Depression is a state of mind, caused by an overwhelming loss of hope. People who experience depression have reached the erroneous conclusion that they can never find happiness due to a series of unfortunate life experiences. As a psychotherapist, I am a firm believer that people can permanently transition past chronic experiences of depression. However, such a transition is a process, that comes from the exercise of practicing positive and reality based thinking.
Here are 3 cognitive strategies for effectively managing difficult periods of depressive feelings.
There are more than one ways to be happy, however as creatures of habit, it is understandable that we would become habituated to a lifestyle, we believe we can find happiness in. To make matters worse, we often surround ourselves with a tribe of people who agree and reinforce our path to happiness, even though such a path may have run its course.
Most people in this predicament, find it difficult to imagine themselves reinventing their lives, for fear of the ties, connections and conveniences they would lose. While there is a kernel of truth to their concerns, establishing a path in your life cannot come from fearing what you will lose, instead it can only come from envisioning, what you truly desire.
The process of reestablishing hope, comes from focusing mostly, on what you desire. Creating a picture in your head of your desire, experiencing the feelings of joy from the picture you have created, then going through the process of modifying your behaviors to make your vision a reality.
It is well known that daily exercise helps your body release a cocktail of chemicals known as endorphins. Endorphins bind with receptors in your brain that relieve you of feelings of pain, which allow you to create positive thoughts and ideas which trigger positive feelings.
The most important step towards addressing depression is reestablishing thoughts and feelings of hope. Such a feat cannot be accomplished when you are engulfed in negative thoughts and feelings. Being engulfed in negative thoughts and feelings, leads to you brooding over worst case scenario along with chronic feelings of despair.
Another benefit of staying fit, is that it boosts overall brain performance and it also allows more access for use of the executive functions of the brain. This is important for being able to solve complex problems. Such as being able to transition past an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
Establishing a Routine.
Most people who struggle with depression, will often forgo routines pertaining to self-care and self-development. A good example will be daily hygiene. The reason for this is that the depressed person desires to feel good again, and has non-consciously decided that the only way they are going to engage in any meaningful tasks is if they feel good.
While good feelings are important, they are not consistent. This is because change is a constant in the world around us. Due to this, our perception of whether we are getting our needs met changes often, and subsequently so does our feelings. So therefore, relying on our feelings to determine whether, we are going to follow through with tasks in our daily lives is notoriously unreliable.
Establishing a routine is a matter of self-discipline. You need to practice doing things that are important, regardless of whether you are in the mood to do these things or not. Also, once a routine or several routines have been established, it helps with your sense of self confidence even in your most troubled days. This is because you will have certain things going for you are a result of your routine.
Imagine you are on an island, let’s give this island the name, Island A. So you are on Island A and you have found yourself unhappy with the island for a number of reasons. So you go to a travel agent’s office and you request for a ticket to leave the island. The travel agent agrees with you for the number of reasons you are fed up with Island A, and asks you where you would like to go. Then it occurs to you, you don’t where you will like to go.
This is precisely what happens whens we struggle to get past feelings of resentment, we have not yet identified how we will like to feel about the person and or situation we feel resentful about. We are stuck on our feelings of hurt, in regards to what was done/ or what we believe was done to us. The reason we find ourselves stuck with these feelings of resentment, is because our rules on how others should treat and behave towards us has been violated. This leads to a part of us, wanting the other party to change to our liking or at the very least make some sort of amends.
Such a mindset leads to a false sense of control, specifically over the thoughts and actions of others. Overcoming feelings of resentment comes down to the practice of accepting others for whom they present themselves to be. Accepting others for the things they say and the actions they carry out, leads to a focus on those whose words and actions we find ourselves in agreement with.
In short, rather than dwell on what someone has done to you, you can focus on aligning yourself with another person whose actions are consistent with your belief system. So going back to the initial analogy, if you walked into the travel agent’s office with the intent to leave Island A, the focus of your conversation is not going to be on expressing yourself on how much island A sucks, the focus of your conversation would to instruct the travel agent to put you on another specific island. For example, you would ask to be placed on the next ferry to Island B. At that point, if you and the travel agent were to become engaged in a casual conversation, the conversation would be on why you want to travel to Island B. Most people in this instance, would be more likely to focus their attention on what they consider to be the merits of Island B, rather than what they don’t like about Island A.
