Why we stay stuck: Part 3

We’ve been reviewing the basic literature surrounding why people “stay stuck.” There is more information than ever out there now, but we’re organizing it into several different levels. Having explored the biology that affects our ability to change, we’ll now move on to the cognitive level.

The cognitive level of a person is the way a person interprets inputs, sensory information, interpersonal interactions, and how that influences outputs, emotional states and interpersonal interactions. At this level, mental disorders arise because the person engages in faulty thinking and makes incorrect inferences on inadequate or incorrect information1. Faulty thinking arises because of depressogenic assumptions and a triad of negative thoughts. Depressogenic assumptions are the unarticulated rules by which the individual attempts to integrate and assign value to the raw data of experience. Maladaptive assumptions differ from adaptive ones in that they tend to be rigid, excessive, and inappropriate.

The cognitive triad is the individual’s view of self, the outside world, and the future1. Those with mental disorders see themselves as defective, inadequate, diseased or deprived. They attribute negative experiences to psychological, moral, or physical defect in themselves and believe that because of these defects they are undesirable and worthless.  In the second part of the triad, they tend to view the world in a negative way, interpreting ongoing experiences in a negative way even when more plausible, alternative explanations are available. In the third part of the triad, they assume that current difficulties will continue indefinitely. They tend to feel helpless and hopeless.

In other, what keeps a person from healing from a mental disorder is, at least at the cognitive level, is either the faulty assumptions serving a purpose or interpreting the raw data of experience through a dirty filter, so to speak. The negative interpretations create the filter, and the filter creates the negative interpretations. It’s a vicious cycle, really.

Next up is the interpersonal level, where we will again see a cycle. Patterns are developing….

1 Beck, A.T., Rush, J.T., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive therapy of depression. New York: Gilford Press.

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