Beliefs, Adverse Childhood and Life Events, and Depression

In my post How our brain creates depression – and what does it mean for a cure? we talked about how depression is actually a low internal locus of control (therefore you have an external locus of control).

Your Locus of Control is basically a bunch of subconscious beliefs about how much control you have over your environment. For our ancestors having control over their environment made a big difference to their chances of survival. A lot of these beliefs are to do with your social environment. Like how much control you have over whether people like you or not.

If you are depressed then you subconsciously believe certain goals that were important to our ancestor’s survival are difficult to control.

Your Locus of Control is really just a bunch of subconscious beliefs, and in the case of depression it is beliefs about things that were important for our ancestor’s survival like health and social connections.

Sometimes the belief is completely accurate like if your brain believes you have a zinc deficiency. In which case just trying to change the belief isn’t going to fix the deficiency. But the goal stetting in the previous post could be used to motivate you in to taking vitamin and mineral supplements every day which may help relieve some of your depression. Multivitamin and mineral supplements actually help me a lot as I have poor digestion.

Some beliefs are much more subjective. If you get fired from a few jobs you may start to believe it is impossible for you to hold down a job. That sort of belief is likely to contribute to depression as having access to resources was important to our ancestor’s survival. Some of the other techniques I have suggested below can counter beliefs like this therefore reduce depression and increasing motivation to actually go and get a job. So it is even more effective in this situation. People often believe it is the trauma that causes the depression (getting fired in this example) when it is actually the belief the going forward (not being able to ever hold down a job).

Which Beliefs?

It is beliefs that are related to your ancestor’s ability to survive that can cause depression. For example beliefs relating to how other people see you and treat you (social acceptance and social status was important during our tribal evolution). Other random beliefs that wouldn’t have effected survival are unlikely to cause depression, like if you believe the world is flat. The belief also has to effect your Locus of Control. Like in the example above where the person believes they can’t keep a job, they believe it is out of their control (low internal locus of control).

Beliefs can then be self reinforcing. You are more likely to notice and remember things that add evidence to your errant belief and ignore things that don’t agree with these beliefs.

Remember these beliefs are held within the emotional part of our brain where depression is created, so you may believe things that are illogical as this isn’t the logical conscious part of our brain. It is the part of the brain that works by association. You may not even be consciously aware of some of the beliefs.

What’s Going On?

There are 2 different ways the Locus of Control system and Beliefs can effect you. Which I would like to call “Upstream” and “Downstream”:

Downstream

This is where your brain creates a low internal locus of control which we describe as depression. Something that would have been bad for your ancestor’s survival is negatively affecting you. This is probably the case for most people that have not suffered any adverse childhood or traumatic life events. Usually it is caused by our modern day life style. Causes can include poor health and fitness, lack of routine, and social isolation. This makes your brain create a low internal locus of control i.e. depression. With the aim of getting you to withdraw from your current life style and take up a healthier one. If you are in this category you should be using locus of control to motivate you to improve your lifestyle. Including motivating you to exercise, eat healthy, go out and socialise more.

Upstream

Certain negative experiences (like an adverse childhood or traumatic life event) directly affect your beliefs in key areas. These key areas were important for your ancestor’s survival. Usually they are social beliefs that can relate to your worth as a person or to how people treat you, or they relate to your ability to control certain situations. If you are in this category then you already have a low locus of control in a particular key area, and that is telling your brain to create depression to force lifestyle change. These key areas were important to our ancestor’s survival, prosperity and reproduction.

For example if you were sexually abused as a child and it is causing depression today many years later then your perspective of the world has changed. You brain still believes you don’t have much control over that important area of your life. Your subconscious perspective / beliefs have become skewed in to believing something that is unlikely to be true. That you still don’t have control and therefore still aren’t safe.

Don’t forget that depression is a deliberate system evolved to help your ancestors survive in their natural environment. It doesn’t make sense for it to be the past even making you depressed today. Only how you perceive (subconsciously) your present and future chances of survival, prosperity and reproduction can cause depression. People often aren’t consciously aware of these beliefs.

This is one of the reasons why people respond with very different amounts of depression after similar experiences. After the initial trauma period it is their beliefs going forward not the actual event that dictate their level of depression. A bit like the way soldiers come back from similar experiences and some have post traumatic stress disorder and some come back with post traumatic growth.

If you are in this category then Locus of Control can help you a lot by helping you undo the belief that is no longer true in addition to helping in the ways mentioned above like living a healthy life style.

Regarding the healthy lifestyle, people who believe a particular past experience is the cause of their depression tend to assume nothing else could be a factor. Like you are some how immune to the depression causing effects of poor diet, poor health, lack of routine and social isolation. Sometimes they self medicate with excessive amounts of drugs and alcohol which is even worse. All these things can cause depression among average people so they certainly have at least the same affect in someone who has had adverse life experiences. Depression is cumulative as discussed here. So these things are even more important to people in the upstream category, as lifestyle is something within their control that can have an anti-depression effect. Counteracting other problems they may have.

Here is an example putting it all together:

  • So  you have a bad experience, it may be that you were bullied a lot in school
  • You create an erroneous subconscious belief that may not be true any more like “people are mean to you and you can’t stop them”
  • You perceive people as being meaner to you than they actually are, you notice and remember this more which further reinforces your belief
  • Once the belief is embedded you tend to ignore evidence that disproves it like times when people are nice to you
  • Your brain decides that withdrawal from your current lifestyle would help you avoid the problem. This withdrawal is what we know as depression – lack of motivation, low resilience, poor stress response and lack of pleasure towards your current life style which can include your job, hobbies and friends and family.

You can use the techniques below to help tackle your erroneous belief.

Countering a belief:

  • If you are in the upstream category mentioned above then you have an errant belief that is creating depression. It isn’t the belief as such or the past event but your low locus of control that causes depression. Using the example of the sexual abuse victim, that person believes (subconsciously) that it may happen again in future and that you won’t be able to do anything about it, that is what is causing depression today – the impression of a lack of control. You may remember from past posts that your brain only creates depression to force lifestyle change to prevent problems that are occurring now or may occur in the future not the past.
  • To reverse it you have to build the subconscious impression in your brain that you have more control over those sort of situations. You do this using similar techniques to the previous post:
    • You create plans as to what you would do in that situation;
    • you can learn about what other people did successfully that worked;
    • you can research how-to information and advice on what to do;
    • and you can visualise yourself taking the right action if the even occurs.

All these techniques are intended to correct your subconscious belief about your ability to control that type of situation. Even if logically you know the situation is unlikely to occur again.

Summary:

  • Sometimes beliefs that effect your perceived Internal Locus of Control can cause depression
  •  – But only if the belief relates to something that would have affected your ancestor’s ability to survive, prosper or reproduce.
  • If the belief is a fact like you have poor fitness then you need to actually improve your fitness
  • If the belief is subjective like “no body likes me” then you can use the techniques to relieve depression even more

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