"Sad is How I Am!" Treating Dysthymia in Children and Adults
Dysthymia continuing education psychology CEUs

Section 16
The Self-Comparison Process

CEU Question 16 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Depression
Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

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On the previous track, we talked about pushing through inaction.

On this track, we'll talk about client avoidance of situations that induce negative self-comparisons.

With a client you are currently treating, would it be beneficial to assist them in staying out of situations that force them into making negative self-comparisons?

Aaron, age 35, is a software programmer who has done work that is innovative. However, Aaron's work has mostly failed to catch the interest of his profession. Every time he picked up any one of three particular technical journals, he was depressed for a day or two to see work similar to his receiving recognition. Reading these journals caused him to become depressed, because the field covered by those journals made no reference to his work. Aaron has, however, researched and published a large quantity of material in that field.

To assist Aaron in aborting a depressive episode and create some pain-free time, I suggested he try "Thought Turning." Aaron established the habit that each time his eye catches one of those journals, he turns away; he redirects his thoughts to his wife and child. His wife and child are a source of great satisfaction to him. At first he found this hard to do, but after trying it and finding it aborted a depressive episode, turning away and changing his thoughts got easier and more habitual each time.

Here is another example of Cognitive Behavior Therapy "Thought Turning." I had another client, Alex, age 23, who had been through a devastating love affair. For a long time, he diligently avoided films, plays, and books which depicted idealized love relationships. Alex realized these films and books filled him with self-recriminations which he could not yet control.

Do you agree that Alex's avoidance does not constitute avoidance of reality or denial of a problem? How and where do you draw a line between healthy and unhealthy avoidance? Kind of a sticky wicket isn't it? Alex avoidance simply, but very importantly, provides pain-free time in which to gather strength for constructive purpose.

For Ed writing plays for the local community theatrical group, he felt, was the type of work which required him to keep checking the effect of the lines he had written on the audience. Ed stated, "This is especially true as my play is being readied for production." During the session, I pointed out to Ed that such checking of the results is, of course, important, but it can create a catalyst for his obsessive negative self-comparisons.

I told Ed, "Examining your thoughts in an objective fashion, the way you would study someone else's thoughts, might be a good idea." If he wanted to understand his feelings and thoughts, this could be another powerful device. "Watching your thoughts tends to objectify the process and reduce your anxiety sadness attached to your thoughts regarding your audience's reaction."

Do you agree that thought habit-formation may be more effective in suppressing negative comparisons than one thinks? George, age 39, had stopped his daytime depression. But, he stated that he often woke early in the morning and would lie half-awake with thoughts of past failures and future difficulties.

After a few sessions, George began to call his morning depression his "Evil Genius" of the depression. His "Evil Genius" seemed to be just that. Even if he could fight it when awake, George had no defense against his "Evil Genius" which he pictured seizing him while sleeping. Thus, George was convinced that "habit-building tricks," as he termed them, could not help. He felt such "tricks" required consciousness and will. So, how could he have an affect over the "Evil Genius" while he was sleeping.

However, I suggested to George, "Before falling asleep, give yourself a pleasant subject to think about." George found that this suggestion helped. He stated, "Depressing thoughts still break into my sleep occasionally, but my habit of thinking pleasant thoughts just before I fall asleep seems to help me to get back to sleep if I wake up."

In summary when your client recognizes a negative self-comparison entering their thoughts, they might tell themselves to direct their thoughts toward, for example, a work project or a positive experience.

The next two tracks will show you how to take your client's negative self-comparisons and analyze them to facilitate growth.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Eisenstadt, D., & Leippe, M. R. (1994). The self-comparison process and self-discrepant feedback: Consequences of learning you are what you thought you were not. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67(4), 611–626. 

Joeng, J. R., & Turner, S. L. (2015). Mediators between self-criticism and depression: Fear of compassion, self-compassion, and importance to others. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 62(3), 453–463.

Müller-Kalthoff, H., Jansen, M., Schiefer, I. M., Helm, F., Nagy, N., & Möller, J. (2017). A double-edged sword? On the benefit, detriment, and net effect of dimensional comparison on self-concept. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(7), 1029–1047. 

Ramos, K., Erkanli, A., & Koenig, H. G. (2018). Effects of religious versus conventional cognitive–behavioral therapy (CBT) on suicidal thoughts in major depression and chronic medical illness. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 10(1), 79–87. 

Schaerer, M., Schweinsberg, M., & Swaab, R. I. (2018). Imaginary alternatives: The effects of mental simulation on powerless negotiators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(1), 96–117.

Silton, R. L., Kahrilas, I. J., Skymba, H. V., Smith, J., Bryant, F. B., & Heller, W. (2020). Regulating positive emotions: Implications for promoting well-being in individuals with depression. Emotion, 20(1), 93–97.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 16
What is the benefit of avoiding situations that induce negative self-comparisons? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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