The three flows of compassion Part I

Through my training and research so far into Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) I have been really drawn to developing a deeper understanding from the evidence gathered through research studies into the fears, blocks and resistance clients can have toward compassion.

Paul Gilbert, the founder of the Compassionate Mind Foundation defines compassion as

“a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it.”

So, with this focus in mind within my therapeutic relationships with my clients I am therefore breaking the three flows of compassion up for us into 3 different blogs to take a closer look at how we might work together to explore how these three flows can be tricky but with curiosity and courage they can be developed when we establish what fears, blocks and resistances can be occurring.

We start with the first flow which is Compassion for others.

Let’s imagine you’re on walk through your local park you noticed your friend sat on a bench in the distance showing signs of distress, teary eyed and suffering psychological distress, how do you feel in that moment you would want to respond?

Do you recognise yourself as a compassionate person, curious to understand their suffering, wanting to make their pain ease by showing up and being there for them during their distress?

Or do you feel you would avoid them at this difficult time fearing you would not know how you can help them?

Research studies have indicated that people will respond differently to observing distress in others according to their personality types and attachment styles developed through their life experiences.

Avoidant attachment individuals may view support seeking as a weakness (especially high masculine personality types) and tend to perceive others with disregard often showing disrespectful responses. This is often due to not knowing how to empathise with another person’s suffering either due to feeling overwhelmed by their own suffering or not being educated or open to developing a deeper understanding of what is going on.

Anxiously attachment individuals can have the desire to help another person but can fear becoming overly concerned, often experiencing feeling the intense pain and suffering of others. This can lead to withdrawal as they become too uncomfortable and consequently avoid helping. They can also experience ‘Compassion Fatigue’ The shame they may feel within themselves of feeling so emotional takes over causing them too much distress internally often feeling embarrassed.

Secure attachment individuals will feel they have the capacity to engage in empathic, compassionate and caring behaviours and responses toward the suffering of others. They have acquired the sensitivity to manage their own needs around the suffering of others without becoming overly distressed.

The CFT clear message is ‘It’s not your fault’ but it is your responsibility to make healthy changes for you.

Understanding more about the human brain, how tricky and easily they get caught up in difficult thinking loops. The old brain part activates the threat system causing fears, blocks and resistance. However the great news is we have evolved with a new brain which allows the capacity for growth of curiosity, creativity and adaptable to learn, establish and maintain new ways to communicate, understand and behave with a willingness to develop the compassionate mind with courage, strength and wisdom.

Maggie Murray

Maggie Murray

I’m a registered member of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, Reg MBACP (Accred). I work from a pluralistic perspective rather than humanistic perspective as I am identifying with that terminology after further training.

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