What is Compassionate Mind Training?

So many of us struggle with self- criticism and just not feeling good enough.  Often, we can feel managing difficult emotions is too hard, so we just push them away and try to ignore them.  I see how this impacts my clients, often causing them to turn to food for distraction or relief and this emotional eating leaves them feeling stuck in a vicious cycle of what feels like failure.  Compassionate Mind Training can help break this cycle, by building on the core pillars of wisdom, strength and caring commitment, we can learn how to support ourselves to take helpful actions that moves us forward, towards the person we want to be and the life we want to live.  It is not something many people have heard of and so read on to find out more about this evidenced based approach that could free you from this self-defeating way of being. 

What is Compassion?

Compassion has been seen as the antidote to suffering for thousands of years and is certainly not a new concept.   However in more recent times research has been able to show us how our aptitude for compassion has evolved, how it works in our bodies and our brains, and how it can become a source of courage and wisdom to address suffering.

The definition of compassion used by the Compassionate Mind Foundation is “…a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it.”

So in essence compassion is both the willingness and awareness of suffering alongside a desire to reduce or remove that suffering in ourselves or others.

In even more simple terms, it is noticing that someone (including ourselves) is struggling in some way and being able to have the courage to move towards that and help in a useful way.

So often we avoid difficult conversations with ourselves and others because it feels too hard, or we don’t know what to say and compassion allows us the strength and skills to have the confidence to feel able to take helpful action and support that person through that difficult moment.

What is Compassionate Mind Training?

Compassionate focussed therapy (CFT) brings in elements of several different areas such as neuroscience, attachment theory, developmental, social and clinical psychology, evolutionary theory and some spiritual practices such as mindfulness to form an integrated model of the mind.  The idea of this is that it gives us the ability to work with the mind to reduce suffering and promote flourishing within a therapy setting.

CFT was developed by Paul Gilbert, a British clinical psychologist, who wanted to use his knowledge and experience to create an approach that would help those struggling with self-criticism and shame.  This approach has since been validated for use in many areas of psychology such as depression and anxiety, trauma and eating disorders.

Compassionate mind training (CMT) forms part of CFT but has also been found to be useful as a standalone practice in those that do not require therapy.  Compassionate Mind Training on its own is not therapy as it is not treating a mental health disorder, it is simply teaching someone the psychoeducation and skills building elements of CFT so they can increase their compassion over time. 

Since the term Compassionate Mind Training was first used in its own right in 2005, it has been used in many research studies to validate it’s use and establish its value in the real world.  Those studies have shown CMT to reduce anxiety, self-criticism, shame and significant increases in their ability to self soothe and self-reassure as compassion increased.

Why does it matter?

So many of us struggle with the pressures of everyday life.  We are always too busy, too many demands on ourselves, not enough recharge time and an endless feeling of just not quite feeling good enough.

This means we turn to criticism as a motivator- ‘If I put myself down, this will shame me into doing things better next time’

Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect and is a self-defeating approach to change.  Self-criticism always comes from a place of shame, and this leads us to feel defeat and we eventually lose confidence in ourselves and give up.

People feel stuck in a loop of shame, criticism and comparison; they feel out of control in their own lives.  This can often lead to them trying to ignore and push away these feelings, but this only makes them stronger and often leads to unhelpful coping strategies for example, emotional eating, over and/or under eating, reduced physical activity and alcohol. 

People become more dissatisfied with their lives, the more they are relying on these less helpful behaviours that push them further from health and happiness.  The thoughts get stronger, and it feels like a cycle they will never break free from. 

Have you noticed the more you criticise yourself, the worse you feel and less likely you are to take positive actions?  The days of no pain, no gain need to be over, and this science-based approach is how.

Key areas Compassionate Mind Training can help with

  • Shame
  • Self-Criticism
  • Worry
  • Rumination
  • Perfectionism
  • Emotional Eating

So how can Compassionate Mind Training help me?

The whole premise of Compassionate Mind Training is to work with and learn how to manage our ‘tricky brains’.  It gives us the skills to support ourselves rather than judge and berate and this allows us to develop, grow and flourish as people.

By learning about how the human brain has evolved and why this makes us vulnerable to these self-critical ways of thinking, negativity and a fear of rejection, you can start to learn what you can do to succeed in spite of this. 

Compassionate Mind Training has been shown to help in so many ways including:

  • Improving body image and relationship with food
  • Overcoming feelings of inferiority, particularly when comparing yourself with others
  • Understanding and regulating difficult emotions in helpful ways
  • Developing a healthier self-improvement motivation
  • Building the strength to face your difficulties and cope with challenges.
  • Showing up for yourself and others

With a shift in motivation from critical to compassionate, suddenly you are able to support yourself and then you start to improve your life. 

Compassionate Mind Training does not only focus on self-compassion, but also compassion from and to others and so it is helping you to be able to connect and relate to others in a more meaningful way and also encouraging you to be able to accept support and care from others.  This can often be something that people with reduced levels of compassion struggle with; feeling close to and accepting help from others, which can be something that causes them to feel alone or overwhelmed over time. 

Although people think compassion is just about being nice, warm and kind, it often is about much more than this and in fact kindness and compassion are two separate ideas.  Learning how to support yourself to do the most helpful thing in the moment, even if that feels really hard, because you know it will bring you greater benefit in the long term.  This takes strength and commitment, and this is something that is not always associated with compassion but are core pillars of compassion.  By building this inner resilience people find that they feel benefits in their lives in so many ways as they are more able to deal with life’s uncertainty and challenges and tolerate painful feelings to find useful ways to help themselves with those. 

How to experience Compassionate Mind Training for yourself

Compassionate Mind Training is a mix of education and experiential learning through guided practices.  It is usually delivered as an 8-week course, 2 hours a week online.

Each week there is a slightly different focus moving between compassion as a broad concept, to compassion towards and from others and self-compassion.  Over the weeks you build up a toolkit of exercises and practices to embed into your life.

There is a mix between education and guided exercises so that you are learning in a practical and experiential way.  There are a mix of exercises, but many are mindfulness based, but this is much more than guided breathing. 

We cover topics such as;

  • How some of the problems that we face in life can be linked to how our mind evolved, and the skills to focus your attention to the present.
  • Why you feel and behave the way you do, and how you can develop your soothe system to regulate unhelpful emotions.
  • How a variety of skills, like using memory and imagery, can be used to develop our compassionate selves.
  • Understanding of any fears of blocks you might have to being compassionate towards yourself, as well as some ways in which you can practice showing up for yourself.
  • Letting Compassion in
  • Showing up for yourself
  • Working with your self critic

How do I join a Compassionate Mind Training course?

Here is the link to my introduction to Compassionate Mind Training and provides you a 2-hour intro to the concept of compassion, learn some of the basic compassion exercises and understand how you can build your knowledge and continue your compassionate journey in the 8-week course coming on January. 

If you resonate with any of the above, then give this a go, you have got nothing to lose and so much compassion to gain! 

For more information or any questions on this topic please feel free to get in touch

Disclaimer: CMT is not a therapy and is not appropriate to treat individual conditions, such as mental health conditions, eating disorders etc. If you feel you need individual support with these areas, please speak to a medical professional.