So compassion focused therapy is very much rooted in an evolutionary model, but it's also drawing upon a number of the different sciences and integrates them together to create what is called compassion focused therapy. So it draws upon research looking at the ways our physiology integrates with our minds. It also looks at developmental research to look at how we respond to care and the threat signals we can send out in terms of needing help, needing care and how that is responded to.
And so CFT takes all that together. Importantly, compassion focused therapy is very interested not only in self-compassion but also in the compassion you give to others and also your ability to be open to receiving compassion, and that's actually really quite key. We've just done a big what they call met-aanalysis which is this big systematic review of the literature to see how important it is that fear of compassion coming in, and we find it's an incredibly strong association with depression, which makes a great deal of sense, because often people who are depressed often say that they are quite lonely and isolated, and often there is this sense, particularly in some of our western cultures, that I need to take care of this myself, I've got to take care of it myself, I've got to get myself sorted out before I get out there again.
And so it acts as a real blocker to this compassion coming in. So in CFT, compassion is a flow, it has this evolutionary model at its base, and it really starts to look at the mind and body as an integrated system. Lynne Malcolm : So how do you actually teach people to be compassionate, both towards themselves and others, when so often that self-criticism is just hugely powerful in people?
Paul Gilbert : That's really important. One of the things that James was touching on there which is very important is that since the late '50s, '60s, there's been this concept of self-liberation and it's all about what we do and our own self-achievement. There's a neoliberal agenda for me, me, me, and we've rather got caught up in that. And there's quite a lot of data now suggesting that actually that me, me, me sense, which then feeds in to vulnerabilities to depression, particularly in young people, is also closing down people's sense of creating community.
So I think that's a very important point. So the next thing that you're asking is how do you do it? So one of the first things is to help people recognise why would they want to drop their self-criticism. So what we do…there's a number of things we do, but one of them is we ask people to imagine a thing that they are critical about and then to bring to mind what their critic would look like if they could see it. Then we ask them, okay, just sitting there quietly what does your criticism say to you?
Then we ask them what does your criticism feel about you, and what does this self-critical part want to do to you? And 99 times out of people are really quite shocked at what they discover when they slow the whole process down.
So the critic is often envisioned as either an angry part of them or an angry parent, or even some kind of monster shape. When we imagine what the critic actually wants to say to us it's pretty hostile; you're no good, you're rubbish, you'll never amount to anything. The emotions are usually aggressive, contemptuous.
And you get all kinds of answers; the critic wants to just to beat me up or a kick me about or whatever. So the first thing is people understanding of that below the surface is actually quite a degree of hostility, and that can be quite shocking.
So you don't really want that whizzing around in your brain because that's not terribly good for you. So the first point is the insight into the damage our criticism does for you. And then people of course say, but I do want to be able to be self-correcting, which is true, so that means how are you going to self-correct, how are you going to guide your life, by what principles do you want to live your life, and thatched then shifts us into the principles of compassionate living.
And basically that's the desire to be helpful, not harmful. So people recognise that self-criticism is harmful, it is toxic, it's bullying, it's nasty. They then recognise that if I could live my life for myself and others to be helpful, not harmful, that's going to do my brain and awful lot of good and it's going to be good for my relationships with other people as well. And so we then start moving them. Once we've got into that motivation, this is what they want to do, then we show them how they can literally change the body and the brain that makes it conducive for compassion.
So we teach them breathing exercises which helps to stimulate part of the autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic system. We help them to do imagery which helps them stimulate different parts of the brain. And we now know that if people practice these visualisations then their brain actually changes over time. So we have a whole range of practices that people can engage in in order to change psychological and physiological systems.
Lynne Malcolm : And this is compassionate mind training.
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What is the research that has been done that shows that this actually does have an impact on the physiological nature of the brain? James Kirby : I'll step in here Paul, if you don't mind. Referring to the science base, there's an awful lot of research coming out now. And I just wanted to pick up Paul's last point there in regards to bringing online these systems. There was a randomised control trial done of compassionate mind training between colleagues in the UK, including Paul, and some colleagues of his in Portugal, namely Marcela Matos and others, and what they found was they took them through this compassionate mind training program.
This is a very short, brief program this one, and they also collected a practice diary, asking them at what points were you able to generate this compassion itself that you've been developing, how does it feel within the body, and so on. And what they found is…this was done through a randomised control trial design, so 50 people were in the intervention and 50 people were randomly allocated to a wait-list control. At the end of that period, the training in two weeks they found the compassionate mind training group had lower levels of self-criticism, higher levels of compassion, and also increased heart rate variability.
So that's a physiological measure of the activation of the balance between parasympathetic system and sympathetic system activation within the body, which is really quite fantastic. The really important point about that study though was a further element to it to which looked at your ability to embody compassion, which were those questions related in the practice diary.
