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Are you compassionate?

30 Aug

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Dalai Lama

The two most common emotional problems that people seek help for are depression and anxiety, and both of these emotional problems can be very disabling, and lead to a all sorts of problems in simply getting on with life and dealing with the day-to-day challenges that we all face as we deal with work, relationships, and even our social life. REBT teaches us that when we are depressed and experiencing anxiety symptoms, we also feel bad about ourselves, and talk unkindly to ourselves, berating ourselves for failures, and vulnerabilities which, when not anxious or depressed, we can usually overlook, and allow for. Albert Ellis calls this tendency to criticise, ‘self-depreciation’ or ‘self-damning’ and most of us are familiar with it, as a large majority of us experience these two emotions to a greater or lesser degree at some point in our lives. We are our own worst critics.

Some theorists have divided depression into two categories in this context; self-blame and self-pity. Self-blame usually involves a theme of ‘bad me’. Self-pity, on the other hand usually involves a theme of ‘poor me’, otherwise referred to as ‘victimhood’. When experiencing this kind of extremely exaggerated and biased self-talk, we listen to our own inner voice criticising us, and we don’t for one second judge it to be harsh or biased, and we usually accept such thoughts as being justified and deserved, and reflective of a reasonable evaluation of our worth. In other words we treat ourselves, and talk to ourselves with a marked lack of self-compassion.

Usually, when we talk about compassion, we refer to our compassion for others, both specifically for individuals, but also generally for groups of people. Most of us understand compassion to be a godly virtue and indicative of good character and personality. It is not so common to find people thinking about compassion for ourselves.

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The origins of the word “compassion” are Latin, (com) ‘with’ and (passion) ‘to suffer’, (as in the ‘passion’ of Christ). When we talk of compassion today it is with a meaning of patience, understanding, tolerance, and acceptance. All of this we find difficult enough when it comes to feeling it, practicing it and extending it to others, but we are spectacularly unsuccessful at doing the same for ourselves, especially when we are depressed or anxious. Consequently, and move we can make toward extending compassion to ourselves is part of a healing process, as we return to a more balanced and emotionally even frame of mind.

Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapy is all about belief change, and is a very adaptive tool when it comes to re-learning some of the compassion we used to feel toward ourselves before we became depressed or anxious, and together with these emotions we can add others which feature a lack of compassion; guilt, unhealthy anger (rage), shame, jealousy, hurt, and envy. Using hypnosis and the CBH process we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and more accepting of our ‘fallibility’ as human beings. It is sometime very surprising how quickly change can take place when we start to talk to ourselves differently and with self-compassion, allowing and accepting our vulnerabilities as evolutionary beings.

Paul Gilbert (author of The Compassionate Mind) repeats frequently, ‘It’s not your fault, so stop blaming yourself’. When we are self-compassionate, we allow for the fact that we are human beings who are evolving in an ever-changing world, and the pace of change is accelerating all around us. Is it any surprise that we struggle to keep up, and have a tendency to blame ourselves for not being as efficient as the technologies we are now producing and using?

Put simply, if we can learn to talk to ourselves with greater kindness, and understanding, tolerance and compassion, our brains quite literally re-wire, and unpleasant and unhealthy negative emotions find it less easy to thrive within us. CBH is one of the best strategies we have for bringing about the changes we can benefit from and so the sooner we start to use it, the sooner we notice changes within our own emotional landscape. Our training in CBH uses the structure and philosophies of REBT which is a humanistic model of CBT. This is then combined with hypnosis where relevant to create emotive, compassionate, goal focused therapy.

Developing Compassion

4 Feb

One of the most intrusive and problematic features of experiencing depression and anxiety is that when we suffer these unhealthy emotions we tend to develop low self-esteem, and to put ourselves down in more generalized ways.
‘I’m a complete loser’, ‘I’m a failure’ or just simply, ‘I’m no good’.

These thinking patterns become repetitive and increasingly destructive as we use this kind of self-talk to ‘beat ourselves up’ and to literally bully ourselves. Often the things we say to ourselves are overly harsh and critical, and when spoken out loud sound vindictive and mean-spirited.

If you imagine saying these things to another person, you can hear how vicious is their intent and meaning. If you were to say these things to another person in the work place you would rightly be accused of bullying and victimization.

Yet, in the midst of depression or a severely anxious state, when we say these things to ourselves, silently or even out loud, we don’t seem to develop and awareness of, or recognize any kind of double-standard at work.

Over recent years much research has been carried out into the subject of compassion. When we think of compassion we usually think of an attitude, which we adopt in relation to another person. We associate caring, kindness, understanding and tolerance, with compassion. Science, as well as spiritual teaching, and even religious doctrine, has long understood the value of extending compassion to others.

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Down through the millennia ‘the golden rule’, “treat others as you would be treated yourself” has been a by-word for compassion. However, in recent years the research has focused more on ‘self-compassion’ and it has been observed that the brains of those who focus on developing self-compassion experience a measurable change in neural activity and connectivity within the brain.

In short, the brain functions better, in terms of general goal-pursuit, and individuals increase their experience of emotional wellbeing, and generalized mental health. In other words, if we can learn techniques, which accentuate and increase ability in extending self-compassion, kindness, and understanding to ourselves, a measurable improvement in mental and emotional functioning results. This has to be worthy of our interest.

Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), developed and refined by Paul Gilbert (The Compassionate Mind, 2009), has enjoyed a great focus of interest in recent years, and has been researched by neurological and psychotherapeutic scientific outcome studies, in an attempt to measure improvement in a variety of areas, and the results are very encouraging.

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, look out for a forthcoming Master Class designed for both therapists who work in any therapeutic tradition and wish to extend their skill set in their work with clients, or for those who might be interested in the subject from a self-development perspective at http://www.cbttherapies.org.uk