If you’ve suffered from depression, you may have read my last post on overcoming depression and the limitations of medicine curing depression and still had lingering questions: So, how do I change my thinking? Is there any way to stay out of the dark valleys of depression?
I’ve collected some truths to add on to my previous posts that have helped me address my own dysfunctional thinking. The reality is that we change when we believe what God says and act on His Word rather than act on how we feel. That is where lasting transformative change happens.
Depression and Negative Thinking Patterns
Like many of you, I have often looked at my circumstances through the lens of what should be instead of what really is. Although it sounds pessimistic, it helps me to know that people will hurt me and let me down — and I, in turn, will hurt others. According to Bob George in Victory Over Depression:
All depression begins in the mind with improper thinking patterns that consist of unrealistic expectations or misplaced dependencies. Unrealistic expectations occur when a person simply does not face life as it really is, but looks at life and people as he thinks they should be. It is expecting perfection from ourselves and others. Misplaced dependencies occur when a person depends upon someone or something other than God for his happiness, self-worth, meaning to life, etc.
For the longest time I held people accountable in my thinking when they didn’t treat me like I thought they should. I was a victim, and until they came to acknowledge their wrong to me, I couldn’t let go of the offense.
This is a very unhealthy way to live because people rarely do or even get what you want. Clearly, I had unrealistic expectations and misplaced dependencies.
I relied way too heavily on the people in my life for my happiness. In particular, as a young person, I had a relationship where I looked to the other person for my sense of worth. I bought into the idea in our culture that significant other persons complete us — and when I couldn’t control how this person treated me, I got depressed.
While I should not possess a doormat mentality where people walk on me and hurt me, I can’t expect others to fill me. That’s what I have God for. Not only have my high standards for others led to grief, my own high standards for myself — self-imposed to avoid rejection — have led to depression.
Again and again, I’ve fallen into the trap of feeling I have to perform to be worthy in relationships. I have to accept the truth that I have value not because of my effort but because God says so. I make mistakes — I mess up — and God still loves me! I’m a work in progress, not a finished product, and that is the reality of the Christian walk.
Handling Disappointment: Key to Dealing With Depression
Facing what George refers to as a “seedbed of disappointment” is where you and I can choose to let thoughts about how disappointed we are fester, or we can choose to release those bad feelings over to God. As George says:
When you choose to respond to an adverse circumstance in anger, you have begun to spiral down to depression, for all depression is rooted in anger — anger at God, a mate, a friend, an enemy, a boss, a parent, etc. Anger leads you to employ defense mechanisms in order to change a person or circumstance. As these efforts fail, you sink into self-pity. In the pool of self-pity, your anger multiples as you ponder past offense, imagine future offense and experience further disappointment at your inability to control your circumstances. Your anger and self-pity result finally in a state of depression.
For many of us, when our actions and others’ haven’t been perfect enough for us, that has led to disappointment; despair because we can’t do better (or they won’t change); self-pity; then depression. As noted in Victory Over Depression, a better way when facing disappointment is to allow our mind to be renewed.
Renewing My Mind to Overcome Negative Thinking Patterns
Renewing our mind means to literally allow our mind to be re-programmed by Christ. That means we have to spend time in the Word and do what the Word says and the Holy Spirit prompts us to do. According to Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The New Living Translation states it like this: “Don’t copy the behavior of the world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
In essence, we have to choose not to conform to the world’s way by reading the Word and allowing our thought processes to align with God’s. As this happens, we learn God’s will for us. And when we act on His will, He changes us!
According to George, the world’s order of thinking is “mind — emotions — actions” whereas God’s way is “mind — actions — emotions.” As we act in the right ways even when we don’t feel like it, our attitude changes.
In her study One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp states this idea a different way, stressing that trust (acting in obedience) is the bridge to joy. We can’t make ourselves godly, but by acting on what He says, we experience the byproduct of that which is godly attributes of love, joy and peace.
To do this, we have to choose to believe who we are in Christ — what He says about us, and not what others say. For many of us, this is a struggle. Old patterns of thinking still like to creep back — they tell us that it is no use, that we will never be good enough, that we failed again, that nothing will change.
We have to reject those thoughts and instead replace them with God’s truth that we are forgiven, righteous and holy. We can tell God how we feel, tell Him we don’t like the adverse situation we are facing. However, instead of demanding that He change it, getting angry at Him and others when they don’t do it our way, we address it with the other person if necessary, let go and trust God to take care of it.
And switching out our faulty thinking patterns for God’s perfect wisdom gets us on the pathway of healthy thinking.
Related Bible Verses:
Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”
For further reading on disappointment and the fickle nature of our emotions, Joyce Meyer writes about avoiding disappointment in “How to Prevent Slipping into Depression.”
*Updated October 10, 2017.