Some years ago, Barbara came to see me for counseling. For as long as she could remember, her parents had argued and fought; and in her teens, each parent would pour out their problems to her with little awareness of the burden of care they were placing on her young shoulders.
Barbara felt pressure to keep the peace, and any needs of her own had to be forgotten because, in particular, her mother's needs seemed so much greater. While her mother often retired to bed with headaches, her father usually would be drinking too much to take his daughter's troubles seriously.
Barbara tried to be perfect to please them but always failed; in her mid-20s, she found herself caught in a trap. She longed to leave home and live a life of her own, but felt very guilty because her parents needed her to be at home to make them happy. Not surprisingly, in her turmoil and depression, some of the memories of childhood began to flood back:
"There are so many fears that haven't been voiced, that I've not allowed to surface," she said. "I'm just trying to ignore the gnawing feeling that it wasn't enough or OK to just be me—whoever that is; that I won't be liked, approved of, loved. It has scared me to look at a lot of this."
Such experiences, feelings and fears are very common in people who are prone to depression. Because they lack a deep sense of value and significance, they feel they always have to be earning other people's approval. Early childhood experiences color our reactions to people we meet as we grow up. These childhood experiences live on, manifesting themselves in some of the following six ways.Thought Patterns:
These kinds of early life experiences shape and mold our brain pathways to form what cognitive behavioral therapists call schemas, mind maps or templates.
Many years ago, Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck used the expression automatic thoughts
to describe the so-called recordings in our brains that switch on as reflexive responses to certain situations. These unhelpful habits of thinking can affect our moods and behavior deeply. Beck believed the self-defeating character of the depressed person is due to the illogical reasoning used when faced with a difficult situation.
Such a person's brain will twist the evidence so that it produces an unduly gloomy view of one's self and worth. Beck described some of the primary assumptions and cognitive distortions that predispose people to depression, such as: (1) To be happy, I must be accepted by all people at all times; (2) If I make a mistake, that means I am inept; (3) If someone disagrees with me, that means s/he does not like me; (4) My value as a person depends on what others think of me.Perfectionism:
Those who are very self-critical often set high standards for themselves and others, and this may be seen in their perfectionist approach to life. Perfectionism may be experienced in relation to appearance, performance or moral standards. It also can be primarily self-directed or directed toward others (expecting people to do things the way I think they should be done).