What is Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT)?

Compassion focused therapy (CFT) was initially designed to help people who are self-critical and feel ashamed and/or guilty. A critical inner dialogue often contributes to low mood and anxiety. It was realised that for some people, traditional CBT was not having the full desired effect. That is, people could recognise alternative ways of seeing themselves and others, but they couldnt feel it on a ‘gut level’. CFT aims to close that gap, to help us not only think differently, but to feel differently too.

CFT holds that all humans need to feel loved and accepted, because in our evolved past, our very survival depended on it. When this doesn’t happen, we feel threatened, and develop strategies, which whilst understandable, can be unhelpful, and prevent us from changing.

 Self-criticism often arises from early trauma, such as abuse, neglect, bullying, a lack of affection or warmth, or parental/peer criticism. This can lead us to develop basic fears about what the outside world can do to us, e.g. reject us, hurt us;  which can cause internal panic, rage, and other ‘uncontrollable’ emotions.

Most of us lack the opportunity to develop healthy or adaptive coping strategies to cope with potential external ‘attacks’ and unwanted emotions, so we develop strategies that seem appropriate given the circumstances. These may include: avoiding certain situations, being overly submissive, and always putting others first. Whilst they seem effective in the short term, they often lead to unwanted consequences.

The unintended consequences of these strategies may be, for example, that others don’t take us seriously, and they and we don’t understand our own values/needs. This can cause difficulties being at peace with our self. We may then criticise ourselves over these unintended consequences. So when faced with setback, we experience both our inside and outside world as hostile and rejecting.  

 It’s important to realise that these reactions are not our fault, nor are they easily controlled –they arise from evolved learning, modelling and conditioning AND a lack of opportunities to understand the source of distress, and how to self soothe in the context of a setback.


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