Your Sense of Self and Depression – What’s the Connection?

July 20, 2019
Rumination, negative dialogue, and feeling empty and unworthy can chip away at your self-esteem and create the perfect breeding ground for depression.

Your sense of self and depression are closely related. Suffering from depression or other psychological conditions fragments the image that you have of yourself, which can lead to low self-esteem. Your mind never stops investing time and energy into your self-concept, which weakens it even more with constant worry and negative internal dialogue.

Few clinical conditions are as complex as depression. No two patients experience depression in the same way. Without question, it’s a multifactorial, adverse, and multifaceted condition. However, there are common factors that manifest in most clinical cases and make it possible to recognize depression. It’s a well-known enemy that uses your thoughts and mental behavior against themselves.

A recent study published only a few months ago shows that sense of self is a key component in this type of psychological disorders. The way you perceive yourself, talk to yourself, and treat yourself actually changes the architecture of your brain.

One example: MRI scans show that people with low self-esteem actually have less grey matter in different areas of their brain. Not only that but if you aren’t able to improve your self-esteem and sense of self, your depression can become more resistant and last for years. Let’s delve deeper into this issue.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”

-Laurell K. Hamilton-

A sunset superimposed on a woman's profile.

Sense of Self and Depression: Building Your Prison of Suffering

When someone is depressed, they don’t live in the same reality as those around them. That’s because depression is, above all, an isolating force. It disconnects people from their surroundings and pushes them progressively inward. They end up stuck inside their racing minds, exhausted and in pain.

This is the first important thing to consider. When you’re depressed, certain parts of your brain related to self-awareness, reflection, and self-esteem are hyperactive. Your sense of self and depression are intimately connected due to the thought patterns that attack your identity. Your own self-criticism makes you weak. You force yourself to focus on the past: mistakes you made, pain and loss, suffering, etc.

Stress is the Gateway to Depression and Negative Self-Talk

The University of Calgary in Canada recently published a study by Dr. Dencel Kopala. His research sheds light on how negative self-talk contributes to the onset of depression. Likewise, it’s important to know that your sense of self tends to get worn down especially during periods of elevated stress.

If you don’t deal with these tensions and problems, your mind gets used to feeding a pattern of negativity. Consequently, it gets harder and harder to feel optimistic, hopeful, and good about yourself. Before you know it, your self-esteem has hit rock bottom. Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this is that it produces physical changes in certain areas of your brain.

A man with his head in the clouds.

Low Self-Esteem and Grey Matter in Your Brain

A 2014 study by Dr. Johannes Klakl from the University of Salzburg yielded some fascinating conclusions about self-concept and the brain. The study showed that people with low self-esteem actually have less grey matter. That means that they are also more vulnerable to succumbing to depression.

Thus, these patients had a hard time managing their emotions. It was also difficult for them to plan and make creative and solid decisions in order to overcome their depression and suffering.

The Importance of Self-Talk

Your sense of self and depression can feed off of each other, so much so that low self-esteem and a stressful situation can lead directly to a depressive disorder. That can put you in a vicious cycle because depression itself tends to attack your already fragmented sense of self.

On the other hand, most therapists agree that the way you talk to yourself is the key to recovery. That is, the way you talk to, describe, and perceive yourself either strengthens or weakens your psychological health.

You deserve to feel good about yourself and feel worthy. Consequently, being mindful of your self-talk is crucial to strengthen your sense of self and prevent depression.

A Healthy (and Exciting) Connection with Your Surroundings

Get out of your head and connect with the here and now. The idea is to break the cycle of negative thought patterns. One way to do that is to re-connect with what’s around you. Look for new experiences and sensations that stimulate your curiosity and excitement. Offer something different to your brain instead of anxiety and negativity.

A woman reflecting on her sense of self and depression.

A Compassionate Internal Dialogue

Your sense of self and depression are connected because your self-talk weakens your self-esteem. It can open up a black hole of depression. You have to learn how to talk to yourself in a respectful way. Your internal dialogue should always be kind, compassionate, and resilient.

If you don’t treat yourself how you deserve to be treated, then no one will. Self-love and healthy self-esteem are the best defense mechanisms against most mood disorders. Work on this and never hesitate to ask for professional help if you need it.

  • Fennell, M. J. V. (2004). Depression, low self-esteem and mindfulness. Behaviour Research and Therapy42(9), 1053–1067. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2004.03.002
  • Sowislo, J. F., & Orth, U. (2013). Does low self-esteem predict depression and anxiety? A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin139(1), 213–240. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0028931
  • Orth, U., & Robins, RW (2013). Entendiendo el vínculo entre la baja autoestima y la depresión. Direcciones actuales en la ciencia psicológica , 22(6), 455–460. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721413492763
  • Kopala-Sibley DC, Zuroff DC (2019) The self and depression: Four psychological theories and their potential neural correlates. 23(9) 33-230 DOI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30661243