If you are stuck with feelings of resentment, chances are that you have unintentionally bought into a belief system on how other people should behave towards you. Moving past acute or lingering feelings of resentment comes from focusing on what types of people and subsequently, new and other relationships you will find beneficial.
If life where an onion and you peeled it down to its last layer, what you come to is choices. Life is about the choices we make, while the meanings we ascribe to these choices are secondary. A sense of hopelessness arises when we encounter pain and difficulties based on a series of choices we made and we have come to believe that there are no alternatives.
Perhaps we believed that these choices would lead us down a path of happiness (as is often the case) perhaps we have come to believe that these choices which led us to our current predicament, are the only path we could have taken to fulfill happiness. The latter is a primary and recurring cause for feeling hopeless.
Consider another analogy, you are traveling down a path in a cave, and you come to a dead end. There is no where else to go, there is a slab of rock in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you and behind you. Such a scenario is highly improbable, (except if you fell into a deep hole in a cave) which most people (if not all) in that scenario would feel hopeless. Yet, this is the illusion people create in their heads that results in the feelings of hopelessness. There are three reasons for this, and they are as follows:
Believing Your Choices are Your Identity.
While the choices you make in your life, definitely influence whom you are as a person, they are certainly not you. So a doctor, a boxer, an engineer, an uncle, etc. are nouns used to describe persons who engage in certain professions, and relationships. They are under no circumstances genuine descriptors of a person’s identity. When people become enmeshed in certain choices they have made, be it a profession or a relationship, they often resort to a sense of hopelessness when things in regards to their choices don’t work out. This is because this choice has become (falsely) an integral part of their identity, making it difficult for them to thoroughly consider other options.
Social Status and Pressure.
Then there are others, who have done a good job of separating the choices they have made from whom they are. However even when they find themselves thoroughly unhappy with a life decision, they remain hesitant to change due to social pressure and perceived status they have earned from adhering to certain norms via the choices they have made. In these situations, it is not the specific choice the person has made that keeps him miserable, it is the choice to give into social pressure that keeps him miserable. Further, as long as he continues to hold unto the beliefs that encourage the pursuit of status, when faced with life changing decisions he will see no options better that the choice he made, which he is currently unhappy with.
Lack of Knowledge.
The third reason some people struggle with hopelessness is simply a lack of knowing. In worse cases, the person may not even have a clue that a better life awaits him or her other than the life he or she is currently experiencing. This third reason is the most predominant when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, because until we know what we don’t know, our frames of references will remain limited.
When I work with clients who struggle with depression, I always encourage them to consider that there is a brighter alternative to the path they are currently taking. Further, in order to consider this brighter alternative they have to practice keeping an open mind and taking accountability for unhealthy thoughts which create fears for them and keep them stuck.
At the end of the day, we are our own prisoners and consequently our own liberators.
A disappointment is an expectation that has not been met. There are two types of disappointments, disappointment with self and disappointments with others. This post is going to focus more on dealing with disappointment with others, because it is the type of disappointment that people get more upset about. When dealing with disappointment with self, more than likely you put in effort into achieving a goal, with a desired result and that result did not happen. So, in the absence of a self-defeatist attitude, disappointment with yourself is easier to get over, because you can always change yourself for the better.
However, when it comes to dealing with disappointment because of the actions of someone else, feelings of being upset, perhaps resentful and in some cases hurt are going to be the case for the person experiencing the disappointment. In more severe cases, some people will wish you better luck next time, some will remind you that it is the nature of life, you win some, you lose some. But here is an important question to ask yourself when you experiencing this type of disappointment, in whose reality are you living in?
Reading this question, might catch you off guard as it seems u related to the title/topic of this post. But really, whose reality are you residing in? The ideal answer when you ask yourself this question should be “my reality” but if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with disappointment then it means you have been living in someone else’s reality and that person has let you down.
