Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Criticism and Self-Warmth: An Imagery Study Exploring Their Relation to Depression

Academic journal article Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy

Self-Criticism and Self-Warmth: An Imagery Study Exploring Their Relation to Depression

Article excerpt

When things go wrong for people, those who are self-critical, compared to those who self-reassure, are at increased risk of psychopathology. However, little is known of the internal processes involved in self-criticism and self-reassurance, such as the ease of eliciting critical imagery, and the power, emotion and vividness of self-criticalness and self-reassurance. This study used a self-imagery task to investigate trait self-criticism and trait self-reassurance in relation to the ease and clarity of generating self-critical and self-reassuring images, and the felt power and emotion of self-critical and self-reassuring imagery. We also explored these in relation to depressive symptoms in students. Results suggested that trait self-criticism is associated with ease and clarity in generating hostile and powerful self-critical images, while trait self-reassurance is associated with ease and clarity of generating warm and supportive images of the self. Data analysis using structural equation models also suggests that difficulties in generating self-reassurance and compassionate images about the self with self-directed warmth, may also contribute to depressive symptoms. Thus self-critics may not only suffer for elevated negative feelings about the self but may also struggle to be able to generate self-supportive images and feelings for the self, and these difficulties could be a focus of therapeutic interventions.

Keywords: depression; imagery; self-critical; self-reassurance; soothing; warmth

Many approaches to psychopathology view early experiences with parents, siblings and peers as providing important learning experiences that influence the emergence of self-other schemas (Baldwin, 1992, 1997; Beck, 1967; Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980; Gilbert, 1989, 1993), and affect neurophysiological processes underpinning emotional maturation and regulation (Perry, Pollard, Blakley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995; Schore, 1994, 2000; Siegel, 2001). Early exposure to threats, in the form of abuse, neglect and unrealistic parental expectations are known to be associated with increased vulnerabilities to mental health difficulties and can be translated into forms of self-devaluation, self-condemnation and self-critical/attacking feelings and cognitions (Blatt & Zuroff, 1992; Gilbert, Clarke, Hempel, Miles, & Irons, 2004; Schore, 1994). In contrast, warmth, love and affection have long been associated with good mental health, and facilitate more self-accepting and self-nurturing abilities (Cacioppo, Berston, Sheridan, & McClintock, 2000; Schore, 1994). Thus, interpersonal theorists suggest that selfcriticism and self-reassurance are linked to learnt interpersonal scripts-one learns to relate to oneself as others have related to self (Baldwin, 1992, 1997).

Although love and affection have such powerful effects on emotional maturation and emotional well-being, it is only comparatively recently that research has begun to explore in detail this social positive affect system and distinguish it from other positive affect systems. For example, research suggests that the positive emotions associated with affiliation and warmth differ from those associated with doing and achieving. In particular, the former are soothing/calming and may operate through opiate and oxytocin systems (Carter, 1998; Uväns-Morberg, 1998), whilst the later are activating and may operate through dopaminergic systems (Depue & Morrone-Strupinsky, 2005; Panskepp, 1998). Thus, for example, anticipating passing exams, or winning a competition creates a different type of positive affect than feeling supported and loved.

As for any other basic affect system, the way the "warm/affiliative" affect system becomes developed and choreographed into self-other schemas depends on how it is stimulated during maturation. Thus, it is via the warmth from a parent (from signals such as touch, holding, facial expressions and soft voice), that children have their warm/affiliative system activated in interpersonal interactions (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). …

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