Diamond2 ThoughtsThis part of the Diamond comes from a powerful model of therapy, developed over the past several decades, that has proven to be incredibly powerful in reversing depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and other emotional challenges. The model is called "cognitive therapy," and the basic idea is – you are not so much troubled by "what happens" to you, as you are by "what you think" about what happens to you – good or bad.

In therapy over the years, I have seen even minor "trigger" experiences set off major depressive episodes – not so much because of "what happened," but because of how the individual interpreted the experience, and what kind of thoughts they continue to think thereafter.

In contrast, I have also seen individuals weather even significant trigger experiences, and NOT develop depression or other emotional challenges. The major difference I have observed is – those who are devastated by their trigger experiences interpret them in a more universally negative way than those who weather the storm.

A depressive mindset is a pessimistic mindset. Martin Seligman, PhD, in his insightful book Learned Optimism identified pessimism as an "interpretive style," which when encountering adversity tends to interpret it as:

  1. Pervasive ("It's not just this; it's everything.")
  2. Permanent ("It's not just for now; it's forever")
  3.  Personal ("It's an evidence of my failings.")

For example, let's suppose a college-age girl meets an attractive young man in one of her classes. They talk for a while after class; and he takes her phone number and promises to call her that evening. She sits by the phone all night – and he never calls. She finally goes to bed at midnight, feeling profoundly depressed. What is her "trigger?"

She has experienced "disappointment." It's a mild circumstance. But it gets her down, because perhaps she thinks, "Guys never call me when they say they will; You can never depend on anyone" (pervasive); "I'll probably never meet anyone; I'll be single forever" (permanent); "I guess I'm just not attractive; guys just don't like me" (personal.) In the process, she takes a short-term disappointing experience, and views it through a devastating long-term lens – increasing its hurtful and destructive impact.

Meanwhile, another girl going through the same disappointment may process it through an "optimistic interpretive style." She may say to herself "He must have had something come up tonite; he'll probably call me tomorrow – or I might run into someone even better!" (specific); "When the time is right, the right guy will come along – it just wasn't tonite." (temporary); "He might have had a class go long tonite; or ran out of gas on the way home; or gotten a call from his family out of state that kept him busy tonite" (multiple causes.)

This second girl is viewing the situation through an "optimistic" mindset. She'll still be disappointed when the young man doesn't call – but she won't be devastated, and she won't get depressed. She'll be able to weather the experience, and move on from it, cheerfully and with resilience.

Epictetus, the ancient Greek philosopher, once observed, "Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view they take of them." When we take a positive, empowering view of our life circumstances, even severe challenges can help us grow, and bring us joy and meaning. When we take a pessimistic view, even small challenges can derail us - shattering our self-confidence, and bringing us down.

Besides the "pervasive, permanent, and personal" mindset that characterizes pessimism, other interpretive styles of thought can also launch us into depressive feelings and symptoms. These include :

  • black and white thinking (anything less than perfect is unacceptable);
  • mental filter (noticing only the negative aspects of a situation); and
  • should statements (focusing on deviations from a predetermined expectation.)

How we think – especially about the big and small "trigger experiences" we all experience – largely determines how we feel, and how we respond. Negative, pessimistic thinking is a significant contributor to depression and other emotional ailments. (For help in turning around depressive thinking, two books are recommended: The Feeling Good Handbook , by David D. Burns, MD; and Learned Optimism, by Martin P. Seligman, PhD.)

1-Triggers > 2-Thoughts > 3-Behavior > 4-Impact

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