The answer then lies in getting back into discovering what is important to you. When struggling with disappointment, if you critically consider the situation, you will discover that you are morning the loss of something you never really had any control over. This could be the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or an opportunity that did not materialize for you. In his book, Victor Frankl is famous for his quote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. This means, that, no matter what you are mourning, your thoughts and feelings remain under your control.
Pertaining to dealing with disappointment, there is no rationale in mourning something over which you had no control over. Let’s say you accidentally dropped a glass cup on the floor, no matter how expensive that glass cup was, you can always take refuge in telling yourself that you will be more careful with glass cups next time. This is because a glass cup in your hands is under your control. Experiencing disappointment over the actions of someone else is a situation not under your control, and so the best course of action is to make peace with this fact. Otherwise you are just going to upset yourself even more, and the reason you find yourself even more upset is because there are no remedies in getting others to do what you want them to do. Therefore, if you encounter someone who follows through on their word, that is a blessing. A blessing because they chose an action that benefitted you, an action you had no control over.
You should only concern yourself with your thoughts and feelings and subsequent actions because these are easy to change. As for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, the best you can do is practice allowance.
The number one cause for hopelessness is living a lie. This lie is usually a narrative you were raised to believe in from a very young age and thus your brain over the years has become wired to look for signs and signals that support your belief in this false narrative, leading you to make daily decisions which support this lie.
The problem with lies is that when we make decisions, or attempt to solve problems based on a lie, (aka problems that don’t exist) nothing changes. Take for example, there was once a young man who was being treated by his family physician for irritable bowel syndrome. During treatment, his condition remained the same for a long time and then took a turn for the worse. It was only when things got worse, that the young man explained to his doctor that he had been abusing laxatives, as part of his diet plan. Now that the doctor and the young man where no longer making decisions based on a false narrative, they could get him the appropriate help he needed for abstaining from laxatives.
This story is a concrete example about how we spin our wheels when we attempt to live our lives on false narratives. A false narrative is a logical fallacy, where the solutions we attempt to apply to our perceived problems make sense, if only the foundation were true. In the story shared in the previous paragraph, only the doctor was in the dark about what was the true cause of the problem. Perhaps some might argue the young man to some degree was also in the dark because he might not have made a connection between his use of laxatives and his stomach issues. Most people who experience hopelessness have no clue that they are attempting to live a lie.
They feel hopeless about their situations, because they have reached the conclusion the path they are taking is the only sure way of getting their needs met. It’s like someone who believes that he can walk through a wall, and repeatedly bangs his head against the wall with the expectation that the wall will eventually give in. Eventually, the person gives up, slums against the wall while massaging a wounded head. Hopelessness feels the same way, you keep tackling the same problem with solutions that make sense, but to no avail. Eventually you begin to lose faith in yourself, and when you see others whom you perceive are doing a great job in getting their needs met, you begin to see yourself as a failure and you start to develop a pessimistic view about your ability to thrive in life.
But what if the problem, or set of problems you have been desperately attempting to tackle, have never been the true issue at all? What if your core beliefs are foundationally based on myths? If you struggle with feelings of hopelessness, then this is good news. It means that there are other ways for you to get your needs met, but first you must go through great pains to revise your beliefs.
Most people who are genuinely lost in regards to where to start in revising their belief systems, would benefit a great deal from a seasoned therapist, who can guide them in addressing all aspects of their lives.
Most of the clients I treat for anger management describe themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those who are close to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who will call in to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
In getting to know these clients, overwhelmingly men, I find that they are typically overwhelmingly nice. To a point where they are inconsistent in setting for themselves healthy boundaries with other people. In close relationships this becomes a problem as the person seldom addresses naturally occurring conflicts with the other person or persons. This leads to stuffing of feelings and chronic pretentiousness in the relationship, until the person can no longer keep his feelings bottled up, the next stage is the angry outburst. In severe cases, particular crisis fueled episodes, the angry person habitually engages in bouts of angry outbursts with strangers.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and feelings of being upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable at worst. Meanwhile the person who engaged in the angry outburst is burdened by feelings of guilt and shame and will typically resolve to double down on his commitment to being the nicest person possible. Unfortunately this plays out as the person failing to exercise assertiveness skills leading to little or no boundaries being set. This then sets the stage for a new cycle where the person habitually stuffs his feelings, bottles up resentment before deciding that he can no longer put up with perceived disrespect. For people in close relationships with these people, it could feel that the angry outbursts are unpredictable, when it fact they are very predictable.
