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Depression in parents impairs parenting and increases the risk of psychopathology among their children. Prevention and intervention could be informed by knowledge of the mechanisms that break the inter-generational transmission of psychopathology and build resilience in both parents and their children. We used data from two independent studies to examine whether higher levels of self-compassion were associated with better parenting and fewer emotional and behavioral problems in children of parents with a history of depression. Study 1 was a pilot trial of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that included 38 parents with recurrent depression. Study 2 was a longitudinal study that consisted of 160 families, including 50 mothers and 40 fathers who had a history of depression. Families were followed up approximately 16 months after the first assessment (time 2; n = 106 families). In both studies, self-compassion was assessed with the Self-Compassion Scale. Parents reporting higher levels of self-compassion were more likely to attribute the cause of their children’s behavior to external factors, were less critical, and used fewer distressed reactions to cope with their children’s emotions. Parents’ self-compassion was longitudinally associated with children’s internalizing and externalizing problems, but these associations became nonsignificant after controlling for child gender, parent education, and depressive symptoms. Future larger scale and experimental designs need to examine whether interventions intended to increase self-compassion might reduce the use of negative parenting strategies and thereby the inter-generational transmission of psychopathology.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a prevalent functional disorder characterized by abdominal pain and hypervigilance to gastrointestinal sensations. We hypothesized that mindfulness training (MT), which promotes nonreactive awareness of emotional and sensory experience, may target underlying mechanisms of IBS including affective pain processing and catastrophic appraisals of gastrointestinal sensations. Seventy five female IBS patients were randomly assigned to participate in either 8 weeks of MT or a social support group. A theoretically grounded, multivariate path model tested therapeutic mediators of the effect of MT on IBS severity and quality of life. Results suggest that MT exerts significant therapeutic effects on IBS symptoms by promoting nonreactivity to gut-focused anxiety and catastrophic appraisals of the significance of abdominal sensations coupled with a refocusing of attention onto interoceptive data with less emotional interference. Hence, MT appears to target and ameliorate the underlying pathogenic mechanisms of IBS.