And the key part there is it's not so much keeping a regular practice in the morning, say, for 10 minutes of trying to create a compassionate mind state. Although that's important, what's more important is are you bringing this on when you need it? And so what they were finding is in moments when you are having, say, a disagreement with a colleague or with your partner or whatever it may have been, are you able then at those points to bring it online then?
And if you are able to bring it online then, that was a really strong predictor for those positive changes. Together they've been conducting workshops in Australia on compassion focussed therapy. Paul Gilbert : We call it compassion focused therapy, not compassion therapy, and the reason for that is because it's focusing your therapy, in a way. So the compassion training is partly to create the physiological and psychological conditions that give you the courage, the insight and the wisdom to be able to do the therapy you need to do.
So for a trauma client it may well be when you are working with your trauma memories you would actually hold a compassionate mind when you are doing it, or you might imagine a compassionate other talking to you, have a compassionate image, what we call the compassionate friend or the compassionate colleague, so you don't feel alone with it. If you're doing obsessional compulsive desensitisation work, then once again rather than feeling you are all alone trying to cope with this fear of not washing your hands, we get them to focus in on the compassionate focusing of why you are doing this.
So we've even got individuals now who are doing compassion focused work with people who have acquired brain damage, and that's very exciting too, there's some very amazing changes happening for these people. But you still have to do all the other things that you do when you're working with acquired brain damage, such as reorientation and so on. So agoraphobia, you still have to help people go out and expose themselves to the outside. With OCD, you still have to help people not wash their hands. So all of those things remain, it's just that all of them become much easier if you have a compassionate orientation to the fears and the struggles you're going through rather than a self-critical or bullying orientation.
Lynne Malcolm : One of the applications of compassion focussed therapy is in the area of bodyweight shame. Paul Gilbert : Some years ago we were working with a company in England called Slimming World, and we did a survey of some of their members. They've got , members, and these are people who come to the clubs each week to try to find ways of healthy eating and so forth.
And we found a lot of them were self-critical. So we said to the company, these individuals, they're struggling, the key thing is that when they struggle and they don't do so well, they become critical and they drop out, and then they get worse. So you need to start thinking about addressing their self-criticism because the most important thing when you are struggling with anything in life is the ability to fail, because success looks after itself, it's the beat-up job, it's the lack of perseverance, it's the inability to get yourself going again which is the problem.
So they said, okay, so what we did then is we developed a program for addressing shame and self-criticism in people who were struggling with their weight, and now that has been running for a while and the evidence is very good, that we can indeed reduce self-criticism in individuals who are in slightly larger bodies, so that's great. We're developing that all the time.
One of the things we are wanting to do is develop better online courses for self-criticism because it's a huge problem in the West. It really is a source of an enormous amount of misery and shame to a vast number of people who really are just dissatisfied with the way they are or feel they are not doing well enough or they are not controlling their diets well enough or whatever it is. So that's the work we're doing. And James will tell you about an RCT that he is doing with one of his students which is taking a compassion focused training group through I think it's eight sessions of compassionate mind training to help them deal with their weight issues.
We're not teaching them anything to do with diets, that's not our job. What we are teaching them is how to manage the mind, how to manage the issues of shame, how to manage self-criticism and how to inspire themselves to pursue the goals they want to pursue, because usually pursuing these goals, it's not a straight road, you have two steps forward, one step back and so forth.
So anyway, I'll hand you over to James. So we've developed this manual and we will be taking individuals who are experiencing bodyweight shame. So what that essentially means at its core is that these individuals think that they are ugly, they're not happy with themselves at all, and they think there's something wrong with them because they are in a larger or a bigger body, so it's an absolutely awful place to be.
The key with the program is we are not looking at trying to lose weight at all, we are trying to look at the ways they are relating to themselves. We've already started this program, and if people are interested they can just jump online and look up the details, compassion focused therapy bodyweight shame. And what we are really interested in is when things aren't going well for you and you are dissatisfied, how are you relating to yourself and how are you encouraging yourself? And what we find very clearly is that they are very hostile, aggressive, and they are just incredibly good at beating themselves up for their difficulties.
However, they are very, very, very good at supporting others. And so what we find is that these individuals are wonderfully compassionate towards others, brilliantly so, however when it comes to their own life difficulties, that is turned off. And so that's where all of our work is. So compassionate focused therapy is really interested in dealing with people's fears, blocks and resistance to compassion, so we try to unpack that steadily across the course of the program.
And unfortunately for individuals who come back from service, if they are in a married relationship or in a relationship, you are at slightly greater risk of suicide than you are if you are single, which is tragic, to think of that. And so what we are doing in this particular intervention is we are asking veterans to come along with their partner, so it's a group program, and the veteran will come with their spouse across the course of the program.