At the beginning of therapy for poor anger management, the person is first introduced to exercises for recognizing his difficult feelings. He is then introduced to cognitive strategies for recognizing and responding appropriately to his difficult feelings.
The core of addressing poor anger management skills is to address the core beliefs of the chronically “angry” person which influence his episodes of anger. For example, with someone who has difficulty exercising healthy boundaries in his relationships with others, it will be important to determine what beliefs he holds unto which prevent him from setting healthy boundaries.
It could be a belief about how he communicates with others, or it could be a belief about how he sees himself, these are just two examples of a variety of possible beliefs a person could hold unto. For example, I once had a client share with me that he viewed expressing his disagreement at work and at home as a form of complaining. He then further stated that he saw complaining as a form of being weak minded.
Whatever belief he is holding unto, is going to be an irrational belief. Put simply, irrational beliefs are beliefs which are not true, but feel true to the person who holds unto them. For example, a belief which states that “no one should curse at me,” is a belief which feels true, because people generally don’t like to be cursed at, but is an irrational belief because we have no control over the words of others.
Once an irrational belief has been identified, a healthier alternative is chosen for the person to adopt, along with cognitive behavioral strategies for internalizing the new belief. The process of practicing new beliefs produces a paradigm shift in how the person’s sees the world around him and subsequently how he interacts with others.
For those who are successful in adopting and implementing new healthier beliefs, family members and others close to them come to see them as more genuine, confident and compassionate.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
Hopelessness is a dangerous feeling to experience, this is because once feelings of hopelessness begin to set and fester, people start reconsidering their existence. When clients share suicidal thoughts and feelings with me, I have responded by asking them if they have left “no stones unturned.” Leave no stones unturned is an old figure of speech for searching and exploring all possibilities before considering another alternative. For example, if you lost your keys and you strongly suspect it is in your house. To leave no stone unturned would be that you thoroughly search your house before considering a search at another location.
So if you are experiencing bouts of hopelessness, and you are contemplating your existence, to leave no stone unturned means that you thoroughly explore every possibility to address your situation. In my fifteen years of counseling there are always several things people have not considered, and when they do consider and follow through, their lives improve.
In truth, nothing is worth ending your life over, I have counseled people who experienced feelings of hopelessness over the death of a loved one, people who received a medical diagnosis which changed their lives, breaking up with a romantic partner, experiencing a significant loss of wealth and not experiencing success or loss in reacquiring wealth. In all of these examples there were three recurring reasons which induced feelings of hopelessness. These reasons were all connected to the beliefs and values of the persons, mainly their relationships with these beliefs and values. Given that most of what we believe comes from our formative years, sometimes without realizing it, we sometimes enmesh our old beliefs with our sense of identity. Which makes it even more difficult for us to reconsider revising the beliefs we hold. So, the reasons people struggle with hopelessness are as follows.
Grief and Loss
The loss of a loved one can be an especially painful experience, particularly when that person passed away before his or her elderly years. However, grief and loss is not limited to the loss of a loved one, it also deals with the loss of income, the loss of a relationship, the loss of perceived status, and the list goes on.
I have noticed the pain of grief and loss is especially unbearably for parents who have lost children. In cases where this was the only child or first child of the person, the grief appeared to be so unbearable that they had almost stopped functioning in their daily lives. The loss was a situation they never contemplated and refused to accept. I have never been a fan of the stages of grief model, which involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is because the first four stages typically occur together, and what keeps the person from coming to a place of acceptance are the beliefs they hold in relation to the grief. So if I am working with a client who lost her only child, and she continues to repeat that a parent should never bury a child, the statement is a testament to what she believes, which is keeping her sick. In truth, it is a sad day when a parent buries a child, but the statement, “a parent should never have to bury a child is false,” because there is no force or entity that can guarantee the prevention of such a tragedy. In truth this client can come to peace and make a new meaning of her life, even though the pain from the loss might never go away.
