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Focusing on What's Right for a Change
Michael D Yapko, PhD posted:
Do you ever wonder what makes for healthy, strong, happy people? Or why some people face stressful and challenging events in life and seem to rise above them, while other people implode in the face of what seem like routine stressors?

The vast majority of research into depression has focused on the pathologies within people that presumably give rise to the disorder, such as character defects, anger-turned-inward, unresolved childhood issues, distorted thinking, and chemical imbalances in the brain. Only recently has there emerged a different paradigm for thinking about human experience. Known as positive psychology, its focus is on what is right with people rather than on what is wrong. Instead of studying people who suffer, positive psychologists study people who have overcome adversity and thrived, who became happy, competent, and fulfilled. Positive psychology strives to identify their strengths in order to better help those who are suffering.

One of the first tasks positive psychologists attempted was the development of a new manual that would catalogue and define many of the best aspects of human experience. Unlike the well-known psychiatric manual listing various forms of psychopathology (called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, now in its revised fourth edition, DSM-IV-R) used by the mental health profession to diagnose patients, a new manual called Character Strengths and Virtues was developed by psychologists Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman to identify and describe some of the best human attributes. These include the courage to speak the truth, kindness, love, fairness, leadership, teamwork, forgiveness, modesty, gratitude, and many other such positive characteristics. If you re-read these attributes, you cannot help but notice that these are wonderful human potentials that can only be expressed in the context of human relationships. Simply put, how people develop their best selves is largely, though not entirely, achieved in the context of positive relationships with other people.

Other people provide support and alternative points of view. When I read some of the postings on WebMD, I am really heartened by how much sensitivity and compassion there can be in someone's reply, even as they offer a different point of view. That's wonderful! And, it's essential as a first step to begin recognizing that sometimes we think and feel things that are so subjective that, from within those thoughts and feelings, we trap ourselves. In the scientific literature, this is known as an internal orientation; People use their own feelings and experiences to interpret and react to the world around them, and don't realize their perceptions of what's going on are "off the mark."

Your experience will necessarily be different from that of others. A great question, one Positive Psychology strives to answer, is, "How can we learn from the people who do this (whatever "this" might be) well? For me, it has been about striving to better understand how some people recover from depression, how they bounce back from trauma and adversity, and how they build increasingly satisfying lives despite having suffered. The awareness is growing that there are specific skills - learnable skills- that go into living well.

What do YOU think allows people to overcome adversity? You might want to reply to the poll question below if you have time to do so.

Take the Poll

What one characteristic (of many, obviously) do you think of as being the most important one to have if one is to overcome adversity?
  • Good genes
  • A supportive family
  • Good problem solving skills
  • A "can do" attitude
  • A sense of purpose in life
View Poll Results
jazz1910 responded:
I have read several of your posts and I think you are missing the main cause of severe, chronic, depression. So I will tell you the deep dark secret of what causes severe, chronic depression and prevents people from recovering. Are you ready? The main cause of severe, chronic depression is brain damage. People who have had multiple concussions or worse typically get depressed and it frequently lasts a lifetime. Whether it occurred in a football game or in a car accident doesn't seem to matter. They got brain damage and even though they might act normally in other respects, the part of their brain that controls moods is now damaged for life. This is the only logical explanation for chronic depression. The only thing that helps is if you have a supportive family and happy life before your brain injury and you can rely on that support after your brain injury. But even then many people don't recover from severe, chronic depression because no one recovers 100% from brain damage. So to answer your question, the most important characteristic to have to overcome adversity is not to get a brain injury of any kind no matter how small.
JustAnotherGirl83 replied to jazz1910's response:
So how do you explain individuals with sever, chronic depression who do not have brain damage? I don't necessarily agree with Dr. Yapko on everything (it would take too long to explain my stance so I will not but I will say I don't think anything he says is wrong, per se, I just disagree on the amount of emphasis he puts on certain things and the lack of emphasis on others) but at the same time I am pretty sure that Doctor is not an honorary title. Your post seems to indicate that you have a very narrow view on all of this... and probably don't know too much about it (because anyone who knows anything about depression knows that brain damage is not the only cause... as a matter of fact, while damage to certain parts of the brain -for example the temporal lobe- can effect emotion regulation, I would be willing to bet that brain damage is responsible for only a small percentage of cases of major depression, sever or otherwise). I would learn a little more before I presumed to tell a professional his job, if I were you. 4e67a58c-0e8a-4444-bda8-d557257fe4421.03.01
JustAnotherGirl83 responded:
Intriguing, Dr Yapko. Coming from a 'depressed point of view' I would probably ask you what good looking at how folks persevere despite adversity (I am assuming -though my mother told me not to - that these are people who did not succumb to such mental illness as depression..?) would do when trying to help individuals who were not so fortunate to come out unscathed (again I fully admit that is the cynical, depressed 'part' of my talking). But the former psych student (nothing exciting, just my BA, haven't made it back for my masters yet) finds it very interesting.

Thanks for sharing
gingersnap6676 responded:
I'm new to this sort of thing. I just joined in an effort to find something to change my long depressed life. I found your article very interesting as I constantly wonder why I'm different. Why are other people able to handle everyday life and I can't. I want to know the secret desperately. I'm "therapied out", medicated and still in a funk. I was responsible for the death of my little sister 42 years ago. Why is it still controlling my life. Why would someone else be able to forgive themselves for that and go one to a productive life. I feel like I'm in a fog and I've been there for years. I make the same mistakes over and over again. How do people cope. What is it like to not be in constant physiacal pain. Day after day. Why can't I just "get over it", "cheer up", "get a grip"? I know all about cognative thinking, stopping negative thoughts. I've written journals and letters to my sister asking for forgivness, my dad who never forgave me, my mom who I tried to take care of when she got old and never spoke of what happened, and my older handicapped sister who resented the fact that I wasn't blind and could walk and get married and have kids and lead a "normal life"! Please continue your research and let me be the first to know what the secret is. I'm tired of being like this.
An_203612 replied to jazz1910's response:
I have read your posts to try and understand why in the world you think depression is only caused by brain damage. Because that is the dumbest thing I have ever seen written about depression. I understand you have had brain damage and your depression was probably caused by it, but to make a blanket statement like this just shows that you don't know much about it. Do some more research. I think it will help you especially when you to reply to someone's post. Don't try to help us anymore, all you are doing is making it worse. IMHO.
marysings replied to jazz1910's response:
The depression we suffer with is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain.

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