“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” – Plato
We’ve all heard the phrase “mind over matter” at one point or another in our lives.
It implies that our minds, the human brain, is powerful and trumps physical “matter”.
But can our mind actually influence things, such as our own health?
For example, let’s look at depression.
Psychologists Aaron Beck and Martin Seligman suggested two theories on depression:
- Beck’s Cognitive Triad, a part of his bigger “Cognitive Theory of Depression”, and
- Seligman’s Theory of Learned Helplessness.
Basically, Beck said that dysfunctionally negative views, 3 in particular, pave the way for depression.
- Think negatively about yourself (ex. I am worthless, everything is my fault)
- Think negatively about the world/situation/environment you are in (ex. everything is unfair, the world is out to get me)
- Think negatively about the future (ex. there’s no point in anything, I have no hope, it can’t be helped)
…then these things combine to create a high probability for being depressed.
Because these three things are crucial parts of our everyday lives, Beck attributed these main negative views as exacerbating, or even jump-starting the onset of, depression.
In his studies of depressed patients, Beck found that the majority of the patients had these three mindsets in common.
They would often blame themselves excessively, expressing guilt for being incapable, unlovable, deficient– as well as being blameworthy of these things.
Love and concern from others would be judged as being out of pity or inconsistent for their inadequate selves, rather than being born out of true affection and concern.
And finally, the patients often expressed views that in the future, things would “only get worse”– which made treatment especially difficult because they would be unwilling to commit, believing that they had no control over the situations they found themselves in (feeling helpless).
These are examples of severe catastrophizing: believing that things are far worse than they actually are, or making a catastrophe of, the current situation or the future.
Because of said helplessness, patients actually showed a strong inclination to avoid situations they felt they had no control over (therapy, treatment, etc.).
In other words, pessimism and helplessness impacted the patients’ future behavior to the point where recovery was a difficult goal to achieve.
How can one help someone who does not wish to be helped?
Going back to the start of the article, famous philosopher and mathematician Plato once said:
Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
If desire is nonexistent, emotions are primarily negative, and knowledge is biased with pessimistic views that catastrophize everything, even the future,…
…what’s most likely to happen?
What would the resulting behavior be like?
Think about it. (Positively.)
Beck, Aaron T.; Rush, A. John; Shaw, Brian F.; Emery, Gary. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. New York: The Guilford Press.
Behavioral Science. Duequesne University. http://www.duq.edu/academics/schools/leadership-and-professional-advancement/undergraduate-degrees/behavioral-science
Lefcourt, Herbert M. (April 1966). “Internal versus external control of reinforcement: A review”. Psychological Bulletin 65 (4): 206–20.