Everyone is depressed at some point of life or the other. People can be optimistic about some areas of life and exceedingly depressive about other things. But those who are truly depressed always see things in a negative light. A depressed individual is always convinced the sky will fall on his/hers head. Nothing can ever go right or ever will. Even happiness is a short-term joy, paving the way for further disappointment and the very emotion of happiness is rarely felt. For those suffering from clinical depression, life is very very bleak indeed. But can depression actually make a man a realist and hence, he can accept events and deal with emotions in a better way?
The Theory of Depressive Realism
The concept of a realist look tinged with depression, is based on how there is a fine line between depression and reality. A realist is someone who sees life in a very straightforward manner. There is no cushioning or viewing of the world through rose-colored glasses. If a situation looks hopeless, to a realist it is hopeless. How does depression come into the picture? To understand this link, think of depression as a straight line and that there are 10 points on the line, which represent the rate or factor of depression that an individual has.
Factors of 0-5 accounts for the optimists. They are rarely depressed and they view the world in a hopeful and optimistic point of view. They look to the bright side of things and "there will always be a better tomorrow is their motto. Numbers 8, 9 and 10 are reserved for the severely depressed or clinically depressed. Their entire viewpoint is depressive and morbid to the extreme. What of numbers 5, 6 and 7? These are moderate or medium level depressed individuals. Such individuals are neither too hopeful nor too negative. They see things for what they are, neither black or white but gray and plain in sight. Here's where depressive realism comes forth, as a way of thinking and behavior.
Optimists or people who are not depressed, see things in a "too good" or "everything will be all right" light. In short, they view the world through rose-colored glasses and that clouds their perception. Even in situations that can have no positive outcome, they hope for a miracle to occur. They also tend to inflate or exaggerate even their own contribution to a situation. Clinical depressives view the world in an excessively negative light. Nothing will ever succeed and they won't try to change anything either, since they feel, "What is the use?" Their perception of the world is warped too.
But the medium level depressives view events in their true and accurate light. Thus their viewing of events, situations and emotions is more accurate. They understand things for what they really are, no better and no worse. Depressive realism allows the individual to take a more critical and realistic approach in everything he/she does, says and thinks. The individual is neither too convinced of his/hers own importance or self-worth. Neither is he/she suffering from low self-esteem. Rather he/she realizes exactly their own self-worth and insecurities and is confident of their own personality. They also view themselves in a much more realistic light, that is they do not overestimate their own abilities and strengths. They accept their flaws and positive strengths alike. Such individuals also respect and demand the truth behind any situation. They are also more open to accepting such truths, in contrast to optimists and nondepressed individuals, who tend to hope for the best and refuse to accept reality, even when the truth is glaringly obvious.
Depressive realism is regarded as the opposite of optimistic bias, where a person is too optimistic in thinking and emotions. Depressive people also believe that fate, coincidence or a divine power plays a greater role in their lives, than their own character and strength. This proposition was the result of studies conducted by psychologists, Alloy and Abramson in 1979, who put forward this theory with their light-bulb experiment. A group of nondepressed and depressed test subjects were placed individually in front of a panel with a yellow and a green bulb and a button. They were told to make the green light flash. The subjects would press the button in an attempt to make the bulb flash. But the reality was that the light flashed randomly and the button did not control it at all. The nondepressed subjects felt they controlled the bulb and did not consider this truth when the bulb failed to come on. The depressed subjects however felt that the bulb was not within their control and accepted it as a fact, that irrespective of whatever they do, the bulb will function on its own.
So is depressive realism real? Does this mean a pessimistic attitude is a healthy attitude? And what does this mean for positive thinking or optimism, is it just living in a state of denial, where one does not want to accept the realities of life? Psychology is still scratching its head over this theory and trying to conduct more research in this field. But one thing is for sure: too much of anything is not good and that holds true even for optimism. One shouldn't be depressed or too hopeful at any time but rather, should keep sensible and practical expectations and behave in a likewise manner.