Tuesday 20 March 2018

Dr. Paul D'Alton: Have more self-compassion in 2016

In the second instalment of his mental resilience series, psychologist Dr Paul D'Alton outlines how being kind to ourselves is key to our wellbeing

Dr Paul D'Alton
Dr Paul D'Alton

I asked a patient recently: "Could you be more compassionate with yourself?" And he said immediately: "Sure I'd lose the run of myself if I started that." This is a very understandable reaction to the suggestion that we become self-compassionate.

There's probably something particularly Irish in this too. We seem to have inherited the belief that if we are kind to ourselves we'd end up down the slippery slope of self-indulgence and lose the run of ourselves completely.

Over years of seeing people for therapy I've noticed we are often much harsher, more unkind and unloving to ourselves than we are to the people we care about or even to strangers sometimes. The other thing I've noticed is that real and lasting change seems to happen for people when they start becoming a little bit kinder to themselves.

Over the last 10 years there has been a surge of interest in mindfulness. There probably isn't a person in the country who hasn't heard of mindfulness. Mindfulness is now recommended for every ill. However, mindfulness is not the magic bullet nor is it a quick fix. There are times when it is not recommended, but when it is appropriate, the research is finding there are significant benefits for people who practise mindfulness.

Many things change during a typical eight-week mindfulness course - our attention improves, we become less emotionally reactive and people generally report being less stressed and more able to relax. There are several studies that have found mindfulness can bring about changes in the human body and brain too.

What the researchers are finding is that self-compassion plays a central role in bringing about these changes. Self-compassion is about becoming kinder to ourselves by seeing our shortcomings as a natural part of what it is to be a human being. It also involves a commitment to get to the root of what might be causing our difficulties and to take action.Self-compassion is the opposite of self-indulgence. Being self-compassionate often means saying no, to myself and to others. It is a kind of good parenting of ourselves - the kind of parenting that sets limits but does this with love.

Self-compassion also breaks the emotional isolation that maintains many of our problems - as individuals and as a society. Through the lens of self-compassion we see ourselves and our challenges as being a normal part of what it is to be human. This identification of our 'common humanity' has enormous potential to ease our personal distress and many of the ills of wider society.

Self-compassion has consistently been found to be related to wellbeing. The research indicates that people who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater life-satisfaction, emotional intelligence, happiness, and less depression, shame, fear of failure and burnout.

Self-compassion is not something 'nice', something 'relaxing' or indeed a quick fix. And it has nothing to do with 'positive thinking'. It is a radical new way of relating to ourselves and the people in our lives with kindness.

As we look towards 2016 and think about what kind of lives we want, it seems self-compassion is a really good place to start.

* Next week: Managing your smartphone

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