In a recent scientific study by LeMoult, J., et. al, it was stated that “…negatively biased self-referential processing contributed unique variance to the likelihood of experiencing a depressive episode over the next 3 years.”
But if we were to analyze the meaning of these words, we would discover an incredibly self destructive habit that most, if not all of us, consciously and subconsciously indulge in – self criticism.
Self criticism is the main reason behind depression in most people!
I’m sure a lot of you can identify with noticing a mistake that you’ve made, and berating yourself silently for it. Or walking past a mirror and finding yourself stopping by to dissect your flaws.
We all do it, and the worst part is, often we don’t even realize that we have been doing it. That’s what makes self criticism so much more harmful – the ease with which we lapse into it.
Even the most confident of us do it from time to time. Some people like to think that it keeps them attentive, but all it does is bring out your flaws in microscopic detail solely for yourself. The lasting effect it has on your psyche, the way it induces negativity and stress, outweighs whatever good could come from self criticism. All it does is harm our mental health.
Studies conducted about the connection between self criticism and depression all come to the same conclusion!
Recently, there was a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and University of Southern California, to look more closely at the relationship between self criticism and depression, and more specifically, connections in “negatively biased self-referential processing, negative life events, baseline depressive symptoms and psychotropic medication“, and relapsing depression.
In this case, a ‘self referential process’ is when we try to decipher stimuli induced in us, in reference to ourselves, and as a direct result of our actions. Not surprisingly, the simple act of enabling our self criticizing tendencies makes simpler the path for depression to set in. Or, to put it directly, self criticism itself enables a quicker onset of depression, and repeatedly so.
To further explore this relationship between the presence of a negative self image and the occurrences of episodic depression, a study enlisted a hundred women who had been concretely diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and were in the full remission state, i.e., they had not been actively depressed for at least two months.
These women were subjected to a sequential process causing exposure to a set of stimuli that were inherently mood altering.
The first step was the induction of a ‘negative mood state’, by showing clips from movies where the characters were suffering or in problem, and then scaling the mood of the spectating women from one to five.
Next, they used software to ‘encode’ these reflective and self inflicting attitudes, surveying the tendency of the participants of the study to analyze their responses to affirmations. A twenty one part questionnaire was used to list and detail the depressive symptoms, if they were experiencing any.
After this, the process was extensively and finely looked into, conducting repeated psychological assessments every one and a half year, for three years, so as to get a comprehensive picture.
The major point that was clearly observed was stated as “more negative self-referential processing at baseline (measurements) significantly increased the likelihood that formerly depressed individuals would experience a recurrent MDE (Major Depressive Episode) over the next 3 years“.
This means that a person who at a resting state criticizes his/her self more, is at much higher likelihood of having relapses of depressive episodes, quite simply put.
And despite so many variables related to the people in the study, like occurrence of negatively influencing life events, pharmacologically induced events, the level of their baseline depression symptoms, and their own tendencies for negative self reflection, the study could still clearly observe a direct path from having a negative self image to relapsing depression, even with other influencing factors being present or absent.
This only served to reinforce what other previous studies have also concluded – there is definite linkage between a negative self image and the repeated occurrences of depression, even more so in youth, children, and adolescents.
And these findings held fast across variations like age, race, income strata, level of professional education, certain cultural factors, and relationship or marital status.
So where do we go from here?
It’s obviously not a clear path. We need to analyze the cause-effect relationship between depression and negative self image, obviously, so as to better treat depression. But the first step has already been clarified for us to see. This tendency for negative self analysis should be nipped in the bud in any case of episodic depression.
And it is essential to any process of intervention, to discourage the practice of self criticism. It is absolutely essential, whether the person suffers from clinical depression, or is just going through a low patch.
Self betterment need not come at the cost of a damaged self image. And there is no one this applies more to than people who are already recovering from a major depressive episode.
While the survey leaves us with the clinical facts, implementing the conclusion falls on the shoulders of mental health professionals – and our own.
We need to re-teach ourselves the process of self evaluation without self criticism. That will, in the end, be the only healthy way to truly grow.
Constantly snipping away at ourselves from the inside is not conducive to any positive change, indeed, any change at all that can sustain itself over time.
And people who have depression should be doubly careful of this. Depression already makes it difficult for people to sustain a good self image. Why let yourself make it worse?
Here are some ways you can stop yourself, if you find yourself in this thought process:
– Take a step back and try to see the situation from a third person perspective. Is any of what you’re proposing right, or helpful? Is this what you would tell your best friend, if they needed advice?
– Don’t be afraid to stop your thoughts and reflect, are they even true, or are you being swayed by emotion? Does a rationale for such thought exist? And if it doesn’t, eliminate it on the spot.
– Physical distance helps where mental distance is difficult to find. Get up, drink water, take a short walk. Change your input of the world for a few minutes to break the cycle.
– If the confusion persists, take up an activity that engages your mind in a different way, like exercise, or a hobby that you love.
– Surround yourself with positive influences. And don’t be afraid if it takes time – it’s healthy to go slow but go strong.
– Love yourself – because you must, and just the way you are. And if there’s an aspect of yourself you don’t love, fix it, don’t pick at it mentally.
Source: Power Of Positivity;