6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

6 Lazy Ways to be Unintentionally Not Kind

Fortunately, I do not know anyone who sets out on their day intending to be not kind to anyone at all. It’s probably the same for you too. So why is it that in any ordinary day all sorts of unkind things happen? 

Let’s look at our own behaviour at work. We could ask ourselves if in the rough and tumble of an average working day we find ourselves unintentionally being not kind. The thing is that individually each action may seem so small as to be insignificant. It can be the cumulative effect which is damaging.

Often it is because of habit, or insecurity, or pressure that we fall short in being kind. So, here is my list of six lazy ways it is easy to fall into being not kind. I call them ‘lazy’ because they are not necessarily intentional—in fact, usually they aren’t. They are largely due to not noticing what is going on with other people, or how your behaviour is affecting them.

1. Being pre-occupied can mean being not kind

When we are stressed, or really busy then it is all too easy to become turned in on ourselves. Our priorities take centre stage and our ability to see what is going on around us is reduced. 

At work this can easily become a sense of self-importance. This can lead to the feeling that what you are doing is so vital that it takes precedence over everything else. It gives us permission to prioritise our own story and not pay so much attention to other peoples’.

It can creep up on you in quite a subtle way. From your point of view, you are simply trying to do a good job. There is no intention to let your kindness slip but that is what happens when you become too self-focused. You don’t give your full attention to the needs of people around you and you miss things.

2. Gossip can lead to unkindness

I would be willing to bet that you are not the workplace gossip at your job. They are usually pretty easy to spot and not so difficult to politely avoid. It’s much more difficult to manage your own reactions and emotions without unintentionally being not kind.

If you are in any kind of team-leader, management role everything you say has an enhanced significance for the rest of the team. When someone in your team is struggling then how you talk about them in the group is very important. You need to find a way to give them difficult feedback without damaging their confidence and their ability to learn. They will be listening to every word you say, and what others tell them you said with a sensitivity heightened by fear and anxiety.

Whatever your role is, there are always people at work who are less easy to get on with than others. It is these people that you need to take special care to talk to and talk about with great skill. Just one off the cuff comment made in irritation can cause tremendous harm.

3. Criticism 

How does your workplace handle feedback and constructive criticism? It’s another example of something that, when it is done well, can help a colleague move through challenges. However, if it is done without kindness then it can be an enormous blow. 

Most of us have probably experienced receiving both kinds of feedback ourselves. One of my most useful work experiences was when a colleague—not a boss, or manager—asked to talk to me and set out to inform me of all my faults as she saw them. It was a devastating experience but when I recovered,  I realised I had an excellent list of what not to do if you want to give someone helpful feedback. I still draw on that list to this day.

The main thing that I realised was you need to give the kind of feedback that would be helpful to you, yourself. That is the only feedback that people can really hear and respond to.

4. Blame will make you not kind

According to research, blaming mistakes on other people is socially contagious. Observing someone blaming their mistakes on other people can lead to you doing the same thing to protect your image. Such a cycle does not help anyone.

In a workplace where blame is part of the norm, staff are less likely to succeed, and much less likely to be creative. Anyone who is in the habit of blaming others misses out as well. You don’t get the chance to learn from your mistakes if you don’t take responsibility for them.

It seems that optimistic people blame less, and pessimistic people more—with the prize going to narcissists.

For most of us the time to watch out for lazily blaming someone else for a mistake is when we are tired, worried, or over-worked. It’s not that we want someone else to get into trouble—it’s just that we don’t want to have to deal with it ourselves.

5. Bullying

It would seem that kindness and bullying are pretty far apart—how could someone interested in promoting kindness also engage in any kind of bullying activity?

Let’s take it down a notch—instead of bullying think of steamrollering, pressurising, over-persuading someone. When I think back to my years of managing an international non-profit, I am pretty sure that I used tactics like this. I was convinced that what I was doing was so important that people needed to get on board. Indeed, what I was doing was important, but I forgot to treat each person I dealt with as an individual, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I wanted everyone to go at my pace and it exhausted some people.

Does your enthusiasm and passion for your work ever translate as pressure for other people?

