"I feel bad about myself"

How to learn to cope when you become depressed

Dr Tony Roberts

What happens when we become depressed

You deserve to feel better
about yourself,
about your future,
and about the world generally.

These notes are designed to help you
start to understand what happens
when we become depressed.

These notes are also designed
to help you to learn
how to work on yourself
so that you start to feel better.

So that you start to see things
in a slightly different light,
and in particular
see yourself
in a way that is kind to yourself.


"Everyone laughs at me"

"I can't do anything right"

"I'm stupid"

"I don't see much to look forward to in the future"

"I haven't got any friends"

"Nothing will work out for me"

"Nobody likes me"

"The teachers all want me out of the school"

"I feel I am a bad person"

"I hate myself"

"Everything that goes wrong is my fault"

These are typical thoughts of young people who are depressed.
To the person thinking them, they seem true;
to someone else, a friend or parent perhaps,
the person seems to have changed,
changed the way they think about themselves.

Jason used to be fairly happy-go-lucky, and used to enjoy going fishing with his father and playing football with his friends. Over a few months, however, he seemed to lose interest in most of his hobbies: all he said was "what's the point". He seemed also to think that nobody would want to be friends with him. He seemed to be hating himself - all that he could see were the things about him that were bad.

Signs of Depression

When young people are depressed, they often feel sad,
and often cry for no reason,
when there is nothing to cry about.

Often they can't sleep properly;
sometimes they have difficulty getting off to sleep;
sometimes they keep waking up in the night;
sometimes they just wake up early in the morning,
and can't get back to sleep again.

Frequently they are tired.
Sometimes they feel too tired to do anything.
Often they can't do their school work properly,
because they have difficulty concentrating.

Often they lose interest in hobbies and school work,
or don't want to go out with their freinds any more.

Often depressed young people lose their appetite
and don't enjoy food as they used to.

Looking in the mirror - 'How I see myself'.........

Typically, the depressed young person
has a bad view of herself......

She may blame herself for things
that are not her fault.
She may feel that she is stupid
Or that she has failed more than most people.
She may just hate herself
or be disgusted with herself.
She may feel that she looks ugly
and that nobody wants to be friends with her.

Looking in the crystal ball - 'How I see the future.........'

Typically, the depressed person
has a bad view of the future.

He may think that things will carry on
as bad as they are,
with no hope of improvement
Or that all there is in the future
is badness,
rather than goodness.

'NATs' - Negative automatic thoughts

These sad thoughts
that young people sometimes have
are known as "negative automatic thoughts"
or "NATs" for short.

We all have them,
Especially when something goes wrong
or when we are not in a very good mood.

When someone is depressed, however,
they have lots of negative thoughts
and are therefore sad a lot of the time.

Why do we have these thoughts ?

Most of the NATs come from mistakes in thinking.........

1. Catastrophising; making the bad things big

Mark had great difficulty going to school. The idea of actually going seemed too great for him. He felt that if he went into the classroom "Everyone would laugh - and I would probably be sick or faint". Since he had missed some schooling, he felt that he would "never be able to cope with the work - it will be an impossible task"

Notice how Mark is looking
at the worst side of things,
looking at all the things that could go wrong
not at the things that could go right.

2. Wrong way binoculars; making the good things small.

Some people disqualify the good things.
They look at the things
that are good about them
as if through the wrong end
of a pair of binoculars
and the good things are seen as very small.

Emma got a commendation for her grade 5 violin exam. She wasn't satisfied, though, because she felt that she ought to have got a distinction. She said: "Two other girls got distinctions in their music exams; it just shows that I am a failure". Emma forgot to mention that most of the girls at her school don't play musical instruments at all, let alone get a commendation in grade 5 !

Do you see what she did ?
She wrote off her success
as if it wasn't very important

Tom's friends liked him and cared about him, and they all signed a birthday card for him; Tom ripped it up, not seeing it as of any importance; and he felt he didn't deserve it anyway !

Tom wrote off the friendship shown to him,
shrinking it down in size,
shrinking it down
to something of little or no importance.

3. All or nothing thinking; black and white thinking

Annabel was very upset when the science teacher told her that she had written up a chemistry experiment wrongly. She said to herself: "I'm a total failure - unlike my sister, she is a success".

Annabel was doing "black and white thinking".
People are not very often a "total success"
or a "total failure".

Rarely are people "good" versus "bad",
or do things "never" versus "always".

Usually we are somewhere in between.
Annabel is somewhere in between.
So is her sister !

4. Dark glasses; Only seeing the bad things

Tammy bought a new party dress. When she brought it to a Christmas party, five of her friends said that they liked the dress a lot. One girl (Barbara) said that it was "OK I suppose - I've seen better". Tammy was very upset, and dwelt on what Barbara had said; she forgot all about the nice things that her friends had said about the dress and she decided that she was never going to wear the dress again !

Do you see what she had done ?
She had filtered out all the nice comments,
and only remembered the bad ones !

