How mindfulness & compassion can help us to heal
Updated: Aug 15
Guiding you on the path of self-healing
A compassionate approach within the therapeutic relationship can provide valuable assistance to individuals grappling with feelings of shame and self-criticism. These negative beliefs often take root due to early experiences of abuse or neglect. Mindfulness, which involves being attuned to the present moment, empowers clients to foster skills in both compassion and self-compassion. This, in turn, facilitates mood regulation and fosters a sense of security, self-acceptance, and solace.
The human nervous system is remarkably intricate, encompassing at least three distinct emotion regulation systems. First, there's a threat and self-protection system, which triggers responses like anger, fear, or disgust to safeguard us. Second, the drive and excitement system propels us to seek external resources such as food, companionship, and status. Lastly, there's the soothing and social safety system, which activates when we experience tranquility and contentment, negating the need for external pursuits.
However, these regulation systems can become imbalanced. Growing up in a stressful or tense environment might lead to a heightened threat system, while an impoverished or emotionally deprived upbringing could result in an overactive drive system, perpetually seeking comfort. Consequently, finding tranquility, self-kindness, and perceiving kindness from others becomes challenging. Sensitivity to criticism or rejection, whether real or perceived, can intensify, fostering internalized messages of inadequacy. The tendency to be self-critical and harbor feelings of shame and worthlessness may persist into adulthood.
When our nervous system becomes entrenched in the threat system, we enter a 'shut down' mode. Recovery becomes arduous from this state, hindering engagement in relationships as our social interaction system remains dormant. Engaging with feelings of self-compassion through mindfulness, and learning to observe the present without judgment, facilitates the reactivation of our social engagement system. Grounding ourselves in the present reveals the absence of immediate threats.
Feelings of shame, self-criticism, or inadequacy can wield significant influence. Swiftly transitioning to a state of compassion, especially towards ourselves, might prove challenging. This is where the presence of a therapist becomes invaluable. A therapist offers support by holding space for these challenging emotions and guiding us until we are prepared to navigate them independently.
In the words of mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield, compassion is "an act of courage." It entails deliberately confronting suffering instead of shying away from it. Physiologically, activating compassion in the brain leads to a slowing of heart rate and engagement of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the soothing and social safety system, also known as the 'tend and befriend' response. This facet of the nervous system enables caregiving. This compassionate sentiment propels professionals such as surgeons, firefighters, and psychotherapists in their respective roles. As we bear witness to our own suffering and that of others, and extend a desire to help, we transition from a state of arousal (fear) to a state where compassion takes root. Healing emanates from this place.