whose fault is it?

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy, I am encountering difficulty with telling anxious and depressed people that it is all their fault and they just need to stoically re-spin their thoughts more positively. It may be my stage of dealing or not dealing with my own feelings and lack of faith, but I’m still not convinced there shouldn’t be a more comprehensive approach that incorporates more variables in the equation, which Father Alexis Trader may get to. So far I’m on page 57.

There was a little more nuance in subjective meaning assignment (which he says is responsible for psychological states rather than specific situations) on page 55 when he says,

According to Beck, “The function of meaning assignment (at both automatic and deliberate levels) is to control the various psychological systems (e.g., behavioral, emotional, attentional, and memory). Thus, meaning activates strategies for adaptation.” In other words, an individual interprets a given event and has an automatic thought that expresses his personal interpretation. That interpretation, in turn, becomes the first link in a chain reaction resulting in a change in how that individual feels, what he recalls, what he focuses on, and how he behaves. For example, if a person interprets a situation as dangerous, he might have a fleeting thought such as “I’m in danger,” and then feel anxious; if he interprets an action as deliberately causing him injury, he might think “I’ve been wronged” and feel angry; if he views a gesture as an expression of love, he might have the thought “I’m loved,” and feel joy. In like manner, if an individual interprets a change as a loss, he might think, “Now I”m alone,” and feel sad. These psychological processes are all perfectly normal.

Oh, so sometimes it is ok to have these negative responses. Some interpretations are normal and some excessive. Who determines this, democratic vote? A jury of peers? A medically invasive diagnostic study that measures a person’s sensitivity and pain tolerance? I prefer Louis C.K.’s statement that you don’t get to tell someone their feelings shouldn’t be hurt by what you did. Anyway, he goes on.

In psychopathology, however, a person’s meaning assignment is skewed, excessive, or inappropriate, causing dysfunctional thoughts, uncomfortable emotional states, and maladaptive strategies for behavior. For instance, people suffering from anxiety interpret situations that are perhaps mildly threatening as extrememly dangerous; people suffering from depression interpret every setback as proof that they are dismal failures, and so on.

I’m all for people learning how to be less anxious and depressed, but this suffer-er focused approach to me is just as damaging as the often criticized in Christian circles, blaming approach. The latter tell you, don’t go to counselling because they’ll blame your parents for everything. But the former puts too much responsibility on the individual who may have been unfairly blamed for things and that is why he’s anxious and depressed. The weight is too great.

So if it’s not my fault, and it’s not their fault, whose fault is it? I don’t have time to find and discuss an article I read recently about emotional intelligence right now. TBC.