Christophe Andre (Montpellier, 1956) had to overcome lung cancer to realize that as a psychiatrist he was doing much more for his patients than he thought, even when he believed he wasn’t helping. He offered them what others also offered him during his illness: comfort. Because he admits that it has a great effect against some health problems, both physical and psychological.
Of course, this psychiatrist, one of the great French specialists in anxiety disorders, depression and cognitive behavioral therapy, explains that “healing is the most important thing when you are sick.” There is no doubt about that, but “in general We need both: care for our illness and comfort for ourselves.”, Dice.
Although he is qualified, There are “difficulties that do not depend on health, such as failures, grief… or the adversities of life.”. And they all, he emphasizes, “need comfort.” He reflects this precisely in Consolation: A Therapist’s Lessons for Coping with Adversity (Arpa, 2023), a book that aims to learn how to get back on our feet after every physical and emotional fall – and to help us do so.
But what is comfort? How would you define it?
This means all the good that you want to give to someone when the situation from which they suffer cannot be changed.
“To comfort is to want to relieve a pain,” he writes, but how can you comfort, comfort someone if you don’t know how to do it?
We are often afraid of giving poor comfort, of making the pain worse with clumsy words. We are afraid of shedding more tears or even of moments of silence when we don’t know what to say.
However, the rules of comfort are simple: be there but without imposing your presence; Say simple words, because big speeches are useless. Don’t be afraid of silence; Hug or put your hand on the person’s shoulder who needs comfort. And also remember that consolation has a delayed effect: it does not work in the moment, the person continues to suffer or cry, but little by little, without us realizing it, our presence, our words will restore the joy of life. .
Psychiatrist Christophe André poses while reading a book. Arpa Paris on loan
Is comforting the same as consoling?
They are very similar things. In general, we talk about consoling when the help is more superficial, punctual and with a limited goal: to restore courage and strength, to restore movement. Consolation, on the other hand, corresponds to a deeper demand: to restore joy in life despite adversity. It is more durable and will extend and repeat over a longer period of time; It’s an accompaniment.
Is comfort a learned or innate ability?
Consolation is initially preceded by fainting, which then puts you back on the path of hope. All people have a tendency to comfort because we all have innate empathy skills in our brains that allow us to understand the suffering of others.
But will this empathy help us comfort ourselves, or will it only make us suffer and prevent us from being able to help the other? This part is not innate. If we were comforted by unconscious imitation in our childhood, we will follow these examples.
On the contrary, if we grew up in an environment where there was no room for comfort, where emotions and tenderness were blocked, it will be difficult for us to comfort others, even if we want to. Then we have to learn to do it the way I explain it in the book.
We live in a world that is increasingly disconnected from physical relationships, increasingly virtual, and where mental health problems only seem to be on the rise. Is it possible to find comfort as human interactions become increasingly rare?
It’s a paradox: we are becoming more and more connected, have more and more relationships with other people, but at the same time our bonds are becoming less and less deep, sincere and nourishing. Virtual relationships can complement real relationships, those that take place in the physical world, but they can never replace them.
We in healthcare have seen proof of this with telemedicine: remote consultations work very well when you already know the patient, when you know them well; However, they are dangerous if we have never met him in person. The natural is always superior to the artificial.
For example, it is better to eat oranges than to supplement vitamin C with tablets, because the fruit also provides much more. The same thing happens with relationships: a phone call or text message conveys information, but face-to-face offers much more nuance.
“Pain isolates us from the world, from others, and from ourselves,” he writes in his book. However, he has produced the best works of art and poems of all time. Doesn’t that bring us closer together?
Studies show that pain only helps creativity when it is no longer felt. For example: depression sterilizes creativity, but when it is cured, it can flourish and increase. In other words, it is not suffering that helps us create, but rather knowing, experiencing and overcoming that suffering; to get out of this situation.
It is also true that suffering, in the same way, brings us closer to others. When our friends come to comfort us, it is something positive, it connects us. Although of course we prefer to be with our friends when there is no pain, when they are not suffering, to see them happy. Therefore, it is important to be aware of our opportunities before we miss them and to become aware of the good fortune of having friends even when there is no adversity and no consolation is needed.
Consolation, he says in the book, is not just something human, nature also provides it. How it works? How does nature comfort us?
Nature comforts us, as all the studies about it show: the landscape, the mountains, the sea, the sky soothe us, calm us down and do us good. This is called biophilia: Nature comforts us humans in a natural way, improving our health, our bodies and our minds. Subconsciously we feel that we descend from her, from nature, and that we will return to her, that she is generous with us.
Suffering closes us within ourselves, but nature opens us to the world. The sight of live animals is also a form of comfort. Watch your dog running happily outdoors. Pet your cat and listen to her purr; Listening to the birds chirping… all of this shows us the essence, that life is an opportunity despite all adversities.
What is the connection between comfort and happiness? Are these two sides of the same coin?
Consolation does not make misfortune go away, but it slowly prepares us for happiness to return tomorrow, the day after, or whenever. It is what connects us with trust and hope. Over time, it subtly gives us little bits of happiness back.
Consolation is the transition between the certainty of present misfortune and the possibility of future happiness. Avoid chronicizing sadness, pessimism, resentment and bitterness. Without comfort, it would be more complicated and it would take longer to regain the joy of life.