Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Depressogenic Assumptions

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Most people who are depressed have beliefs that match the list below, which was created by Aaron Beck. We will talk about how these values are indicative of a having culture. Then we will revise the list at the end of this piece to reflect what it’s like to switch over from the having mode of existence to the being mode of existence.

1. In order to be happy, I have to be successful in whatever I undertake.
2. To be happy, I must be accepted by all people at all times.
3. If I make a mistake, it means I am inept.
4. I can’t live without you.
5. If somebody disagrees with me, it means he doesn’t like me.
6. My value as a person depends on what others think of me.

The ideas on this list are exaggerated unspoken values transmitted through our culture. Many of us are desperate for external validation in order to prove our internal worth. This type of arrangement is from the outside in. You get cues from your environment about how to act, talk, and feel and get your sense of Self from how successful you are, how many friends you have, or some other environmental factor. This is the having mode of existence. Erich Fromm used to say something like “If I am what I have, and I lose what I have, what then am I?”

This is one of the great problems with the having mentality. If everything about you comes from outside of you, you know you can lose these things. Let’s say your sense of Self is determined by your job title, how much money you make, your house, and your family. All of these are subject to the whims of fate. So you end up spending all your time and energy trying to hold on these objects and make them unassailable instead of developing who you really are.

If you choose to spend time developing your own unique personality, finding the path that lets you unfold your human gifts and potential to be the person you know you are deep down, you are in the being mode. The being mode is an arrangement from the inside out. You are confident and secure in who you are as a person and you act accordingly in the world. This mode of existence is not really dependent on specific external objects. When one is taken away nothing about your core personality is affected.

Take a look at the list of depressogenic assumptions again. You can see that they all radiate from a having mode of existence. The sense of self is dependent upon objects. The person who becomes depressed is stuck in the untenable situation of the having mode, and on top of that he sets impossible standards for himself. Many people exist in the having mode but set external expectations that are attainable, so they never have to face their existential situations honestly. They squeak by.

It’s a good first step if you are depressed to try saying the five adjusted assumptions below. Say them out loud because so much of your negative thinking occurs at a subconscious level. You go on about your day feeling devalued or down on yourself but cannot exactly say why. You might be able to pinpoint a specific encounter but you will not remember having had one of the secret thoughts that led to your negative perception.

Here is our list. We will call it ‘The Being Assumptions’.

1. I can find happiness whether I am successful at every endeavor or not, because happiness radiates from within and is a symptom of my authentic engagement with life and people.
2. My happiness does not depend upon being accepted by all people at all times, or being accepted by anyone for that matter. When I show my real self to others I am in a state of human connection, which usually leads to acceptance but sometimes does not.
3. If I make a mistake, it means I am human.
4. Living without you would be difficult. I would remember you in my heart.
5. If somebody disagrees with me, it means we have different perceptions of the world.
6. My Self is the result of unfolding my unique potential and abilities as a human being and is never dependent on what others think of me.