6. Not listening is not kind

Once again, we rarely simply ignore someone when they speak to us—especially at work—but we often listen in a distracted way. We’re busy, the speaker is taking too long to make their point, and so our attention wanders. The thing is that we feel it when someone is not giving us their full attention and it’s unsettling. Our ability to communicate is reduced.

When we don’t listen with full attention then we don’t hear all the levels that are being communicated and we don’t pick up on the accompanying body language, or emotional signs. That’s where the unkindness can come in. We miss stuff—someone’s concern, or even distress—and the person feels overlooked. Maybe it is simply information that we don’t completely process, which leads to mistakes further down the road.

It’s not only distraction which blocks our listening, it can be our opinions and prejudices as well. If we think differently to the speaker, we tend to listen through a critical web which filters out the points we just want to refute. It’s even worse if we don’t like the person who is talking to us because then we listen through a whole range of remembered slights and disagreements.

Wanting to fix what the person is telling you can also get in the way of listening deeply to what they are saying. We are so busy thinking of the response we want to make to put them right that we don’t listen fully to what we are being told.

Something to remember

None of us is perfect and there will be days at work where our kindness might be less than others but watching out for these six lazy ways we can be not kind can become a good reminder. For me, the underlying basic principle is to try and put myself in the shoes of the other person, or people. An easy way to do this is to ask how you yourself would feel if you were being treated in any of these six ways. Think how it feels to be the subject of gossip, or to receive withering criticism. No-one wants to be pressured to behave in a certain way and no-one enjoys being blamed—especially when the blame is unfair. We are all busy and trying our best and we all like to be listened to with kindness. Remembering this is a basic key to avoiding being not kind.

Where is the compassion in online communications?

Where is the compassion in online communications?

I am particularly delighted to welcome Carole to the blog. She is writing about such an important topic—compassion on the internet. In these polarised times it is so important to take her Netiquette guidelines to heart. Thanks for the post, Carole!

Compassion is a strength that has supported me throughout my life. I have also witnessed the development of compassion help many people in my role as a private practice psychologist.

I think we’d all agree that communicating via the internet has been one of the fastest growing evolutions of the last 20 years. These days there are endless opportunities to communicate online and it can seem like a fast-paced world, difficult to keep up with. No doubt there has to be an effect on our mental health. Our relationship with these communications and how we relate to each other has been something of a personal and professional fascination to me over the years. 

Today I will be sharing an online experience that took me to some dark human depths and caused me to wonder ‘where is the compassion?’ in these places. It was hard learning. This has driven me to create some online etiquette (Netiquette) guidelines that I am sharing with you today. I’ll walk you through my story.

Stepping into the Lion’s den

Working solely in private practice has its rewards and difficulties. One of the potential pitfalls can be becoming isolated from other professionals.  So, when the opportunity to connect with others became available through social media, I considered it. To be honest I mostly ‘lurked’, watching others post and felt very reticent to get involved. I didn’t think too deeply about why that might be at the time. I found myself drawn in to respond to areas I had experience and knowledge in, feeling a responsibility to share. 

One fine day I noticed someone asking a question on one of these social media networks that I had some information on and experience in. I summoned up the courage to post a link on the subject in question in a desire to be helpful – I remember thinking it was a neutral thing to do as I wasn’t directly offering an opinion. Now, it is important to say here there are difficulties with having such a small space to respond in as things may look out of context, AND you do not know what has gone on before in that forum…..these are things I learnt the hard way. 

The unforeseen threat

Although I had responded to one person’s information request what happened was an entirely different person responding with an angry tirade of words. They were directed to me personally, questioning my knowledge and professionalism…I had a sense of ‘who do you think you are?’. It felt very threatening and I can share with you I felt absolutely crushed. I did not know who this person was and what sort of influence they might have. Crucially, I did not know who was looking in and struggled to find a way to deal with the situation, in the moment. Nobody posted anything straight away after this – although each of us got (secret) likes. In effect I had experienced a group shaming process, and in my vulnerable state had to decide how or if to respond. 

