I had terrific parents and others who consistently let me know I was smart, pretty, and valued. But for some people, the roots of believing the bad stuff as adults may lie with parents who do not demonstrate faith in a child's abilities, and no other adults are around to provide illumination. "There's a nice body of evidence showing that kids with at least one supportive adult who counteracts these messages can find avenues for expressing the positive sides of themselves," says Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, PhD, a professor of psychology at Yale and the author of Women Who Think Too Much. Parental depression is readily transmitted to kids, too. "The parents see the world in negative terms and present this view to their children," says Nolen-Hoeksema. "They're hypercritical and irritable toward their kids. They don't want to be, but it's part of their disorder. Those kids have a real tendency to adopt self-critical thinking. It tends to be perpetuated across every aspect of a child's life, especially in a small community, where you stay in the same school district, and your brothers and sisters are in the same district, and the teachers know your parents. You remain 'the fat girl' or 'the slutty girl.' It's really hard to shake off."

One reason it's hard to shake off is what psychologists call the drive for self-verification—to have others reflect the beliefs we hold about ourselves. Most people are highly motivated to believe the best of themselves, and subtly or not so, they look for feedback from others to confirm these good feelings. But someone who's depressed will go out and seek negative feedback, verifying her own thoughts. In a 2000 study by Thomas E. Joiner, PhD, a psychology professor at Florida State University, the self-verification motive was so powerful that it overrode the pain of negative opinions. And a 2001 study coauthored by Joiner's colleague psychology professor Roy F. Baumeister, PhD, confirmed the idea that "bad is stronger than good": Bad feedback, bad parenting, and bad experiences are much more powerful than good ones. People remember the bad more vividly, process it more efficiently, and pay more attention to it. Bad impressions or stereotypes form more quickly, and negative feelings produce longer-lasting effects. So my brain tricks me into remembering more vividly the occasional cooking disaster (a moment of silence now for the leaden spinach gnocchi I once foisted on innocent guests) than the preponderance of delicious food I've cooked. Or the miserable period of my life when I was injured, couldn't exercise, and gained 10 pounds instead of the rest of my life when I've fit into skinny jeans.


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