Depression: Discerning False Thinking Patterns
Continuing our interaction with David Murray’s valuable little book Christians Get Depressed Too, the most convicting and, thereby, helpful chapter to me personally is one in which the author identifies 10 false patterns of thinking that are often characteristic of persons struggling with depression-anxiety. Frankly, I’m ashamed to admit how many of these describe my tendencies. After citing and defining each he provides a life example, spiritual example, and biblical example. I only cite and briefly define the false pattern below. I recommend you get and read the book to profit from all the examples given.
10 False Thought Patterns that Contribute to Depression-Anxiety (briefly mentioned yesterday)
- False extremes – “the tendency to evaluate [one’s own] personal qualities in extreme, black-and-white categories; shades of gray do not exist.”
- False generalization – “after experiencing one unpleasant event, we conclude that the same thing will happen to us again and again.”
- False filter – “we tend to pick out the negative in every situation and think about it alone, to the exclusion of everything else.”
- False transformation – “we transform neutral or positive experiences into negative ones.”
- False mind-reading – “we may think we can tell what someone is thinking about us, that the person hates us or views us as stupid. But such negative conclusions usually are not supported by the facts.”
- False fortune-telling – “We expect catastrophe, and the expectation itself produces hopelessness and helplessness.”
- False lens – “we view our fears, errors, or mistakes through a magnifying glass and deduce catastrophic consequences. Everything then is out of proportion.”
- False feelings-based reasoning – depressed persons “tend to take their emotions as the truth. They let their feelings determine the facts.”
- False “shoulds” – “Our lives may be dominated by ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts,’ applied to ourselves or others. This heaps pressure on us and others to reach unattainable standards.”
- False responsibility – “when we assume responsibility and blame ourselves for a negative outcome, even when there is no basis for this.”
“Yep, that’s me!” – Painful Things I’m Learning about Myself
Through my prayerful study of the Word of God and opening my ears and heart to the counselors the Holy Spirit brings into my life—including those who counsel me through their books—I am learning more than I wanted to know. So, what are some things I’m learning about myself that contribute to my depressive-anxious tendencies?
- I don’t know myself very well. Long ago, I concluded I simply don’t have time to waste on navel-gazing (Murray is not encouraging this either). Life is too short. There is too much work to be done. Obviously, a preoccupation with “looking inward” is prideful self-focus, but perhaps never slowing down long enough to consider how life situations/changes/pressures impact oneself is also a manifestation of a prideful sense of self-sufficiency?
- I don’t “respect my human limitations,” as some say, or build “margin” into my life. I am a driven man. I believe God wired me this way, but fear I sometimes take it to an extreme—even farther than God intended. Therefore, I wonder, “If I am driven to the point where I don’t respect God’s design for rest then am I actually rebelling against God’s creative design for me, rather than submitting to it?”
- I don’t understand, or perhaps am unwilling to accept, the weighty effects of adding more and more layers to my life. Some people are really good at deleting one thing from their life when they add another. I am not. I just keep adding layers. Having never really been competitive in athletics this weirdism of mine enables me to always be in competition against myself. Might this be a manifestation of the pride of achievement? Am I finding my “value” in my own completion of tasks or longing to be appreciated, rather than who I am by grace in Christ?
- Self-pity is one of the expressions of my self-love. My unhealthy perfectionism often leads me to think I am a failure when I don’t fully reach every single one of my goals (I don’t think all perfectionism is unhealthy, by the way). When this happens self-pity is my drug of choice. I am finally seeing this as sinful. Thankfully, God has given me a couple brothers in Christ who love me enough to lovingly speak into my life when I get to wallowing.
- The worst—but most important and valuable—lesson I am learning is that my naturally rebellious and idolatrous heart worships “false hopes.” This is why I wrote what I did yesterday about the importance of keeping false thinking patterns under the “sin umbrella,” rather than creating a separate category for them. Even if specific, personal sin is not the cause of my valley experience, it is part of my fallenness as a son of Adam. The Spirit has shown me that, more often than not, I get to feeling down because one of my self-created hopes has been dashed. This is a sinful, prideful response. Not only is my negative response a demonstration of unbelief—more than that—the building of an altar to my earthly hope in the first place is ungodly because it is unknowingly designed to deflect glory away from God who alone deserves it! And what is sin if it is not the diminishing of God’s glory? (Rom 3:23). Like the depressed psalmist, I must vigilantly “Hope in God” (Ps 42; 43:5) and nothing else! In the words of the apostle, I must continually set my mind on things above not on things of this earth (Col 3:2). Depression-like experiences are a wonderful opportunity for God to begin to strip away my false hopes and get my focus redirected to Him as my only sure hope, trust, and anchor for my soul (Heb 6:19).
What Must I Do?
What must I do when the Holy Spirit draws open the curtains so that the sunlight of the Word exposes my false, self-worshipping thinking patterns? I need to follow my own counsel concerning the application of Romans 12:1-2. I must repent of false thinking and renew my mind with the truth.
The word translated “renewing” means to cause something “to be new and better.” That is, renewing the mind means washing out the worldly ways of thinking which inhabit the Adamic nature by filling it with a new, fresh supply of God’s way of thinking as found in the Scriptures. The “mirror” in which we behold the Lord Jesus is the Word of God (see James 1:23). Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ sanctifies His church by means of “the washing of water with the word.” It is the disciple’s personal responsibility to meditate on the Word of God day and night (Ps. 1) and take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) so that what does not glorify Christ may be rejected. Philippians 4:8 provides a great litmus test for all our thoughts: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell [think, meditate] on these things.”…This discipline of renewing the mind will lead to the promised reward—the full approval of the will of God, that which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). [excerpted from Counsel One Another]