I absolutely agonized over what to do. Ultimately, I decided there was no way I could respond directly or indirectly without entering into the angry, difficult behaviour. Abstaining was hugely difficult in itself as a fragile part of me felt like I was allowing myself to be bullied. In effect I was both trapped by the situation and blocked from responding – a dangerous and compassionless feeling place. This has caused me to wonder whether the speed of our ability to communicate is bypassing the decision-making part of our brain? We could be responding straight from our threat systems. Ironically, I suspect my seemingly (from my end) innocuous posting provoked the other persons threat system. 

The power of self-compassion

Now, at this point I’d like to say thank goodness I had been practicing self-compassion for many years. Fortuitously I was already on one of Maureen’s (online) self-compassion courseswhich was hugely helpful in helping gather myself, and help view things from a safer feeling mindset. From this view I applied some compassionate self-correction as opposed to shame-based self-attacking (Professor Paul Gilbert OBE) for my part in entering naively into the online domain ill-prepared. 

I wondered how I might respond if this were to every happen again. This was quite a conundrum. I spent some time considering what had happened to compassion in this situation and how important to our well-being kindly, well thought out communications were likely to be. Goodness knows we can think of many examples of difficult, unhelpful and harmful online interactions that go on every day. 

Salvaging something from the experience

I decided to move forward by finding a way to contribute positively to these tricky communication spaces. Previously, I had encountered Netiquette (online etiquette) guidelines but they did not cover what I wanted to convey. I really hoped it would be useful to offer an understanding of what might be going on for us as human beings in online places, and why this might be important for our well-being. 

Using my experience, I wrote from the heart and a set of compassionately written guidelines emerged. My thinking was that if anyone found themselves in the same impotent situation instead of entering into the communication, they could send a link to these Netiquette Guidelines. And whilst I am not naive enough to think this might also feel inflammatory the other end it would offer an opportunity to respond compassionately and not feel blocked.

NETIQUETTE GUIDELINES

These guidelines focus on the realities of being human beings in the online space, which has some significant differences to communicating in other places. There are some very interesting phenomenon that influence these communications such as the Online Disinhibition and Black Hole effects that you can follow if you are intrigued.  I bring into view the public shaming opportunities public platforms can bring, as well as the opportunity to use our powers for good. I also encourage PUSHING THE PAUSE BUTTON as we are encouraged to sacrifice sense for speed. 

Importantly …I encourage us to remember there is often a human at the other end  but crucially remember we are all human! Being courteous and mindful is likely to reap big rewards for our well-being. 

FORGIVE OTHERS AND BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF 

– Remember you are a human too and with the best will in the world we all make mistakes. Mistakes online can feel much bigger, but if we are forgiving and compassionate with others and ourselves, perhaps that will become contagious. 

REMEMBER WE ARE ALL HUMAN.

We are not all the same

 You may be thinking ‘I wouldn’t be affected like that’, and this is a very interesting point. We are just in the beginnings of understanding what impact communicating via the internet might be having on us in terms of; changes in our brain, conditioning, attention etc. This evolution has potentially been the fastest in history and pushing the pause button to reflect perhaps the wisest thing we can do at this juncture. I have come to wonder how differently we react to online communications in different contexts and one interesting notion is how relevant our attachment styles might be. If you haven’t encountered attachment theory before it is really relevant in how we communicate with other people (and ourselves) and is often explored in compassion-based therapies. 

Attachment and its importance in relating to others

From our early experiences we often talk about four styles; Secure, Ambivalent/Anxious, Avoidant and Disorganised (basic explanation). It’s not our fault we find ourselves subject to these styles and it can be helpful to understand how they might impact on our lives. 

What is fascinating to me is how these might be acting on us in online communications that have different rules and less non-verbal communications to steer us. I have certainly noticed in my practice how some clients are drawn to continually check for approval in these 24/7 online spaces. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that we can compare ourselves to others at an alarming rate. Other factors are suggested as important such as; having a safe haven, a secure base, proximity maintenance and separation distress

It is profoundly interesting to wonder how these ideas might be being influenced in the often boundaryless feeling online space of the world wide web.

