Compassion is the New Therapy – be Gentle on Yourself

· February 2, 2018

The term compassion has been undervalued. Currently, it is usually associated with charity and pity. The same thing happens to the word “self-compassion”, which brings to mind thoughts of victimism. Nothing is further from the essence of these concepts, which far from promoting a reduced view of an individual, it actually enhances it.

So much so, that a style of therapy focused on compassion is in vogue. As the name suggests, it’s a type of therapeutic intervention which sees within compassion a way to improve the situation of many affected people. It’s especially indicated for people who criticize themselves and others very harshly and frequently.

The most interesting part of this new therapy is that its effectiveness has been scientifically measured in a laboratory. It was proven that compassion can be learned and trained. It was also proven that, by doing so, the brain changes and improves. Everything seems to indicate that being compassionate increases serenity, joy, and motivation in various areas of life.

“All genuine love is compassion, and all love that is not compassionate is selfish.”
-Arthur Schopenhauer-

An experiment based on compassion 

The experiment was conducted in the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, in the University of Wisconsin in the United States. Later, it was published in the magazine Psychological Science. The directors of the study took a group of volunteers and trained them in a type of meditation called “meditation of compassion” or “Tonglen”.

This type of meditation uses a technique based on the identification and comprehension of the pain of other human beings. This is combined with breathing exercises. Upon inhaling, the suffering of others is visualized and internalized. During the exhale, one visualizes and irradiates the well-being of others.

A hummingbird is landing in someones palm.

In the experiment, the participants were asked to imagine a moment in which someone was suffering and they wished to eliminate that pain. They could aid their own process by using phrases like “I wish for you to be free of pain”, “I wish for you to be happy” and others along those lines.

The first time they performed this exercise, they were asked to think of a loved one. Then, they were asked to think of strangers. Finally, they had to perform the exercise while thinking of someone they were in a conflict with.

The researchers monitored the brains of the participants through functional magnetic resonance imaging. This was done before and after the training. This way, it was proven that modifications took place in the brains of the volunteers. Particularly, there was an increase in the activity of the inferior parietal cortex and in other areas. This showed that compassion and kindness can be developed, much like a muscle.

Compassion and individual well-being 

It’s common for someone who is extremely critical of others to also be critical of themselves. The same goes for situations which are the other way around. These are cases in which the individual focuses on their ego in an exaggerated way. This prevents them from feeling compassion towards others, but also towards themselves. This can cause a lot of suffering.

There is unmeasured pride which prevents the individual from experiencing life in a relaxed and positive perspective. Every event actually becomes a battle where the most important thing is to prevail.

Therapy focused on compassion trains the ability to feel the suffering of others and to wish for their recovery. Likewise, it teaches that this exercise must also, primordially, be applied to oneself. Being compassionate towards yourself doesn’t imply pitying or feeling sorry for yourself. Nor does it imply crying or whining about feeling inferior or impotent.

It’s all about learning to not blame yourself for your mistakes, faults, or bad decisions. Learning to not judge yourself harshly with the advantage of already knowing the outcome.

A figure in meditation.

The many benefits of being compassionate

Orientals have been practicing the art of compassion towards others and towards oneself for thousands of years. Therapy focused on compassion retakes Buddhist principles, but also neuroscientific elements. The experiment we mentioned above shows that training in compassion activates the secretion of oxytocin in the brain.

Oxytocin is the so-called “happiness hormone”. Other changes also take place in the insula, the hippocampus, and the pituitary gland. This increases the individual’s level of tranquility, security, and sense of well-being.

There are currently many messages in the world which incite us to orientate ourselves towards competence and success. This has become a great burden for many. It’s something which eventually overwhelms the individual and leads them to suffer from anxiety and depression. Therapy focused on compassion is a call to recover kindness as the greatest value of man. It understands that this kindness should begin with the treatment each individual gives to themselves.