When we feel depressed, our brains adopt well-worn “cognitive distortions.”  David Burns, one of the leaders in cognitive therapy, writes in his best-selling book, Feeling Good (on pages 32-43), that there are ten common thought patterns that cause or perpetuate depressions.  Here are the big ten:

1. “All-or Nothing Thinking.”  This is a “tendency to evaluate your personal qualities in extreme, black-or-white categories.” That woman turned me down when I asked her out. I’m a loser.

2. “Overgeneralization.” When you overgeneralize, “[y]ou arbitrarily conclude that one thing that happened to you once will occur over and over again. . . .” That’s the second company that rejected my resume.  I’m never going to get a job!

3. “Mental Filter.” You find something negative “in any situation and dwell on it exclusively,” therefore “perceiving that the whole situation is negative.”  Because I missed that c-sharp in the third measure, the performance stunk.

4. “Disqualifying a Positive.”  Rejecting favorable events and comments:  “You don’t just ignore positive experiences, you cleverly and swiftly turn them into their nightmarish opposite.” Responding to a compliment:  oh, that’s nothing really.

5. “Jumping to Conclusions.” This one is well-known.  She’s tapping her foot – that means she’s bored with me.

6. “Magnification and Minimization.” “Magnification commonly occurs when you look at your own errors, fears, or imperfections and exaggerate their importance, and “when you think about your strengths, you may do the opposite.” Oh, no – I had spinach stuck to my tooth!  Now everyone is going to think I have no manners!

7. “Emotional Reasoning.” – “You take your emotions as evidence for the truth.” I feel insignificant, so I must be insignificant.

8. “Should Statements.” You motivate by saying, “’I should do this’ or ‘I must do that,’” making yourself “feel pressured and resentful.” Or you project these onto others, leading to frustration and disappointment.  He should be more alert to my feelings.

9. “Labeling and Mislabeling.” In Burns’ book, this “means creating a completely negative self-image based on your errors.”  When one makes an error, saying to one’s self “I’m an idiot!” instead of “I made a mistake.”

10. “Personalization.”  Dr. Burns calls this “the mother of guilt”:  “You assume responsibility for a negative even when there is no basis for doing so.” Oh – that car next to mine got a scratch.  If I had just parked a little further over, he would have had plenty of room and that wouldn’t have happened!

Do you find yourself falling into any of these patterns?  A lot?  If so, you may want to take five minutes to use the Burns Depression Checklist, which is a simple tool for diagnosing depression.  Depression is deadly serious, but it is very treatable. through therapy or medication.