Reflecting on the learning

 My own very strong reaction to this experience has been hugely interesting and I would certainly subscribe to the idea my attachment style has a place to play. An area of concern for me is the idea that compassion might be getting eroded in some online communications.  Also, the capacity for group shaming and high levels of self-critical thinking, greater than in other spaces. Perhaps we could view these communications as high challenge in terms of being without the same safety giving non-verbal cues. This in turn might mean we require high self-support to manage them. In my experience self-compassion which encourages courage, distress tolerance, and a sense of safety might well provide balance to this modern-day stress. I sincerely hope my story and subsequent reflections have resonated with you. Please feel free to share the guidelines and I send compassionate best wishes for us all going forward.  

Endnote

I would like to leave you today with the words of Tim Berners-Lee (creator of the internet) in his open letter 2019, 30 years after he gifted us the Internet. His message, I believe, is of hope in we can steer the internet as we move forward – as opposed to being steered by it. I’m hoping in a more compassionate direction.

Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us, we will have failed the web.” (Direct quote)

  • Gilbert, P. (2010). The Compassionate Mind. Constable: London
  • Holmes, J. (2014). 2nd Edition. John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy). Routledge: Abingdon-on-Thames.

Carole is a counselling psychologist in private practice near Bristol, UK. She provides therapy, supervision, consultation and training both face-to-face and via online means. Carole often combines her research interest area of online relational aspects and compassion orientated approaches to explore some of our every day struggles. Her passion is in sharing understandable insights she hopes will be helpful to us as human beings.

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Is it Important to Have a Kind Workplace?

Take a moment to think about your workplace. Would you say it was a kind workplace? Is kind behaviour encouraged, or considered important?

All too often kindness is simply seen as a ‘soft skill’ and not considered to be necessary for navigating the complexities of work. This is a shame because focusing on kindness provides tremendous strength and flexibility to any workplace.

Stress at work

There are lots of quite worrying statistics about stress and its effects in the workplace. First off – stress is expensive. When people are stressed they are not functioning at their best and they tend to get sick.

The statistics bear this out. The Health & Safety Exec states that in 2017/18 15.4 million working days were lost in the UK as a result of stress. Across the pond, the American Psychological Association estimates that more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job. 

The effect on staff

Moreover, engagement in work — which is associated with feeling valued, secure, supported, and respected — is generally negatively associated with a high-stress, cut-throat culture. It people do not feel valued and respected at work, then they tend to disengage and this has consequences.

In studies by the Queens School of Business and by the Gallup Organization, disengaged workers had 37% higher absenteeism, 49% more accidents, and 60% more errors and defects. Similarly, in the UK it is estimated that disengaged employees are costing the UK economy £340 billion every year in lost training and recruitment costs, sick days, productivity, creativity and innovation.

This also affects staff loyalty and the rate at which people leave to look for new jobs.

Consumer expectation

Increasingly consumers are more alert to companies’ ethical positions. With Statistics from recent consumer polls by Edelman, and Young & Rubicam, show that 87% of UK consumers expect companies to consider societal interests equal to business interests, while 71% of people make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to their own.

Looking at this sample of statistics, we can see that the environment of a workplace definitely has an effect on the people who work in it. If the atmosphere is not healthy, there are strong repercussions.  So, maybe a kind workplace culture could turn out to be much more of an investment for employers that they thought.

What is so special about kindness?

From a Buddhist perspective, generating loving kindness is a way of wishing people happiness. It is an antidote to anger. If you think about it – it’s hard to be angry with someone and do something kind for them at the same time.

Kindness also makes us happier because we feel good when we are kind. In his research with volunteers, Allan Luks identified a Helper’s High that people experienced when they volunteered due to the release of dopamine in their brains.

It is also good for the heart because acts of kindness are associated with emotional warmth. This produces the hormone oxytocin which has an effect of causing blood vessels to dilate and so eases blood pressure.

We all like to be around kind people. Kindness reduces the emotional distance between people, and we feel bonded. So, kindness helps us to connect and improves relationships.

