Sara Paules, MA, LPC
One of the most common things I see in people who are struggling with their depression is what’s called confirmation bias. This is something we all do to some degree but individuals who struggle with depression can oftentimes struggle with it to such a degree that it can wreck complete havoc on their lives..
Confirmation bias is the tendency to notice what confirms a person’s preexisting beliefs or theories. For example, individuals struggling with depression might believe that they have no control over their depression and that they are powerless to overcoming it. Because of this belief, they look for confirming examples that they will not be able to overcome their depression. This idea comes from Albert Ellis, the founder of RBT, Rational Emotive Therapy, who says that this is because we all have the tendency to distort our experiences until they fit in our worldview.
Another example of this: If you’ve ever been upset with someone or had an unresolved conflict and noticed that your mind suddenly races with all the different examples of why that person royally sucks, you might be noticing confirmation bias.
With depression, thoughts tend to skew towards the side of negative confirmation bias. When you have the thought that your depression will never get better and there’s nothing you can do to overcome it, your mind will start looking for ways to confirm this belief.
For example, you might go to therapy and after a few weeks of things not getting better, assume it’s because therapy doesn’t work for you and things won’t improve.
Or maybe you’ll try medication and it works for a while but then gradually, you start noticing all the symptoms creeping back up again. According to the CBT model (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) founder, Aaron Beck, these thoughts now make you feel even shittier which then confirms your experience that there's nothing else you can do to overcome your depression (this is also called the self-fulfilling prophecy).
In both of these examples of confirmation bias, the individual's power is being taken away by the negative thoughts. Building awareness around when we are engaging in negative confirmation bias might be enough to break the cycle of irrational thoughts but for most people with long-term depression or anxiety, it also takes a little challenging and replacement in order to notice a difference in mood.
One example of how you can start challenging your negative confirmation bias after bringing awareness to it is to ask questions like:
Challenging negative confirmation bias aka the thoughts that take away your power can feel empowering. However, any time we take away something we previously used as a coping strategy, we must find a new coping strategy to replace it.
Start small. Simply picking up your dirty underwear off the floor is a great way to disprove the thought that you are powerless over your depression. Yes, exercise is great... but don't make a commitment that you might likely not keep. This will only reinforce the negative confirmation bias script in your head. Instead, think about what you're already doing and keep doing that. You mean you're able to take a shower once a week? Damn, girl... you rock! Keep it up! (This is what I call: Awards for Adulting)
One last idea... Since individuals with depression tend to struggle with negative confirmation bias and feelings of unworthiness, you might try noticing 3 things that confirm your worthiness or power on a daily basis.
For example, if you’re struggling with social anxiety, it might be easy to fall in the trap of “I’m such an awkward person” and only paying attention to the behaviors that confirm this belief. A good replacement thoughts to social anxiety might be something along the lines of “I was friendly to that new girl at work today”, “My coworker laughed at my joke today”, etc.
There are many ways you can overcome depression and this is just one place to start from. Try out the Awareness → Challenging → Replacing technique and see if it works. Remember, what works for one person might not work for another which is why I recommend seeing a therapist who specializes in depression and can make a therapeutic plan individualized for you and your specific symptoms.
For more information on depression or to make a free consultation to see if depression therapy is for you, schedule an appointment on the online scheduling page.
Sara Paules, LPC
Mindful Soul Center