Tammy only listened to the person
who didn't like her dress,
i.e. she only listened to
the bad thing which was said to her.

It was as if she looked at her life
through dark glasses.

5. Jumping to conclusions via 'Mind Reading'.

Annie's best friend Zoe have her some sweets on her birthday. Annie felt that Zoe didn't really mean it, didn't really like her, and only gave her the sweets because her mother had probably told her to.

What Annie had done was
she had jumped to conclusions.
Zoe probably liked her, which is why
she gave her the sweets.
Annie however chose to believe the worst thing
even though she couldn't prove it.
She had 'jumped to conclusions'
and attempted to read Zoe's mind !

Jack said that the head-teacher thought that Jack was a 'waste of space', and wanted him out of the school. He admitted that the head-teacher had never said this, but "I know he thinks it - you can see by the way he looks at me and speaks to me".

Again, Jack was attempting to mind read.

6. Jumping to Conclusions via 'Predicting the future'.

Matthew had a very different problem. He found it very difficult to ask girls to go out with him; he always thought that they would refuse his invitation.He thought "What's the point of asking them - they will only say 'No' - and there are a lot of better people than me who they will prefer to go out with, so what it the point of trying ?"

So he didn't try.
He gave up.
Matthew was jumping to conclusions,
but in a different way.
He was trying to predict the future !

7. Emotional reasoning.

Karl was very unhappy when he waited for over an hour for his girlfriend Lucy, and she never turned up. Later he found that she had not only stood him up, but had been, for the past month 'two timing' him, going out with someone else. With his friends at school he felt embarrassed and he felt a fool. He concluded that because he felt a fool he therefore was a fool.

We need to take note of our feelings
but they can sometimes lead us astray.

Just because you feel,
deep down,
bad, stupid, useless or whatever,
it does not mean that you are
deep down
bad, stupid, useless or whatever.

8. Personalising

Sometimes, we take on the blame
for things that happen,
when we are not to blame.

Nikki lay in bed listening to her parents having terrible rows. Sometimes they seemed to be having arguments about her. One day, her father walked out of the house, and eventually her parents divorced. Nikki felt that she was in some way to blame for what happened; she felt that it was partly her fault that her parents had split up.

Of course,
it was not in any way Nikki's fault.

When adults argue and fall out,
that is entirely their responsibility.
When adults divorce,
then that is entirely their responsibility also.

.....and when young people behave badly
(or behave well !)
then that is entirely
the young person's responsibility.

9. Overgeneralising.

David was another lad who had problems in asking girls out. He asked one girl out and she said "No". He asked another girl out and she also said "No". David then said to himself: "No girl wants to go out with me".

David was 'overgeneralising'.
Because two girls had turned him down,
He assumed that no girls wanted to go out with him.

10. Labelling & name-calling

Most people liked Mark. Certainly nobody called him bad names. They didn't need to - he called himself names ! He used to say to himself: "I'm a fool, I'm stupid, I'm a no-hoper, a failure".

'Fool', 'Stupid', 'No-hoper' and 'Failure'
are all labels.
Labels don't help.
They stick to us like mud
And make us unhappy.

Worst of all, they lead us to think that
we are just made that way
and can't change.

So we become very unhappy.


Let us therefore summarise the main errors of thinking
that young people often have
when they are depressed.....

  1. Catastrophising; making the bad things big.

    "Things might go terribly wrong."

  2. Wrong way binoculars; making good things small.

    "Yes, I may have got into university, but that doesn't take much intelligence or effort."

  3. All or nothing thinking; black and white thinking.

    "I'm a complete failure, I'm not a success like my sister".

  4. Dark glasses; only seeing the bad things.

    "I did a lot of things wrong in school today - I can't think of anything good".

  5. Jumping to conclusions via mind reading.

    "My best friend doesn't like me any more and does not want to be seen with me".

  6. Jumping to conclusions via predicting the future.

    "No girl will want to go out with me, so why ask them ?"

  7. Emotional reasoning.

    "I feel ugly and worthless, therefore I must be ugly and worthless".

  8. Personalising.

    "It is my fault when my parents have rows about me".

  9. Overgeneralising.

    "I was turned down for two jobs I applied for - therefore nobody wants me".

  10. Labelling and name-calling.

    "I am stupid"
    "She is a cow"

Perhaps you might like to think about some of these ideas,
and see if any of them apply to you.

you do deserve to feel better about yourself.


Wilkes TCR, Belsher G, Rush AJ, Frank E: Cognitive Therapy for Depressed Adolescents. New York, Guilford Press, 1994.

Various different authors use different terms to describe the mistakes or errors of thinking, commonly called 'cognitive distortions'. I have borrowed some of these terms from the above textbook, as they seem particularly descriptive and 'user friendly'.

Priory Lodge Education Ltd., 1994,1995,1996, 1997

Version 1.0 First Published June 1997

Last amended:28/03/99.