And one of the things we are really trying to do is trying to help create again a compassionate relationship between the two partners. Because often what can happen when the veteran comes home, and Paul might want to talk a little bit about this actually, is that they come back, and they've kind of been trained, as it were, to be prepared to work in these incredibly highly threatening, dangerous contexts, and their buddies or the other service people with them become their soothing, safe, secure base. And so when they are back home and something threatening or dangerous is happening, they have kind of been trained to return to that secure, safe base, as it were, as opposed to their partners.
And so then that can lead to tension and a shutting down in the communication between the partners. And so that's what we are really looking at doing, because what can happen unfortunately is when that kind of cut-off, or silence or lack of communication begins, then the partner can think, oh, what's wrong with me, what has happened, are they having an affair, et cetera, et cetera, the mind starts racing with these different ideas.
And then the veteran can start to think what's wrong with me, I should just be able to be back to normal here with my relationship, and they become very ashamed and they might try to escape that context, go back to the army, for example. And so we are trying to deal with that predicament or that really unfortunate set of circumstances. Paul Gilbert : Yes, I think that's a brilliant point, James, so the key is teaching them ways in which they can reengage their relationship, how the partners can become soothing objects for each other again, taking it gently, taking it slowly, de-shaming, de-blaming, helping people recognise that what's happening to them is perfectly understandable, it's not particularly pleasant for them, of course it isn't.
It's quite important. Lynne Malcolm : So Paul, I think you've said that the human species is the worst and most cruel species of all. How can we possibly come to terms with that about ourselves using this concept of compassion?
Compassion - Wikipedia
Paul Gilbert : Part of the compassion orientation is this issue of courage. Compassion is this motivation, this courageous motivation to engage with suffering. So then you think I've got to think about what the causes of suffering are. So the first thing is you look back over the last 4, years and you think, well, diseases certainly, but actually humans are the causes of immense suffering, not just to us but to other animals as well.
I mean, we practically wiped out species because of our predation, the way we hunt whales, or factory farming or whatever. And you've got the Holocaust, you've got the Roman Games, on and on and on, tortures. Think of Chinese foot binding; for 1, years mums broke the feet of their kids. Humans are mad, we're crazy, we do all this horrible stuff. So compassion is the preparedness really to engage in the dark side, to see the dark side.
We actually look into the dark side. So why, what is it in us that makes us such a potentially nasty species? And compassion science is really interested in these questions about why can humans be so nasty. We do have some answers. One answer is that we are very tribal, and we know that when leaders in particular want to focus us on our tribal insecurities, as many right-wing leaders in the world are now, that is a dangerous point, that's when tensions within groups start to become potentially hostile, aggressive and nasty.
So we've got evidence from Rwanda, we've got evidence from the Balkans, it's always the same, you get a group of leaders who stir up individuals to behave violently to others. And they can end up even harming their neighbours. So we kind of know.
- Solid State NMR Studies of Biopolymers.
- Ninety-Nine Problems;
- How compassion is the best kept secret to being happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.
- The Compassionate Mind – Association for Psychological Science – APS?
What compassion is saying is, okay, so this is saying it's biologically built into us, what are the antidotes to the human dark side? Our day-to-day existence is very much alive with hope, although there is no guarantee of our future. There is no guarantee that tomorrow at this time we will be here. But we are working for that purely on the basis of hope.
Compassion and the Individual
So, we need to make the best use of our time. I believe that the proper utilization of time is this: if you can, serve other people, other sentient beings. If not, at least refrain from harming them. I think that is the whole basis of my philosophy. So, let us reflect what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities—warmth, kindness, compassion.
Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful—happier. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life. Sometimes it comes when we least expect it. When faced with a feeling of stagnation and confusion, it may be helpful to take an hour, an afternoon, or even several days to simply reflect on what it is that will truly bring us happiness, and then reset our priorities on the basis of that.
This can put our life back in proper context, allow a fresh perspective, and enable us to see which direction to take. Not like this. Buddhas and bodhisattvas, these people very wise. All their lives they only want one thing: to achieve ultimate happiness. How to do this? By cultivating compassion, by cultivating altruism. They may indeed cause great harm. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities-warmth, kindness , compassion.
Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful-happier. Absolutely wrong. You are deceiving yourself. We all have the power of thought, so what could you possibly be lacking? If you have the willpower, then you can do anything. It is the pragmatic choice. That generates a spirit of friendship in which there is less need to hide what we feel or what we are doing. If we make friends with ourselves, then there is no obstacle to opening our hearts and minds to others.
It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend or a meaningful day. It comes from your own actions. No matter what is happening, no matter what is going on around you, never give up. To lead a fruitful life, and to make it positive, practice analytical meditation. The Dalai Lama is known for his sage wisdom and his quotes teach important life lessons.
Hopefully, this collection of Dalai Lama quotes has inspired you to live your best life. Did we miss any? Also, feel free to share with your friends, fans and other loved ones. As from today I had found that we believe in the same God but we give him different names and we preach the same God which is Love and inner peace and we have to live in the present as it is the only thing we have.
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