If you are angry, afraid, resentful, jealous, or depressed – in other words, if you are struggling with negative emotions – the fault may lie in your thinking. Cognitive therapists operate on the theory that distorted thinking lies at the root of most of these negative emotions. These therapists help their clients identify the distorted thinking, understand what is distorted about it, and then correct it so that emotional healing can begin.
Here are some common distorted thoughts. Do any of them sound familiar?
- I must be approved and loved by all people.
- If things don't go the way I expect them to, then it's catastrophic.
- It's easier to avoid a problem than to deal with conflict.
- What has happened in the past will determine the future.
- If I make a mistake, it means that I am incompetent and that I am inferior to others.
- Things always turn out this way.
- You always act this way.
- You never treat me the way I deserve to be treated.
- You should always feel or act a certain way.
Research shows that these thoughts can lead to serious problems, among them addictions and depression.Lisa Dutton, "The Power of Positive Thinking: Easing Depression," McGill University Health Centre, February 2003. I know.
I've struggled with depression for most of my life, so I'm very familiar with distorted thinking. While growing up, I suspected I had a problem, but counseling was not smiled upon then, and I had no idea how to get help.
I bet you can guess what happened when I got married. You got it. I didn't check my depression at the door. My moodiness, anger, and negativity moved into the Temple home.
After ten years of marriage, Rhonda and I were desperate.
I was extremely depressed and I worried about everything – even in my sleep. I often woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, but I couldn't go back to sleep because the anxiety from my dreams kept me awake. Sleep deprivation caused me to be contentious and on edge. I lost forty pounds, became physically ill, and experienced constant nausea. When I thought I had cancer or another terminal illness, I visited numerous doctors without a diagnosis. Finally, an internal medicine specialist from India gave me an answer.
"Mr. Temple," he said in accented English, "you don't have a physical problem. You have an emotional problem. You have developed an anxiety disorder, and you are also very depressed. You must get help or you may die."
After weeks of denial, I knew he was right, so I finally got the help I needed.
The counselor I visited convinced me to take depression medication, even though I was terrified of becoming addicted. I spoke with my good friend Jeff Mathis, MD, who alleviated my concerns. He said that most antidepressants are not addictive and should be a bridge, not a crutch, to help navigate through a dark emotional valley.
Because my marriage, family, faith, and job were on the line, I was willing to do whatever was necessary. The result? Over time, I became a better husband. And the way I saw myself, Rhonda, and others improved.
I was transformed.
Through my experience I learned that because I suffered from depression, I could not see myself or my wife realistically. I felt as if I were stumbling around in dark rooms – wearing sunglasses. I couldn't see myself as God sees me. I felt that I could not be good enough, faithful enough, or spiritual enough – no matter what the Bible says.
These kinds of beliefs, based on myths and distorted thinking, led me to depression and hopelessness. They can also lead us to accept Satan's lie that you are not worthy of grace and can cause us to act in ways that we'll regret.
This is typical in a marriage where a spouse is depressed. Though a depressed husband is committed to marriage, he won't feel good about his wife and, therefore, won't treat her well. If the non-depressed wife does not understand what is happening, she will make the situation worse by assuming that her husband is mean or doesn't care about the marriage or that he can easily change how he feels and acts.
In reality, change can be almost impossible for a depressed person. Until the depressed spouse receives proper treatment, he or she cannot interact with you in a healthy way.
Depression is a very serious illness, which if left untreated can destroy a marriage in a short period of time. Many marriages today are in trouble because one or both spouses struggle with severe depression. Until these couples address and treat depression, it will be difficult to learn new relational skills to strengthen their marriage.
If you suspect that you, or your spouse, suffer from depression, seek help together. Focus on the Family provides free counseling referrals.http://www.focusonthefamily.com/) or write to them at: Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995.
(A caveat is in order here. Depression and other emotional problems can be caused by factors other than distorted thinking. Chemical and sugar imbalances, stress, lack of sleep, even thyroid disorders can also be precipitators of depression. When issues like these are involved, they must be assessed, diagnosed, and treated by a medical professional.)
You may not struggle with depression. But distorted thinking, because it is so subtle and rooted in the way you look at yourself and your spouse, has the potential to eat away at your marriage.