Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Brain Changes After Depression

brainchangesafterdepression.jpgHere’s a piece of news that makes me feel relieved and apprehensive at the same time (a typical bipolar response, right?). According to Rick Nauert, Senior News Editor for Pysch Central:

A new study finds formerly depressed women show patterns of brain activity when they are criticized by their mothers that are distinctly different from the patterns shown by never-depressed controls. 


The participants reported being completely well and fully recovered, yet their neural activity resembled that which has been observed in depressed individuals in other studies.

Jill Hooley, professor of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard led the study, which appeared in the current issue of the journal “Psychiatry Research: Nueroimaging.” She writes:

When these formerly depressed participants are processing criticism, some brain areas thought to be involved in emotion regulation are less active, and the amygdala [the brain’s fear center] is actually more active, compared to the healthy controls. 


We know that this is not linked to them being symptomatic now. These findings tell us that even when people are fully recovered from an episode of depression, their ability to process criticism is still different – and probably not in a good way

I encourage you to read Rick’s entire post, but this does help to explain the last few days. I haven’t been able to let go of a few negative comments/responses. In fact, it feels like my very survival relies on being liked and approved by these folks. I keep on arguing with myself: “For the love of God, let it go.” But I can’t. And so around and around the thoughts go.


The amygdala, that damn fear center in my limbic system. It’s causing problems again … and because I have been severely depressed in the past, that is why I process criticism … from my mom or the mail man (“I asked you to trim your rose bushes so that I don’t have to prick myself leaving your mail”) like it’s a death sentence.

So does this make you feel better or worse? Never mind. Don’t answer that question.

To read more Beyond Blue, go to, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.


To subscribe to “Beyond Blue” click here.


  • Your Name

    Therese: When you are loved by SO loved by your readers and your family. Why would you waste a second dwelling on a few negative comments or care what one or two individuals think about you!! You are a beautiful person, inside and out, and have helped so many. Lighten up on yourself!!

  • pam munro

    OMG! So THAT’S what’s been going on! I have a terribly sensitive nature as regards criticism – is has to be really loving before I don’t freak out on some inner level! In therapy it has been linked to perfectionism (I think you understand THAT) But could it be that our brains are still “sore” in a sense & wince when the sharply critical words touch us again? Of course, the plus side is that the brain is malleable & capable of change – even in the adult years. So the more positivity we create, the more we can pour iodine on our old bruises & heal them up.

  • Ellis Taylor

    Ms. Borchard,
    I cannot express in words my gratitude to you. I just discovered this site. As a 50 something male, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,

  • Judy

    Dear Therese, You put into words what I have been unable to: “..I process criticism…like it’s a death sentence.” I’m sad that you feel that way too, but it is an amazing consolation to know I’m not the only one. Thank you for being brave enough to share – you are a blessing to so many! May you have peace.

  • Leslie

    Oh, I can so identify with this. I’ve come close to suicide at times because of my fear response to criticism. I hope it helps you as it helps me to know it’s not because I’m a bad person that I can’t handle criticism – it’s just that my brain is not wired the way those other “healthy” people’s brains are.
    Hugs to you. Your wisdom and determination to deal with what you’ve been given help me a lot.

  • Margaret M.

    Well, this explains alot. I cry easily. I think about some off-hand comments someone made as if it is the only evidence available to validate my existance. I can not shake it. I am not depressed. I am a mass of vulnerablity however. I feel like I am a refuge from the Planet of the Fragile Souls. I hope that they find some solution to the problem of living this way. I do not like being this vulnerable.

  • Your Name

    Thank you for being so forthcoming on your experience with depression. I really identified with your reaction to criticism, that was right on point.
    I have learned through years of therapy and as you know, changing my perception to change my thinking, how to handle criticism. But the two people who always gets me is my mom and my daughters father whom I am no longer with. I know I can’t change them, but I can change my reaction to them.
    You have a great column, keep up the awesome work!!!

  • mJ

    Interesting. I have been (and probably will be again) depressed and have a critical mother…and used to take criticism as a judgment that I was a foul, disgusting person.
    I’ve overcome this, but in overcoming it my new reaction to criticism and cruel remarks by relatives (and I have one relative who glories in making horrible remarks and laughing – does this to anyone close) is to start bellowing “I don’t want to hear it! I’ve had enough for a lifetime – I’m not listening to this crap” at full volume at the speaker. It does shut them up (probably because at that point they’re afraid I’ll snap and physically harm them) but I’m not sure it’s the best way to handle this….

  • Kay Dekker

    My therapist put it to me bluntly. “Why do you assume that these negative people are right?”, she asked me.
    That floored me for a week or two (she’s very good at doing that kind of thing – one little question that will provoke a lot of thinking). At the end of my thinking, I could come up with only one reason: “For absolutely no good reason at all.”
    Because, really, these people are full of it. Criticisms which, when they were aimed at me, used to seem automatically correct and powerful, I would never, ever accept as valid if they were aimed at anyone else. If what these people did wasn’t so aggressive, it would be laughable. Pathetic. Evidence of their inadequacy, not mine.
    By taking on their negativity, I would allow myself to become a victim. I have enough to do with dealing with my illness without having to handle that kind of rubbish.
    I’ve been quietly cultivating my “How *dare* you?” muscles. I’m not storing up anger; I’m simply preparing to repel boarders with due force :)

  • Lori

    I can totally identify with all of the postings. I suffer from anxiety and depression. The thing is I’m so otherwise “normal” that I get so angry with my body and my brain.
    When I talk to my counselor, I emphasize this. My brain has betrayed me. I would be so much farther ahead than I am, if my damn synapses and serotonin levels would connect and re-up themselves like other peoples. It makes me very angry, because otherwise I do whatever any other person does.
    But, because of this, I, too obsess over the criticisms directed towards me and assume them as the ultimate truth. Sometimes I don’t even challenge them. Many of them are utterly ridiculous, but, my mind just ruminates them over and over. I am so tired, and tired of it.
    My mother(whom I love dearly)is my biggest critic! Are these findings that are substantial when your mother is very,very critical of us with sensitive nervous systems. She still scares me with her words and I’m over 40. My dad was absolutely the opposite, very supportive. He was my hero! He passed away 5 years ago. He was the calm in the storm, to everyone really! Good luck to all of us!

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild ...

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate ...

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from ...

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a ...

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer ...

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.