Monday, February 19, 2007

Stinkin' Thinkin'

Thinking, for someone who is depressed, is like running a marathon in lead shoes. You put out the same effort as everyone else, but you just don't get anywhere. The mere effort of cognitive functioning is fatiguing. The inability to focus, concentrate or perform normal, usually effortless, decision-making is beyond your reach. Speaking for myself, this is one of the most frustrating things about depression. Although my measured I.Q. is high, you wouldn't be able to tell it because of the difficulties I have with thinking clearly.

I tried to explain it to a friend recently. I told him that it was like having a car with an eight cylinder 440 cubic inch engine that only runs on two cylinders. It doesn't make any difference how powerful the engine (brain) is if it doesn't operate properly. You would be better off driving a four cylinder economy sedan. The disability of a dysfunctional brain is a very real one, yet many people do not understand it that way.

When I speak of Stinkin' Thinkin' though, I am not talking about the way our brain functions, but rather about the way that we use our brain. Having problems with thinking is not the same thing as having thinking problems. Thinking problems result from the development of irrational patterns of thought. Dr. Albert Ellis, the originator of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, expressed it this way. "REBT is a comprehensive approach to psychological treatment that deals not only with the emotional and behavioral aspects of human disturbance, but places a great deal of stress on its thinking component."

Dr. Ellis holds that most of our emotional and cognitive problems arise from a certain core of irrational ideas. This, I believe, is at the root of what I have described as Psychological Depression. None of us, not even Bibilical heroes/heroines of great faith, are immune from life-long patterns of irrational thinking. This is why I think that if we only address the physical, circumstantial or spiritual factors in depression, we will not be completely depression free. Successful treatment has to take all of these possible sources of depression into account. Irrational thinking is at the root of many of our problems with depression. That has certainly been my experience.

The first time that depression forced me to stop preaching, I moved from New Mexico back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. I spoke with a Christian psychologist who suggested that I read The Feeling Good Handbook by Dr. David Burns. Even though Dr. Burns doesn't write from a Christian perspective, I found that most of his ideas corresponded with Biblical teaching. In fact, it was his book that prompted me to do an in-depth study of King David's life and writings.

In his book, Dr. Burns lists Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking. They are: (1) All-or-nothing thinking (if a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure) (2) Overgeneralizing (you see a single negative event as being a never-ending pattern of defeat) (3) Mental filter (you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively) (4) Discounting the positive (a rejection of positive experiences by insisting that they don't count) (5) Jumping to conclusions (you interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion) (6) Magnification (you exaggerate the importance of your problems or shortcomings) (7) Emotional reasoning (you assume that your negative emotions reflect the way things really are) (8) "Should" statements (you tell yourself that things "should" be the way you hoped) (9) Labeling (an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking, i.e., "I'm a loser") and (10) Personalization (holding yourself responsible for something that isn't in your control).

This book, along with the Bible, has revolutionized the way that I think. I was amazed at the forms of "twisted thinking" that had developed in the way that I saw the world. Much of the change was brought about by being able to recognize when my thoughts were becoming negative and irrational. I still have a long way to go. I recommend Dr. Burns book to everyone, not just those of us who have cognitive problems. It may be a life-changer for you, and lead to healthier and happier thinking.

["I'm so low I could do a ten minute free-fall off the edge of a dime."]

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