A great thing about kindness is that it is contagious. When we see people being kind to each other—we don’t even need to be directly involved—we feel good ourselves. Then we are more likely to go on to do something kind for someone else.

So, a kind workplace would be one in which employees were happier, geared to helping each other and healthier. It would also mean an improvement in relationships between staff but also with suppliers, customer and clients.

How would a kind workplace be?

Here are a few thoughts on some basic elements that would assist in ensuring that kindness is valued in a workplace. It’s by no means exhaustive.

• Staff would not need to assume a persona to succeed

It’s a strange fact of our lives but we spend more time with the people we work with than our friends and family. We see them most days—whatever is happening in our lives and however we feel. The thing is that all too often we feel that we need to wear a mask at work. A mask that says that we have ourselves together and are not affected by emotions. 

Actually, it’s a pity if we feel this way. To begin with, it’s not true. Of course, we are affected by emotions and the things we need to cope with. By hiding this at work and pretending to be something else, we are cutting off a source of connection and even empathy.

Naturally we are at work to carry out a job and to do it to the best of our ability, but this does not mean that we have to behave like machines. We can be honest about how we are and how we are doing.

People would be willing to lend a helping hand

With that kind of honesty in a workplace, it becomes much more possible to offer support to colleagues when they are struggling. If someone is having a hard time they don’t need to feel like a failure, or that they are letting anyone down. Knowing that it is alright to acknowledge struggle and to ask for help when it’s needed can be a tremendous source of relief. It opens the possibility to deepen relationships and to learn and grow together.

Blame would not be a fallback response and mistakes could be forgiven

How easy it is to blame someone else for the inevitable mistakes that occur in any workplace. This tends to happen more in a work environment that is particularly competitive and aggressive. 

Managers have a big role to play here. They need to create a culture where mistakes are understood as opportunities to learn, rather than failures to be punished. Staff could be encouraged to experiment and take reasonable risks. Managers could provide support to increase their confidence. Knowing that you will be blamed if something you are working on goes wrong increases stress and decreases improvisation.

• The meaningfulness of the work would be a priority

Generally speaking, we all look for meaning and purpose in our work. We want to know that we are using our time well and contributing to something bigger than ourselves. The very process of developing kindness in the workplace is itself connecting staff to a greater purpose.

Managers can enhance this by encouraging kindness and by sharing stories of how this connects to the company’s values.

People wanting to inspire one another at work

A workplace based on kindness would function as an interdependent unit. There would be a holistic view of the workforce. In such an environment, individuals would realise that just as they need encouragement and inspiration, so do other people. So, it would be natural for people to want to inspire and encourage each other. 

People could treat each other with respect, gratitude and integrity

Learning to respect other people’s opinions is not always easy – especially if you disagree with them. A kind workplace would take respect as a foundation for difficult conversations and working through challenges. Allowing people to express themselves and to be heard is a mark of respect. Dialogue and exchange will go more smoothly in such circumstances.

Appreciating the efforts that people make and being grateful for their contribution is also fundamental to a kind workplace. It does not have to be a big thing. It can be simply being grateful for a friendly greeting, or the offer of a cup of coffee. Showing your appreciation makes the other person feel seen and respected.

This is the first of a series of posts on kindness in the workplace. I would love to hear your response and your ideas about how to bring this into action.

How to practice some Compassion Mind Training Techniques

How to practice some Compassion Mind Training Techniques

Photo by Alvaro Serrano via Unsplash

Here is the second of Chris’ two guest posts on Compassion Focused Therapy. This one gives helpful guidance on how to do some of the key practices.

In the first part of this post on compassionate mind training and Compassion Focused Therapy the core concepts were considered.  In this second post some of the practices I have found helpful are covered.    

Compassionate exercises

The practice of Soothing rhythm breathing

This is considering breathing with a purpose – a compassionate motivation-  to both soothe and act as a grounding tool, either at times of distress or in preparation for other exercises. 

As part of our overall nervous system, we have a component called the autonomic nervous system (ANS) looking after many of our automatic bodily functions – heart rate, respiration, digestion – so it regulates our internal environment.  It has two main branches – sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).  SNS is linked to our threat system, it prepares the flight-fight response.  For example, increased heart rate, reduced digestion.  It is indicative of psychological arousal. 

