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
man comforting sad woman

Belief #2: I Have To Be Perfect

This belief has more varieties than the breakfast cereal aisle. Check out these variations: “If I fail at my work, I’m a failure as a person,” “If I don’t understand completely, it means I’m stupid,”  “If I can’t keep up with everyone else, I’m inferior," and “If I screw up at all, it’s as bad as failing completely.”

See Also: Toxic Habits: Perfectionism

OK, so why does the “I have to be perfect” belief set us up for depression? It’s the all-or-nothing aspect: far from fifty shades of grey, all there is in this kind of thinking is black or white. If we’re not perfect, we’re a failure. And worse, it leaves us thinking that our self-worth is coupled to our performance—if we don’t perform perfectly, we’re worthless.

How to challenge it: The antidote to perfectionism isn’t to adopt mediocre standards—instead, keep your standards high but achievable and allow for some flexibility.  And of course, enter cognitive restructuring. Again, the goal isn’t to make the belief more positive, it’s to make it more accurate.

So how to restructure “I have to be perfect”? One way is to make it about the process, not the outcome. For instance, you could say, “I work hard and make a good effort.” Or, “I live in accordance with my values.”

Another way is to reject the idea of perfection altogether. For example, try substituting, “I’m fine the way I am,” or simply “I’m enough.” It’s funny: once we stop trying to be perfect, we stop worrying about our flaws.

One last thing: like unwelcome weeds in a garden, these two big dysfunctional beliefs may  have spread throughout your psyche, so it’s important to know they won’t disappear right away.  It may take some time to weed them all out, but with some careful attention and pruning, you can shape your beliefs into something much more beautiful.


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Medical Disclaimer
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 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.