Compassion-focused therapy is an integrated and multi-faceted approach that draws from evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychology, and neuroscience. 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.
Many of my clients find it difficult to nurture themselves and accept care and love from others. This is often due to the fact that they did not receive unconditional love from their parents. The type of attachment we have with our parents shapes our adult relationships by influencing what we think about love, care and closeness with other people.
Compassion during therapy can provide healing and closure for people who did not receive the right kind of love as a child. In effect, clients are taught how to love and accept themselves which in turn helps them to find loving relationships with others that have healthy boundaries.
The Dalai Lama often stresses that if you want others to be happy – focus on compassion; if you want to be happy yourself – focus on compassion (Dalai Lama 1995, 2001). There is increasing evidence that focusing on and practising compassion can influence neurophysiological and immune systems.
People with high levels of shame and self-criticism can have enormous difficulty in being kind to themselves, feeling self-warmth or being self-compassionate. They are also highly attuned to any rejection and will often go to great lengths to avoid being hurt or rejected. Clients are taught that the behaviour they engage in to ‘protect’ themselves from hurt is not their fault and is a natural response to emotional threat. Our attempts to protect ourselves often show up in the form of “musts” and “shoulds” – eg. This person must like me. I should be popular etc
Some individuals pursue status, material possessions and achievement in order to feel safe and avoid feelings of rejection, subordination or inferiority. They may feel the need to prove themselves and to be constantly achieving. Depue & Morrone Strupinsky (2005) suggest that status-seeking, competitiveness and working to avoid rejection are all linked to the drive system. The drive to be liked and accepted, and this often comes because we lack self-acceptance – something we are able to give to ourselves but often expect others to somehow give us.
Contentment is associated with a sense of peacefulness and wellbeing– a state of ‘not-seeking’. Contentment is not just the absence of threat or low activity in the threat-protection system. Contentment comes from spending time with others and experiencing life – far more than from possessions and ‘things’. Oxytocin is a neurohormone linked to feelings of affiliation, trust and feeling soothed and calmed within relationships.
Learning to give ourselves compassion and care is key to contentment. When we stop giving ourselves a hard time and stop expecting that we MUST and SHOULD live up to certain ideals, life becomes a whole lot easier.