PNS is linked more to soothing and replenishment, so resting and digesting.   It is indicative of psychological relaxation. 

Our organs receive input from both, so activity (heart rate) is controlled by the relative levels of PNS and SNS activity.

What the science suggests is that certain behaviours or actions can help engage the PNS.  These include body posture, facial expression and breathing, in terms of depth and pace.  Given that in our modern lives our threat system can be highly active and so SNS is running on a high state of reactivity, it’s important to consider how we can engage PNS. 

Perhaps you can see how this ties in with the idea of using the soothing system to help with threat and drive balance, and one way to facilitate that is through a practice called soothing rhythm breathing. 

The practice involves a few elements – 

  • sitting in a relaxed and comfortable manner, focused on breathing but not in an alert state
  • having a relaxed facial expression, with a gentle smile
  • focus on breathing – deep breathing, really using all the lung capacity and using a count of 5 on the in and out breath. Recent research has also suggested a pattern of count of 4 on the in and 6 on the out.  

The motivation to perform a practice is two fold – one it can help on a daily basis that you take some time out to pause, to nurture your body with moments of rest and secondly its developing a practice that can be called upon at distressing times. 

Aside from perhaps creating a routine time to perform the exercise each day, it can also be helpful to pause at times during the day, to take a minute or two and engage in some deeper, regular breathing as part of a commitment to looking after your emotional wellbeing. 

And at times of distress or ahead of doing something challenging this practice can be very helpful to help engage the soothing system and support bringing to the fore the compassionate self.

Here are two example guided practices – one from Prof Paul Gilbert and one from Dr James Kirby 

The practice of Compassionate imagery 

One brilliant skill is that our brain can visualise many things and by doing so can cause us psychological and physiological reactions.  This ability to visualise as lead to so many of the great innovations and developments of humans,  It allows us to plan, remember and imagine.  It can also allow us to ruminate and wonder “what if” which may lead to creating catastrophic events in our minds that never happen.

Compassionate imagery employs this great skill we have with a motivation to provide support and one very helpful practice is the compassionate place. 

The compassionate place is an exercise to bring to mind a place which nourishes and replenishes you.  This can be a place you know well, somewhere you have visited or perhaps seen on television or social media – or it could be a made up place.  Mine is a made up place, although with elements of places I know, of a wooded area.   As part of imagining it I use all my senses – to visualise what it looks like, to sense the movement of air, to feel the tree bark, to hear the nearby brook, to smell the wood.

The important thing is that this doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s not something to get right.  It’s something to help you and the place will be personal and meaningful to you, so don’t be influenced by what you might think you “should” be imagining. 

The practice of Compassionate letter writing

As well as the formal compassionate letter writing exercise ,  I use the techniques and approach when writing in a daily journal as well.  Personally writing about emotions, depression and everyday challenges can really help to bring some clarity and engage the compassionate self,, fostering the compassionate wisdom and encouragement I may need . 

The key intention behind the writing exercise is to acknowledge our suffering or distress and to help with managing that.  That links into the definition of compassion from episode one. 

To start it can help to foster the intention and motivation towards the writing by sitting and doing the soothing rhythm breathing exercise. It can also help to pause if something causes you a lot of distress while writing, to revisit that breathing exercise and also the soothing place exercise.

With the motivation and intention in mind, consider what the letter will be about.  Its a letter to yourself , no-one else will read it, so have the motivation to be open and honest within it, as challenging as that may be. You write it as a letter, so addressed to yourself.  In the first part acknowledge what the issue is, in a way that you might talk to a friend who is struggling.  Supportive and understanding.

Then consider what you are feeling and validate it.  Acknowledge that this is a difficult time or challenge you are facing. Validate all the feelings you have around this.  This may include considering how your threat an or drive systems have played a role.  It can be helpful to acknowledge that some of your reactions are part of that evolved way of thinking, so often the reactions are natural. 

Really consider what you are responsible for and what you are not responsible for. 

