conscious negative thoughts. There is no deep underlying disorder to be rooted out: not unresolved childhood conflicts, not unconscious anger. Emotion comes directly from what we think: Think “I am in danger” and you feel anxiety. Think “I am being trespassed against” and you feel anger. Think “Loss” and you feel sadness. HM would like to note that biological causes of depression should not be ruled out, but most psychological processes, with the exception of thinking, should be ruled out.

Rumination is having the same depressing thoughts over and over. It is called rumination because people are chewing over and over the same thoughts. Seligman writes that rumination combined with a pessimistic explanatory style is the recipe for severe depression. Seligman continues, “The difference between people whose learned helplessness disappears swiftly and people who suffer their symptoms for two weeks or more is usually simple: Members of the latter group have a pessimistic explanatory style, and a pessimistic explanatory style changes learned helplessness from brief and local to long-lasting and general. Learned helplessness becomes full-blown depression when the person who fails is a pessimist. In optimists, failure produces only brief demoralization.”

Seligman continues, “The key to this process is hope over hopelessness. Pessimistic explanatory style consists of certain kinds of explanations for bad events: personal (“It’s my fault”), permanent (It’s always going to be like this”), and pervasive (It’s going to undermine every aspect of my life.)

Seligman’s theory follows: “there is one particularly self-defeating way to think: making personal, permanent, and pervasive explanations for bad events.” People who have this most pessimistic of all styes are likely, once they fail, to have he symptoms of learned helplessness for a long time and across many endeavors, and to lose self-esteem. Such protracted learned helplessness amounts to depression. People who have a pessimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events will probably become depressed, whereas people who have an optimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events tend to resist depression.” Consequently, pessimism is a risk factor for depression in the same sense as smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer or being a hostile, hard-driving man is a risk factor for a heart attack.

Cognitive Therapy is an effective therapy for depression for the following reasons:

First, you learn to recognize the automatic thoughts flitting through your consciousness at the time you feel worst.

Second, you learn to dispute the automatic thoughts by marshaling contrary evidence.

Third, you learn to make different explanations, called reattributions, and use them to dispute your automatic thoughts.

Fourth, you learn how to distract yourself from depressing thoughts.

Fifth, you learn to recognize and question the depression-sowing assumptions governing so much of what you do.

The concluding section to this chapter is titled “Why Does Cognitive Therapy work? This section is presented in its entirety.

“There are two kinds of answers to this question. On a mechanical level, cognitive therapy works because it changes explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, and the change is permanent. It gives you a set of cognitive skills for talking to yourself when you fail. You can use these skills to stop depression from taking hold when failure strikes.

At a philosophical level, cognitive therapy works because it takes advantage of newly epitomized powers of the self. In an era when we believe the self can change itself, we will try to change habits of thought which used to seem as inevitable as sunrise. Cognitive therapy works in our era because it gives the self a set of techniques for changing itself. The self chooses to do this work out of self-interest, to make itself feel better.