The Two Big Beliefs Linked to Depression

There are dozens of risks factors for depression, but how we think about ourselves makes up one of the biggest pieces of the pie. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen reveals the two beliefs that put you at risk for depression, plus how to re-think them.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #104

In our psychological backpack, we all carry around beliefs that shape how we move through our days. They may be about the world, with positive beliefs like “People are generally trustworthy” or not-so-positive ones like “Life isn’t fair.” 

We also carry around beliefs about the future. Again, they may be good, like “Things usually work out for me” or not so much, like “Things will never get better.”

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But the heaviest weight in our backpack is the beliefs about ourselves. And when it comes to setting the stage for depression, a 2009 study in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research found there are two biggies that are particularly devious.

This week, here are the terrible two, plus, how to empty that backpack and refill it with beliefs that not only are more accurate, but fit you and your life a whole lot better.

Belief #1: Everyone Has to Like Me

There are many variations on the theme of “Everyone has to like me”—call it the 31 flavors of people pleasing. Perhaps your version is something more along the lines of “My worth depends on how others see me,” or “What other people think about me is really important.” Whatever way we slice it, this belief sets us up for trouble.

Why? Well, the trouble with this belief is that it puts our happiness in the hands of others. We can’t control how others react, think, or whether or not they’ll judge us. 

How to challenge it: The antidote to dependency isn’t to forge onward alone (heck, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto). Isolation also raises the risk for depression, plus it’s just no fun.

So what’s the solution? It’s something called cognitive restructuring.  Cognitive restructuring is a process in which we shine a bright light on a belief that’s getting in our way, ask “is this really true?” and come up with a new, more accurate belief. Notice I didn’t say happier belief. Our goal isn’t to slap a happy band-aid on our old, unhealthy thought. Instead, the goal is to rework our belief so it rings clear and true and allows us to move forward.

So how to restructure the thought, “Everyone has to like me”? The best ways are to take out the neediness of “has to” and the totality of “everyone.” For example, consider shifting to “Most people probably like most things about me.” There: much less urgent. I can hear the collective sigh of relief already.

You can also take the emphasis off of other people’s opinions entirely. For example, you could try “If I’m generally happy with myself, the right people will find me.” We all crave love and approval—that’s part of being human—but unconditional love and approval from everyone isn’t necessary, or even possible. And for a lot of us, it’s especially not possible from the family we were born into. But that’s OK.  Everyone has their people out there—it’s just a matter of finding them.

What's the second belief that could be contributing to depression? Keep reading to find out.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.