Written by Holly Chuang, Clinical Intern
Depression can be learned in childhood. When a child accidentally does something and gets yelled at by a parent with language such as: “Why did you do that?” as though the child did it on purpose, the child picks up the parent’s way of explaining the incident. “You did it because you never listen to me.” “You did it to irritate me on purpose.” “You did it because you’re the careless one.”
In a healthy home, a child learns that there are many ways to understand interactions and to learn. The child could have been listening to their parent but needs to practice changing their behavior. The child could have misunderstood, and the parent needs to teach in a different way for them to understand.
Unfortunately, if continued throughout childhood, the child may become an adult who has adopted depressive explanatory styles. They may find it hard to imagine being able to affect their future and change possibilities. I see this in my friends, family, and clients all the time.
Here are five beliefs I encourage my clients to adopt for themselves:
Friends and Dating. Instead of “I am bad at relationships. There is something wrong with me”, try:
“I have had friends or partners who didn’t treat me well, but I am learning how to choose better friends and date better people. I won’t always feel this lonely because I am beginning to connect with people on a meaningful level and share more of myself in relationships.”
Parents. Instead of “My relationship with my parents is going to be like this for the rest of my life!” try:
“I feel hopeless about my parents right now, but I won’t always feel this way. I am in therapy and learning to change how I interact with them. Changes in me affect everyone in my family.”
Work. Instead of “It’s my fault for staying at my job when everyone disrespects the work I do”, try:
“I just want to find a new job, but until I do, things are getting better here. However small, my teammates have been responding when I communicate with them how their mistakes affect me. It’s uncomfortable being assertive, but I am practicing!”
Career. Instead of “I’m such a failure for having chosen this career. Now I have no idea what I want to do, and I’m behind all my friends!” try:
“I don’t know what I want to do, but it’s normal for people to change careers even at my age. I can explore and try out different directions now. I feel behind, but my experiences up to this point have shaped me and bring unique strengths into whatever I do next.”
Feeling Depressed. Instead of “This feeling is never going to end!” try:
“It’s hard to imagine this feeling will stop, but I know the intensity will subside. It’s not possible for my body to hold this intensity forever. I am unhappy now, but circumstances shift and change becomes inevitable. It may not be the circumstances I imagine, but I can trust that life is not static and neither is this feeling.”
These are not “thoughts” but are “beliefs.” I believe in my clients’ ability to affect their future and change possibilities. With practice, depressive explanatory styles can be unlearned and replaced with new, self-compassionate beliefs.