The Concept of Compassion in Psychology

The Concept of Compassion in Psychology

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) is a form of psychotherapy developed by Paul Gilbert for people struggling with shame and self-criticism.

It is an integration of ideas concerning: Jungian archetypes; evolutionary approaches to human behavior, suffering, and growth; neuroscientific and cognitive-behavioral ideas about the way that people think and behave; and Buddhist philosophy concerning compassion and mindfulness

Compassion-focused therapy is starting to be trendy. It is, as the name implies, a type of therapeutic intervention that sees compassion as a way to improve the state  of many suffering people. It is mainly suitable for people who are very critical of themselves and others.

The most interesting thing about this novel therapy is that its effectiveness has been scientifically measured in a laboratory. Compassion has been proved to be learned and trained. It was also evidenced that, by doing so, our brain changes and improves. Everything indicates that being compassionate increases serenity, joy and motivation in different aspects of life.

“All genuine love is compassion, and all love that is not compassion is selfishness.” (Arthur Schopenhauer).

An experiment in compassion

The experiment was conducted at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, at the University of Wisconsin, in the United States. It was later published in “Psychological Science” journal. Volunteers were trained in a type of meditation called “compassionate meditation” using a technique based on the identification and understanding of pain in other human beings. It is experienced as combined with breathing exercises. By breathing in, one visualizes the suffering of others and internalizes it. By exhaling, well-being is visualized and radiated to others.

In the experiment, participants were asked to imagine a suffering moment for another when they’d want to relieve that pain. According to participants, their first subjects were their loved ones, followed by people they didn’t know. In the end, they had to do it with someone they were in conflict with. Researchers monitored the brains of the participants using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

This was done before and also after training. This way they could observe brain changes in the volunteers. In particular, it was noticed an increase in activity in the lower parietal cortex and in other areas. This evidenced that empathy, compassion and kindness can grow, just like a muscle.

Compassion and individual well-being

When one is extremely critical of others usually he is critical as well of himself; also the other way around. This happens when the individual is overly focused on his ego that prevents him from feeling compassion for others, but also for himself. Compassion-focused therapy trains the ability to feel the suffering of others and the need to heal them. Likewise, it teaches that this exercise should be primarily applied to oneself. Being self-compassionate is not feeling sorry for yourself or crying about feeling inferior or powerless. It is about learning not to blame yourself for your mistakes or failures; not to judge yourself harshly with the advantage of knowing the result.

Orientals have been practicing compassion for themselves and for others for thousands of years. The therapy focused on compassion takes up Buddhist principles, but also elements of neuroscience. In the aforementioned experiment, it was also found that by training compassion, the brain activates the secretion of oxytocin, the so-called “happiness hormone”. Changes also occur in the insula, the hippocampus, and the pituitary. This makes for greater tranquility, security and a feeling of well-being.

2 comments

    1. Thank you. We have a natural capacity for compassion. However, everyday stress, social pressures, and life experiences can suppress it –potentially resulting in physical and psychological problems. The good news is that we can train ourselves to nurture others while developing our compassionate instinct.

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