Pride may seem like an odd reason, but I rank pride as number two on my list because it is very common. Human beings are innately wired to function in a hierarchal structure, this means for most people who are not aware of this, from the cars they drive, to the clothes they wear, a certain level of status within a micro and macro hierarchal system is being communicated. For those who are not aware of this, and for those who are aware of this and cherish it, when there is a loss of status, due to changes in the person’s life, a sense of hopelessness can set it. This sense of hopelessness is often due to a set of beliefs which state that the person can exist and function in no other state other than the previous state he had grown accustomed to. This is called pride, so in maintaining consistency with the term, leave no stone unturned, an effective solution would be for the person to explore what it would be like to actually live his or herself without his perceived status enhancer.
People don’t like doing hard or difficult things, especially when the prospect of engaging in a difficult task does not guarantee any favorably outcomes. For example, a gold digger is less likely to dig for gold in an area where there is no evidence for gold. Or a high school senior is less likely to apply to attend a college or university if he or she does not believe that a college degree would be beneficial in their life. Given that change is a constant in our lives, it is inevitably that we will all come to crossroads in our lives where we have to consider committing too hard and difficulty work in the hopes of an outcome that improves our lives. If the work is hard and time consuming and the reward is not guaranteed, this can be discouraging to some people and influence the onset of hopelessness. A solution to this would be to explore the belief of promised or guaranteed outcomes. In truth, nothing is guaranteed, however the work we put in helps to add meaning and purpose to our lives, as well as experience.
Hopelessness can be overcome; it is a matter of moving past our difficult feelings and revisiting the messages we have come to believe.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
The narratives we come to believe in our early childhood have a powerful influence over us. This is because during our early days, the part of our brains that are the most active is the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is associated with viewing the world from an emotional perspective, as opposed to the left hemisphere which is strongly associated with logic and reasoning. This is why scientists and mathematicians are generally referred to as left brained while those who specialize in the creative arts are referred to as right brained.
So if neuroscience is mostly accurate on brain functions then all children, if not most children must be right brained, emotional, creative, primal and spontaneous. This would mean that during this period of development when the right brain is most active, children interpret most of their daily experiences, especially the acquisition of beliefs and values through an emotional and primal perspective.
This means that whatever beliefs and values you inherited during your early life experiences, is something that is mostly likely non conscious, and primarily associated with your sense of identity, even if it is false.
This is where self-deceit comes in. Self-deceit happens when we run into life challenges that require us to revise our core beliefs in order to overcome said challenges. For example, take a young person who comes from a small town and all throughout his life he was heralded as a really good football player. To the extent in which members of his town began to express great expectations for him to become a professional player. The person eventually graduates high school and gains admission into a major university, where he barely makes the school team and he is eventually cut from roster. If this person already has a self-identity forged in being a star athlete, he is going to have a difficult time accepting the reality of his situation. Furthermore, the longer he holds unto this self-identity the more self-defeating decisions he is going to make in order to maintain a sense of self consistency with his false identity and delusions. This will go on until he reaches rock bottom in his life, or he is fortunate to receive an intervention from a support group.
In the above example, you can substitute star football player with a number of different identities a person may have come to embrace during his or her early life experiences. Regardless this is the root cause of all self-deceits, when challenges a person is currently experiencing, require a major revision of strongly held beliefs which is easier said than done.
While a revision and replacement of major beliefs inherited during childhood years is easier said than done, it is possible. Through cognitive behavioral therapy someone who struggles with self-deceit can relearn to accept themselves unconditionally with positive regard. This will then make it possible for them to abandon any old and unhealthy beliefs associated with their sense of identity and adopt new and healthy beliefs which reinforce unconditional self-acceptance. All of these can be accomplished through the comprehension and consistent practice of cognitive behavioral strategies which leads a rewiring in the brain.
