Psychological Inflexibility and Depression: What’s the Connection?

· December 5, 2018

Psychological inflexibility makes normal functioning and adaptation difficult. It also tends to be one of the factors in people’s lives that create or increase suffering. It’s defined by six processes that run opposite to those seen in psychological flexibility. They are inflexible attention, breaking one’s own values, inactivity or impulsivity, identification with a conceptual self, cognitive fusion, and experiential avoidance.

Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) states that people become depressed due to their irrational interpretations of events that happen to them. A person’s beliefs system is also a very important factor in explaining emotional disturbances. As such, this is one of the main points this therapy focuses on.

An irrational interpretation of events, along with not wanting to change one’s beliefs system, sustain depression. Aaron Beck’s cognitive model of depression proposes that depressive thinking patterns give way to symptoms of depression. This happens when the frequency of negative automatic thoughts increases as a response to life events. Psychological inflexibility, as well as negative automatic thoughts, are key players in the relationship between depressive thinking and symptoms of depression.

As such, imperative, inflexible, overwhelming, and self-defeating beliefs are linked to patterns that create emotional disturbances. These patterns may manifest in actions, emotions, or exaggerated or dogmatic interpretations of life events. Consequently, they can end up turning into mood disorders.

“Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges.”

-Herman Melville-

Psychological inflexibility may make your life seem unsubstantial.

Psychological inflexibility and treatment for depression

Experts have linked psychological flexibility to various positive indicators in individuals with mental health issues or chronic diseases. Some have also identified it as an important mechanism of psychotherapeutic change. Nevertheless, many therapists still don’t pay a lot of attention to psychological flexibility.

When we first meet an inflexible person, they might seem to project a sense of confidence. However, if you delve deeper and look at things objectively, you’ll be able to see that they’re actually trying to hide their own insecurity. They feel comfortable doing, thinking, and defending the same things time and time again in different situations. It’s their comfort zone. Taking them out of that zone will make them feel defenseless, which can eventually lead to fear.

If you want this person to change, you also have to make the person see the advantages of mental flexibility. At the same time, you have to make them see the disadvantages of mental inflexibility.

People sometimes have to be inflexible in certain situations. However, flexibility is the most appropriate way to deal with a wide range of situations and thoughts.

The most disabling characteristic of psychological inflexibility is the inability of inflexible people to modify their routines and mental habits. In many cases, this leads to depression.

The mental mechanisms related to inflexibility are highly counterproductive when it comes to trying to overcome depression. They worsen the condition and make it difficult to get over it. Also, depressed people tend to always think negatively, which can also make them feel worse.

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

-Nathaniel Hawthorne-

Psychological inflexibility may contribute to this man's sadness.

Psychological flexibility for a better life

How you see the world and your environment shapes your well-being. Your commitment and attitude you have toward yourself and others also do this. That’s why being a person with a flexible mind has many advantages.

Flexible people never stop learning, growing, and connecting with others. They’re also better able to tolerate frustration, they’re not afraid of change, they evolve over time, and they have generally lower stress levels.

Psychological flexibility is also a general toolkit for a life structured by appropriate conduct, thoughts, and emotions. Adapting to different situations and behaving in line with your values makes you as flexible as water. That is, you become someone who is able to overcome every obstacle due to your adaptability.

“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

-Abraham Maslow-

Greco, L. A., Lambert, W., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Psychological Inflexibility in Childhood and Adolescence: Development and Evaluation of the Avoidance and Fusion Questionnaire for Youth. Psychological Assessment. https://doi.org/10.3760/cma.j.issn.0366-6999.2009.24.007