Now start to consider what thoughts and actions you could take , being guided from a place of compassion, towards yourself and to any others involved. As part of that reflect on any challenges or barriers that may come up, what could you do if they happen and is there any support you need.

Finally close off with a compassionate commitment to the changes you envisage, to help sustain the actions.  So this is an encouraging, coaching commitment towards yourself – no judging or criticising.

The last part is to read, which you can do immediately or leave for a while.  Bring your compassionate self to the reading – don’t judge how well you have written, any misspellings or errors.  They don’t matter – recognise that you have written with honesty and openness to help address something which is causing you distress. 

A free guide to this practice is available from the Compassionate Mind Foundation. 

In conclusion

I hope that these posts have provided an overview of the core concepts and some of the exercises from compassionate mind training.  Deepening compassion, especially around self-compassion, made a real difference to me…perhaps these posts will inspire you explore compassionate mind training for yourself.  Further details about CFT can be found via the Compassionate Mind Foundation

Chris Winson is an author, blog writer and founder of #365daysofcompassion, which is an online community of people sharing thoughts, reflections and information about compassion and well-being. 

During his life Chris has managed depression, often hiding it until a major period in 2016 lead him to seek help.  That introduced Chris to Compassionate Focused Therapy, which has lead to his focus on how compassion and Compassionate Mind Training can play a supportive role to health and wellbeing. 

Chris recently recorded a series of video talks on CFT which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX-zBQP7u2fRY-riGNGuaDw

How Compassion Focused Therapy has helped me

How Compassion Focused Therapy has helped me

Photo by Nick Fewings via Unsplash

Awareness in Action is delighted to publish the first of two blogs from Chris Winson on the subject of Compassion Focused Therapy. Thanks to Chris for this accessible and informative overview of how CFT works. Part 2 of the blog will go into some useful methods.

You can’t miss articles, talks and social media posts advocating how helpful self-compassion can be, it’s running a close second to mindfulness for coverage and promotion. 

But what does compassion mean to you ?  How can it can help with mental wellbeing ?

I hand’t really thought this until in a therapy room, working through what depression really meant to me.  At that stage self-care meant getting through the next hour – self-compassion wasn’t in the room, it wasn’t in the same building as I was.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t a compassionate person.  I was towards others, struggled to sometimes accept help from others and any self-encouragement was drowned out by self-criticism. Then I was introduced to Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and things started to change….

A definition of Compassion Focused Therapy

Compassion Focused Therapy was developed by Professor Paul Gilbert.  It includes concepts which help to inform and provide insight on some of the psychological behaviours and systems which have evolved and developed to help us, but can sometimes be tricky to manage and can present problems,  even though they are trying to help and protect us.  It includes practices and exercises which form compassionate mind training.

Within Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) compassion is a seen as a motivation – a motivation to both acknowledge and work with distress , in self and others, with a commitment to address and alleviate if possible.  

And that is far from easy.

Some concepts of Compassion Focused Therapy

Emotional systems 

Within CFT a three emotional regulatory system model is defined, blending neuroscience, physiological and psychological processes into a very understandable model.  The three systems are threat, drive and soothing, often presented with a colour scheme of red, blue and green.   This doesn’t mean we have these three parts of our brain, its a conceptual model involving emotions and motivations which have evolved to help us. However in our modern world they sometimes cause issues while trying to look after us. 

Threat, the red circle, looks after us, evolved to to be alert to predators and risks to life, with a set of predictive abilities based on a “safer than sorry” approach, which is therefore more negatively focused. However it evolved to be an immediate response for short periods of time, which is not the case often in our lives today. In a world of social comparison and competition the threat system can be on all the time.  Without the opportunity to reduce levels or constantly overestimates threats,which may not be real, the threat system can be functioning at a unhealthy level.

Drive is the system that motivates us to seek resources, rewards and pleasure, represented by the colour blue. It includes feedback loops so when we achieve something we get a feeling of pleasure, which can reinforce the behaviour or activity, which an be helpful. However the system can go into overdrive, pushing ourselves too hard, often to meet the requirements of others and how we feel that we are perceived by them.  As its a reward based system if we fail to meet the achievements we strive for then we can feel like a failure.  This is very true within perfectionist thinking.

