John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Mindset Pessimism

The Depressive Mindset

When something bad happens, the pessimist thinks: there’s something wrong with me, it will effect everything I do, and it always going to be this way. I am crap, my whole life is crap, my life will always be crap.

When something bad happens, the optimist thinks: there’s something wrong with this situation, the rest of my life is okay, and it –– whatever “it” is –- is only temporary.

The pessimist lives by the three Ps: personal, pervasive, permanent. (It’s me, it’s everything, it’s forever.)

Pessimism + rumination (mentally going over and over things that have happened) puts people at risk for becoming depressed. Bad things happen to everyone, but not everyone becomes depressed, and some people bounce back more quickly.

(Note: there are other factors that predispose people to depression, of course. Biology, temperament, and early parental loss, for instance.)

Pessimism is a
thinking pattern. When people who are depressed come to therapy, we often try discern the role thinking patterns play in how the client interprets his or her world. Depressives have a habit of personalizing everything. They also have a tendency to use selective abstraction –– that is, they pick out the one or two negative things about a situation and ignore the rest. Therapy for the depressive is often a process of identifying perceptions, thinking patterns, and beliefs –– and restoring perspective.

We can change our thinking patterns, but it is not enough to say, “Think Positive.” This is simply too general and too broad. We need to be specific. We need to pinpoint the specific ways the depressive thinks and then examine those patterns for distortions and logical alternatives. As you might imagine, this type of changes take a little time, not to mention commitment, focus, effort, and repetition.

By the way, I do not mean to minimize the role that external events play in our suffering or, for that matter, our happiness. Such things matter a great deal. But what does it mean to be a hardy individual? What does it mean to cope well with the slings and arrows that life shoots our way?

How you think matters.