Ugochukwu is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
I came across a question today regarding the treatment of PTSD, someone else then gave a long winded response regarding the treatment modalities for PTSD and concluded that there is no end to severe PTSD. In short the advocacy for CBT and EMDR was simply an advocacy for treatments that temporarily help relieve symptoms.
Sufferers of PTSD to include severe cases of PTSD can experience full recovery. It all boils down to what you believe. A common example given for the cause of PTSD is war. A veteran who suffers from PTSD as a result of combat makes sense. War is bad, war is bad because engaging in hostilities against other human beings resulting in the killing of those human beings is detrimental for the mind. Human beings are inherently good, this is why we function the best when we feel good, and we feel really good when we are helpful towards other people. Furthermore, people who experience good feelings from committing any form of harm towards other people are seen as mentally ill, with labels of sociopaths and psychopaths assigned to their character.
So you take a good person, introduce said person to propaganda about how awful another group of people are, train them for combat and then send them into combat. After everything has been said and done, they come to realize that they are not at peace with their actions. Those who are more astute realize that the people they fought against are also people like themselves who were fed similar propaganda against themselves and trained to engage in combat for what they believe was a good and greater cause. To make things even more complicated, most veterans who suffer from PTSD, will encounter people who strongly believe in combat against other groups of people and will praise them for their past actions. This creates a dissonance, where they receive significant acceptance and recognition for actions they have come to disagree with, which also contributes to their illness, and potential rejection if they voice their disagreement for their previous actions.
PTSD can be cured, it is a duel process of utilizing EMDR to engage both hemispheres in getting past the difficult feelings associated with the trauma and using CBT to address detrimental beliefs and practice new and healthier beliefs.
Consider another example, let’s a say you have two men who experience extreme physical assaults and both men develop PTSD. Of the two men, the one the most least likely to fully recover from the incident is the man with rigid beliefs associated with the assault he experienced. For example, if the idea of being assaulted signifies a blow to his manhood, and he continues to hold unto these beliefs throughout treatment, the best EMDR will do for him is to temporary alleviate his symptoms before his next meltdown. He will then experience a meltdown every time he reminded about being humiliated. Such meltdowns can easily be triggered by consumption of media or association with people who voice reminders of his rigid beliefs he still holds unto.
While if the other man is more flexible with his beliefs associated with the physical assault, he is most likely to experience a full recovery. This is because after he has learned to move past his difficult feelings related to his ordeal, he is least likely to be triggered into an emotional meltdown. He is least likely to be triggered because it would be relatively easy for him to abandon any beliefs and values that prevent him from accepting the true nature of his ordeal.
Ugochukwu is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC
From blog posts, video logs to headlines news stories, most of us as inundated with stories about “bad” people and how these people affect our lives. The idea of someone or a group of people doing bad things to us can be emotionally triggering, to the point where you can lose yourself playing the role of the victim. You then find other people who can either relate to your story of victim-hood or at least sympathize with you on how you have been victimized.
The problem with this mindset is that, if you are indeed experiencing any degree of victimization at the hands of another person or group of people, you will continue to be victimized until you recognize your role in the story. While it is true that good people from time to time do experience bad experiences and sometimes at the hands of other people, a majority of the time when we have recurring bad experiences it is a result of the role we have unintentionally played in keeping the bad experience alive and well.
The ego can be fragile, it is an instinctual source we turn to, to find a sense of confidence in regards to how we navigate through life. However primary reliance on the ego to get you through challenges in life is a mistake. You need to be able to identify your flaws and weakness and the role they play in your recurring bad experiences or victim-hood, specifically in your relationships with others.
From personal to formal relationships in order to change our daily experiences for the better, we need to recognize the bad things we ourselves do and change them for the better. Seldom can you truly be absolved of all guilt during conflicts with others. In cognitive behavioral therapy, the client is introduced to the standard format of experience + behavioral response = natural and logical consequences. With the behavioral response being the most important variable in that simple equation. This is because, while you cannot control what other people do to you to include other experiences caused by other sources, your response to your experiences determines just how manageable your life is going to be.
In short, worrying too much about what others might do, does nothing to facilitate growth in our lives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.