Additionally if the rewards are based upon external feedback then we can feel very vulnerable and hurt when somebody doesn’t respond as we expected or if they question or criticise us. 

The systems do not work independently , most of the time we feel a mixture, nor are threat or drive are good or bad systems. They are both essential to us and its perhaps better to view them as in terms of having a healthy or unhealthy balance.  And what helps them balance is the third system, the soothing system. 

And its this green circle that for me embodies compassion.

This is the system that often needs help though, which CMT practices can help with. techniques. We are usually very good at caring for others, usually okay, but not always at receiving care back from others.  We are not often great at taking proper care of ourselves.  It helps to really bring awareness to what is important  to you and for you to focus on, to take the best care you can, even at challenging times when the threat system is very activated. 

This is a helpful representation of the three systems via Dr James Kirby 

Flows of compassion in Compassion Focused Therapy

In addition to the three systems, three flows are considered – compassion to others,  compassion from others and compassion to ourselves.  

Showing compassion to others, through help, kindness and caring behaviour comes naturally to many, especially towards those close to us.  If you see a family member or friend in distress or needing some help we are likely to offer it – sometimes whether its needed or not and sometimes at a cost to ourselves.  But what about to strangers or to people who may not share our views or be different to us?  Does compassion become harder towards them.  Research would suggest it does.   Research also shows that acting and being compassionate towards others can bring positive effects to ourselves and wellbeing.

Receiving compassion from others can sometimes be trickier.  How many times do we say “I am fine” and soldier on. We can also be so wrapped up in our busy lives that we don’t notice when someone shows us kindness or interacts with us with warmth.  It happens to us all.  The reason that being more open to receiving compassion from others, even just a simple random of act of kindness, is important is that it fosters feelings of connection and shared experience, which are helpful to our wellbeing. 

Which leaves the third flow – self-compassion. This can be seen as being “soft” on yourself; misunderstood as “oh its okay I will be nice to myself and everything will be fine” or even self-indulgent. Some people fear that without the more critical inner voice they won’t be successful.  The truth is that most of us are our worst critic and harshest judge.  We will use a tone and language with ourselves that we would not say to another or even say out aloud.   But does that help ?   

Why are the three flows important?  They are important to our wellbeing and its important to consider their balance, similar to the three systems.  It is often the case that we have them out of balance, so we may be offering a lot of help and care to others and neglecting our own wellbeing. 

The compassionate self

The compassionate self is different to self-compassion, it’s a psychological concept that we have multiple selves – a happy self, a sad self, an anxious self, an angry self, a confident self and so on.  Often one self can dominate our thinking, influence our behaviour or actions, in different contexts and on different days.  That doesn’t mean we switch from one self to another – just like the three systems concept, we are a blend.

So why focus on the compassionate self ?  Because it isn’t one of those that often comes to the fore, especially towards oneself.  Part of compassion mind training is to spend some time considering what compassion means to you, how it’s embodied and considering ways in which it can provide deeper help. 

It can help to focus onto some attributes that the compassionate self can embody, for example attention, wisdom, a commitment to caring and courage. 

All these things take time to deepen and work with, its not easy and sometimes we take a step forward, to then pause and rest before the next step.  And that is perfectly fine. 

This first part has considered the core concepts of Compassion Focused Therapy and compassionate mind training.  The second part will consider some of the exercises and practices which help deepen our compassionate self.  Further details about CFT can be found via the Compassionate Mind Foundation

Chris Winson is an author, blog writer and founder of #365daysofcompassion, which is an online community of people sharing thoughts, reflections and information about compassion and well-being. 

During his life Chris has managed depression, often hiding it until a major period in 2016 lead him to seek help.  That introduced Chris to Compassionate Focused Therapy, which has lead to his focus on how compassion and Compassionate Mind Training can play a supportive role to health and wellbeing. 

Chris recently recorded a series of video talks on CFT which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX-zBQP7u2fRY-riGNGuaDw

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