How Complexity Reduces Depression


A person’s self-representations are said to be complex when they can draw clear boundaries between the various aspects of their lives such as their roles in the home, their work environment, their career goals, their hobbies, etc. Studies say that the better we become acquainted with ourselves and become creative in organizing our life’s aspects, the more complex (and interesting) we become. In a study by Linville (1985), she explored the relationship of the “complexity of self-representation to affective and evaluative responses” (p.94) and discovered that the lack of self-representations played a role in depression. 

In Linville’s study, she argued that depressed individuals had a tendency to focus on negative events and generalize these across all other aspects of their lives. She discovered that when there were few self-representations negative events were felt across all roles and aspects. In fact, when little is known about the self and the awareness of the self is also poor, individuals tend to focus on very concrete aspects of life, instead of long-term goals (Adams & Leary, 2007).

 Wherein self-complexity has been shown to also improve well-being (Rafaeli-Mor & Steinberg, 2002), the idea of self-complexity is taken as a buffer in periods of anxiety and stress, where people can divert their attention. This proves that creating various categories in our lives can help reduce extreme affective reactions to life events. In short, when one aspect is experiencing difficulty, the whole ship does not have to go down with it. 

Being complex adds so much more flavor to your character and in being more aware of your own complexities, you learn to pull on the necessary resources you may need  when one aspect is using up too much of your energy. In the same manner, your cognitive ability to divert and cope is supported by the various aspects of your life. Feeling a little drained and don’t know where to turn? Maybe it’s time to make new friends and create a whole new circle, or join a class and learn something totally new. Sometimes self-complexity can be seen not just in our roles in society, but in the knowledge that we acquire. Next time you may be feeling blue and your whole life feels like sh*t, try looking at the other aspects of you.