Learning to like yourself more

Friday April 24, 2020

How much do you like yourself? Or perhaps, how much do you NOT like yourself? Are you prone to self criticism, perfectionist and competitive? Are you ashamed to be you? Are you frequently anxious, or an angry person?

What I'm going to write about might just change some of that. It has made a big difference to me and I want to share it. It's the insight that paying more attention to caring for ourselves might counterbalance and cancel out some of our negative, destructive thoughts and behaviours.

This idea, and the therapy which developed from it, comes from Paul Gilbert, a Professor of Psychology. It derives from a number of sources, including cognitive behaviour therapy, neuroscience, Buddhism and psychology, and has been developed into Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). The relevant part here is the notion that there are three types of emotional regulation system in the brain.

We have systems for protecting us from threats, for getting resources we need (drives) and for self soothing, and we need all three. But if we are unable to manage these systems well, there may be negative consequences, for example, self criticism or difficulty experiencing warmth in relationships.

My understanding is that, whereas many forms of psychotherapy focus on dismantling overactive threat and drive systems, it is much more effective to build up self soothing and compassion so that a better balance results – and life is nicer.

I was – am! – a successful person with a professional career, a long marriage and children. I have also had bipolar disorder since my teens, which has had a huge impact on my life. I used to call it a 'double life'. I was a self critical perfectionist driven to achieve.

Then, a few years ago, my care coordinator suggested I read Professor Gilbert's book, The Compassionate Mind. The second half is a self help guide with lots of practical exercises. According to Gilbert, "One of its key concerns is to use compassionate mind training to help people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing, via compassion and self-compassion.

For me, becoming aware of the compassion dimension was a prelude to real change.

Could you help yourself to some of this?

A Moodscope member.

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