Russell Grieger Ph.D.

Happiness on Purpose


The Truth Shall Set You Free...

from the ravages of self-damning depression.

Posted Apr 25, 2018

Source: Anthony/pexels

If you’re depressed, you pretty much know it. You feel sad, blue, gloomy most all of every day. Your get up and go has got up and gone, robbing you of energy, interest, and motivation. Your sexual desire suffers, as does your appetite, sleep, and sense of humor. All you want to do is stay in bed and pull the covers as high as you can to block out all life.

Is this true of you? Do you experience some or most of these symptoms? If you do, take heart, for you are not hopeless. Through hundreds of studies, and thousands of case examples, we now know what causes you to be depressed. Better yet, we know what you can do to rid yourself of it. Let me lay it out for you.

Depression is an Experience, Not a Thing    It is first important for you to understand that depression is not a tangible thing, but an experience. If you had a tumor in your body, a surgeon could cut it out and show it to you. It would have mass so that it would be visible to the naked eye. By excising this thing, you are now cured.

Not so with depression. It is different from a tumor in at least two ways. First, depression is not something you can see, hold, or smell, as you can a tumor; rather, it is an experience without form or substance, invisible to the eye, private to you the person. Second, what we commonly call depression, that is, the experience of depression, is really the symptom or the result of something else, much like a toothache is symptom or result of a cavity.

“That’s interesting,” you might say, “but so what?”

The ‘so what’ is that, to rid you of your experience of depression, you must fix the cause of it. Surprising, as they say, the cause is all in your head.

The Cause of Depression

With a few, statistically rare exceptions that are chemically induced (e.g., bipolar disorders, postpartum depression), the experiences that we commonly call depression are caused by negative, irrational beliefs that one forms over time that are held as absolute truth. These are two in numbers: one is what we call Self-Damning Depression, a second, Catastrophizing Depression. In this blog, I will focus on Self-Damning Depression, then tackle the second type in my next blog.

 Fifty-seven-year-old Beth is a good example of Self-Damning Depression. Verbally and physically abused by her mother, abandoned by her alcoholic father, and sexually molested by her uncle, she drew the conclusion from all this abuse that the cause of it must be her. She believed that, if she were worth a plug nickel, they would never have treated her like they did. Held as God‘s gospel truth, she carried with her this belief in her utter worthlessness – I am a piece of trash, unworthy to be loved and treated with respect everywhere she went. Thinking this, no wonder she felt depressed.

Twenty-year old Josh is another example. A bright young man with excellent grades, he fell prey to partying and procrastination in the second semester of his sophomore year in college. Dropping behind in his studies, he succumbed one day to the temptation to copy answers on a test from the student next to him. When the professor saw him, he got suspended for the rest of the academic year. Instead of rationally concluding, “I made a mistake about which I’m truly sorry,” he instead concluded, “That was a terrible thing that I did, and I’m a horrible person for doing that.” Once he thusly damned himself as a horrible person, he brought on his experience of depression.

Lastly, consider Richard, a nurse recently fired from his hospital job because, in a hurry, he forgot to record in the computer charts the 10:00 pm medicines he distributed to his patients. Like Josh, he damned himself as a whole person – “I’m a loser!” – instead of more correctly simply damning the mistake he made. Richard suffered the pain of depression.

As you can see, Beth, Josh, and Richard caused themselves to be depressed by damning their whole self – they’re being – as unworthy and worthless. When they faced their respective adversities, they each started by damning the event that either happened to them (i.e., Beth’s abuse) or what they did (Josh’s cheating, Richard‘s negligence). They then proceeded to damn their whole self (“I’m trash.” “I’m a horrible person.” “I’m a loser.”). Once these three people self- damned, they brought on their own depression, for who could not be depressed caring around the conviction that “I am worthless and a nothing.”

So, if you suffer the pain of depression, dig deep into your thinking and see if you can find the same kind of beliefs about yourself that Beth, Josh, and Richard held. If you do, be pleased for, one, you have found the cause of your experience of depression, and, two, you are now one step away from your cure. “Find it, fix it,” as my good friend, a family physician, likes to say.

The Cure of Self-Damning Depression

Since Self-Damning Depression is, at its core, the negative, damning beliefs one holds about oneself, then its cure, and thus the alleviation of the experience of depression, is the eradication of these irrational convictions. To sum, they are three in number:

1. I shouldn’t have done that, (e.g., Richard’s forgetting to record the medicine distribution);
2. It was horrible, despicable, irredeemable what I did; (e.g., Josh’s cheating);
3. Because of that (whatever is or was), I am a thoroughly worthless, rotten person (e.g., Beth’s abuse).

“Ah, but how in the world do I do that” I can hear you asking, “especially since I really believe them to be true and, moreover, have held them to be true for most of my life?”

You do that showing yourself – daily for as long as it takes – that this pernicious triad of beliefs are not true. By clearly seeing their absurdity, over and over and over, their falseness gradually sinks into your brain until, voilà, you have a new belief about yourself.

Here is a quick synopsis about why these Self-Damning beliefs are entirely irrational:

  • As a fallible human being, you are not perfect and will, inevitably, error, make mistakes, and possess faults, and weaknesses. That is your nature; you cannot escape it. You are then destined to goof – big time and minor. So, contrary to your perfectionistic expectation that you should not error, the reality is that you should or must. Furthermore, you must do so when you do, not necessarily when it’s convenient. So, get off this perfectionistic posture.
  • The concept of horrible needs to be reserved, if used at all, for mistakes that are beyond the pale, things like the Holocaust. It is extremely likely that the things you’ve done wrong are low on the scale of badness compared to honest-to-goodness atrocities. So, keep your error or weakness in its proper perspective.
  • The concept of rating oneself totally, as per, “I’m a piece of trash,” “I’m a horrible person,” or “I’m a loser,” is quite simply an overgeneralization. It illogically goes from damning one mistake or fault you possess to damning the whole of you. It is like throwing out a total basket of, say, one hundred fruits because you find one banana among them to be spoiled and inedible. You, the person are the whole basket of fruit; what you do, for good or for ill, are the individual fruits. So, as per the New Testament, you may damn the sin, but you want to never damn yourself, the sinner. In secular terms, you are never a bad person, a loser, or a failure, for acting badly, losing, or failing. Stop thinking of yourself in these global terms. Unconditionally accept your whole self, while at the same time working to improve your faults and weaknesses.

Going Forward

You can rid yourself of Self-Damning Depression, I promise you. But it will require hard, consistent work over a period of time. Why? Because, one, our whole society is built around the illogical process of self-glorifying some people (e.g., athletes, musicians, actors) and self-demonizing others (e.g., politicians, members of certain groups through bigotry, those who fail), and, two, you have probably habituated this self-damning way of thinking through years of practice. But, you can do it, if you make the effort.

One more thing. To deepen your understanding of the ravages of Self-Damning and get a better grasp of the theory and practice of Self-Acceptance, I refer to you five blogs I previously published in this Happiness on Purpose series: “Unconditional Self-Acceptance” (2/19/13); “The Appreciate You Project” (3/30/13); “Be Perfectly Imperfect” (4/30/13); “Ridding Happiness Contaminants 1” Ego Anxiety” (9/4/15); and “Ridding Happiness Contaminants 3: Self-Damning Depression” (11/4/15).  Please read them now.

Till my next blog, be well, and live with passion.