Friday, December 30, 2005

Thoughts, Depression and Fear

Science has bought the whole "depression is a result of a chemical imbalance."  We have whole theories about how a low level of serotonin in the brain leads to depression.  So, we have a whole medicine industry that is caught up in the pursuit of healing depression through a chemical intervention.

Yet medication has failed to bring about healing.  Why?  We missed the boat.  Depression is rooted in our thoughts.  Our minds become our own worst enemy.  And we even have a theory about how to heal this:  cognitive therapy.  But a cognitive approach is not enough.   It makes one central mistake. It keeps us rooted to our thoughts.

You see, cognitive therapy is built on the idea that our thoughts are skewed.  So, a cognitive therapy approach tries to help people look at how a thought is skewed, and then uses logic to help "fix" the thought.  For example, a person notices a strange spot on his chest.  He begins to think "something is wrong."  He continues on with "this is cancer."  And quickly arrives at the idea that "I'm going to die from this."  All of this without a visit to a doctor!  

A cognitive therapist would point out that the person is "catastrophizing."  In other words, his thought is being skewed from noticing a strange spot on his chest to seeing himself dead.  So, the therapist would help the person begin to use some rational thought:  at this point, there is a spot on his chest.  Nothing more.  And until there is more information, and other thought is dangerous.

You may wonder what is wrong with this approach.  And there is nothing wrong.  It simply falls short of the real issue.  Because a cognitive approach simply seeks to exchange a skewed thought with a more correct thought.

But a thought is still the issue.  The truth is this:  A Thought Is Just A Thought!  Some thoughts may be more useful, more helpful.  But that makes it no more real.

Our minds are designed to create thoughts.  And our minds are incredibly capable of doing this.  Sometimes, our minds come up with useful and helpful thoughts.  And sometimes, our mind churns out painful and hurtful thoughts.  But in the end, both are merely thoughts.

When we buy into the thoughts, our mental health becomes more and more threatened.  And that is the problem with the cognitive approach.  It still leaves us believing our thoughts are real -- that they have some inherent truth or reality.

The way out of this trap is both simple and difficult.  Imagine a continuum, a line between two extremes.  At one end is the idea that "A Thought Is Reality."  At this extreme, people believe that whatever pops into their head is real.  In other words, "if I think it, it is real."  The extreme is what we know as psychosis.  An example of this psychosis:  if I believe the "World Army" is coming in black helicopters, then it must be true.  No matter what others tell me, I simply choose to believe my thoughts.

At the other end of the continuum is the idea that "A Thought Is A Thought."  A person at this end is always aware that a thought in his or her head is simply that:  a thought.  And if a thought begins to torment him or her, then that person is able to take a step back, remember that a thought is just a thought, and let it go.

"Let it go" is impossible, you think?  Yet we do it every day.  I am sitting in an important meeting, when suddenly my mind creates a thought about the fact that I have something very important to do.  I follow that thought, but then remind myself:  I am at an important meeting, and I need to focus on that.  I refocus on the meeting, and indeed, I let the thought go.

So, there it is, proof that a thought can be released.  Thoughts really only have as much power as we give them.  No more, no less.

Become aware of your thoughts, and you master your universe.  Fail to recognize that a thought is just a thought, and you are at the whims of your mind, a very difficult taskmaster!




<< Home