Self-Blame Causes My Depression?
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Approximately 350,000,000 people worldwide suffer from some form of depression, and approximately 50% of people with depression do not seek treatment (Holmes, 2015). It is not uncommon to blame yourself for things both in and out of your control when you are suffering from depression, where feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness and helplessness can be quite overwhelming during this time. According to Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, one of the key symptoms of depression is the tendency to blame oneself for anything and everything (Walton, 2012). Dr. Freud further asserted that the propensity to self-blame was a key factor in distinguishing between “normal sadness” and depression. Why does this happen? Well, according to a new study on depression and self-blame, depression occurs when there is a “gap” in communication in two important areas in the brain (Walton, 2012).
A Gap In Brain Connections
In other words, there is a “disconnect” in the communication regions of the brain that result in depression. This “gap” also prevents some with depression from being 100% cured of the condition (i.e. chronic episodes and/or relapses). So, why do I constantly blame myself for everything that goes “wrong” when I am depressed? Well, the answer is complex, but to break it down into its simplest form, you blame yourself when you are depressed because the “gap” in your brain’s communication regions cause you to overgeneralize everything that happens to you, and around you (Walton, 2012). How do I do that? Well, it is not uncommon to reinforce your sad and hopeless/helpless feelings by “blowing up” the negative things that happen in your life.
It is also not uncommon to believe that you somehow contributed to events, circumstances, and/or situations (i.e. tragedies, injuries, etc.) even when you had absolutely nothing to do with them. It is almost like you internalize everything around you. For example, if you ask a friend to have dinner with you, and she refuses because she has a headache, you are likely to tell yourself that your friend does not want to see you because she hates you or she no longer wants to be your friend. Why? Well, because in your mind you are a “crappy” friend, who doesn’t deserve friends. In reality, your friend may really have a headache. So, if you are wondering, “Is it my fault?” The answer is maybe, but probably not. You only feel that way because you are depressed.
Blame & Guilt
So, it is really not my fault? No, it is not. In fact, a recent study found that the brains of people, suffering from depression, “fired” (i.e. functioned) differently than those without depression. Researchers found that the brains of people who did not suffer from depression, “fired” correctly. In other words, two key regions in the brain (i.e. the areas that control socially appropriate behaviors and feelings of guilt) performed together, in synchrony. On the other hand, the brains of depressed people “fired” at different times, leading to a chemical imbalance in the brain (i.e. the two regions were unable to properly communicate with one another, resulting in feelings of guilt and self-blame) (Walton, 2012). This inability to communicate is known as “decoupling.” The study found that depressed people, whose brain regions did not communicate, experienced higher levels of self-blame and guilt.
This “decoupling” only occurs when a depressed person blames himself or herself or feels guilty. It does not occur when a depressed person is angry, irritated or frustrated. Why? Well, because during depression, the brain regions are unable to “couple” (i.e. communicate with one another or distinguish between knowledge and guilt). To further clarify what is happening in your brain during depression – when you are depressed the lack of communication between the two key regions of your brain (behaviors and feelings) affects your ability to recognize when “something” is not your fault. In other words, in a non-depressed state, you would be able to recognize that you are not to blame for everything that happens to you or around you, but in a depressed state, your brain is unable to acknowledge this fact, therefore, you blame yourself.
The good news is that all hope is not lost. Your brain can rewire itself. How? Well, simply by replacing old, unhealthy, and destructive thought patterns with new, healthy, and more positive ones. Who can help me with that? Mental health professionals like: cognitive-behavioral psychologists and psychotherapists can teach you positive “self-talk” techniques. What is positive “self-talk?” It is a way of countering unhealthy thoughts, commonly associated with depression, with healthier thoughts, commonly associated with a positive and productive life. Understanding how your brain works and what causes depression can help combat feelings of self-blame and guilt. When feelings of self-blame and guilt start to creep up on you – remind yourself that it is not your fault – you are not to blame. If you can’t do that for yourself, call someone who can!
- Dr. R. Y. Langham
Holmes, L. (2015). 11 statistics that will change the way you think about depression. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/20/depression-statistics_n_6480412.html
Walton, A. (2012). Oh, the guilt! Why you blame yourself for everything when you're depressed. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/06/06/oh-the-guilt-the-neurobiology-of-blaming-yourself-for-everything-when-youre-depressed/