Philosophers have long understood that the comparisons one makes affect one's feelings. But self-comparisons have not previously been systematically explored or integrated into scientific understanding of the thinking of depressives, or exploited as the central pressure-point for therapy; instead, the concept "negative thoughts" has been used. This article argues that self-comparisons constitute the common pathway through which all depression-causing lines of thought must pass. A negative self-comparison between a) a perceived actual state of affairs, and b) a hypothetical benchmark state of affairs causes psychic pain. And the interaction between negative self-comparisons and a sense of helplessness converts painful negative self- comparisons into sadness and depression. This framework opens up a wide variety of novel interventions.
Self-comparisons Analysis integrates the key therapeutic insights of the cognitive theories of Ellis, Beck, and Seligman. All of the many variations of depressions that modern psychiatry now recognizes as heterogeneous but related forms of the same illness can be subsumed under the theory except those that have a purely biological origin, if there are such. Hence it makes possible that instead of the field being seen as a conflict of "schools," each may be seen as having a distinctive therapeutic method that fits the needs of different sorts of sufferers from depression. The framework of Self-Comparisons Analysis also helps weight the values of each of these methods for a particular sufferer.
Self-comparisons Analysis also yields a new line of attack upon stubborn depressions -- committed choice to give up depression in order to attain important deeply-held values.