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5 Scientifically proven benefits of compassion for mental wellbeing

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Understanding more about the value of compassion…


Recently, Dr Stan Steindl posted a fantastic video on his YouTube channel where he summarised the most recent research that has explored the ways that compassion helps to improve our mental health. I’ve been a strong advocate for the compassion-focused therapy (CFT) model and therapy techniques for some time (and I have the habit of talking about compassion quite a lot…!) Since completing specialist training with Professor Paul Gilbert, I regularly draw upon CFT approaches and therapy techniques in my clinical work, and I have witnessed the profound benefits it has brought to clients who were really struggling. I’ve also noticed immense changes in my own life through living more compassionately. More than this, research has proven the benefits it can bring to our human experiences. Here is a summary on the ways that compassion might be helpful to you to.


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Sunflower photo representing compassion in a blog post by BAM therapy Exeter about compassion and Yoga

What is compassion?

Before we explore how compassion supports better psychological health and emotional wellbeing, it is useful to be clear about what is meant by compassion. Compassion is a sensitivity to suffering in oneself and others with a commitment to try to relieve and prevent it (Gilbert, 2013). In this way, we understand that there are two distinct yet inter-related psychologies of compassion:


*Turning towards suffering and approaching painful experiences with courage


*Doing what is helpful not harmful, doing what it takes and acting wisely with dedication


Compassion includes fostering qualities and attributes such as empathy, sensitivity, non-judgement, care for wellbeing and skillfully tolerating distress. It involves training our minds in compassion – that is, deliberately cultivating compassionate intentions and wishes, and developing and using skills that are motivated by acting and responding compassionately in our lives. The skills and attributes of compassion exist within an emotional context of warmth, friendliness, and gentleness.


How might compassion really help?

Developing compassion for ourselves and others and building a compassionate mind can truly transform our emotional, psychological, and biological health. Here’s how…


1. Compassion helps reduce self-criticism, worry and rumination

Have you ever started to give yourself a hard time or tell yourself off in your mind? Do you ever have worrying thoughts about possible future threats, for example imagining the worst or catastrophising about a feared outcome? Do you ever think back over things that have happened, mull them over in your mind and question things? Compassion can help! Research shows that developing a compassionate mind helps reduce the intensity of these three human experiences: self-criticism, worry and rumination. Bringing compassion to the self helps to manage and reduce the impact of negative thinking patterns.


2. Compassion helps improve depression, anxiety, and stress

One of the central struggles with depression is often the self-critical inner voice – the tendency to be punitive towards ourselves and view our struggles through a self-punishing lens, and a pervasive sense of shame. Compassion and self-compassion help to improve the experience of psychological distress and wellbeing. Research shows that compassion-focused therapies aimed at developing compassion leads to improved mood state, reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.


3. Compassion helps reduce shame

Shame relates to social comparison and how we fear we exist in someone else’s mind. Feelings associated with shame often involve thinking that other people will judge us negatively. Our shame-based fears can become a downward spiral and dominate our thinking. Research shows that developing openness to compassion, reducing self-criticism and working on fears of compassion through compassionate mind training and CFT help to reduce levels of shame. Compassion is an effective solution to shame.


4. Compassion helps reduce body-weight shame

This type of shame relates to how we view and evaluate our body, weight, and shape. Body-weight shame concerns the ways that our thoughts about weight and body shape impacts our sense of self and self-worth, and it can lead to poor psychological wellbeing. Developing and training the mind in compassion helps to reduce body-weight shame.


5. Compassion helps with trauma and reducing post-traumatic stress

Research shows that developing skills with self-compassion and working on an openness to receiving compassion from others really benefits people who have experienced trauma. CFT and compassionate mind training focused on developing an understanding of the self, making better sense of difficult experiences, and safely approaching emotions helps to lower post-traumatic stress.


So, the research shows us that compassion is more than just a fluffy idea! It is hugely beneficial to better psychological wellbeing in several ways.


 

BAM Therapy offers yoga classes that integrate evidence-based CFT skills and techniques – why not come along to a class to see if it can be helpful to you?


Contact Kayleigh to find out more about accessing CFT privately.


Thank you for reading! 😊 And thanks again to Dr Stan Steindl for sharing such an informative video!


Photo of blossom in a BAM Therapy Exeter post about compassion

References

  • Gilbert, P. (2013). The Compassionate Mind. Croydon: Robinson.

  • Steindl, S. (2022). 5 Evidence-Based Benefits to Mental Health of Compassion Focused Therapy.

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