“It’s OK Kiddo.” On internalizing self-compassion

Like many people, public speaking has been a struggle for me. When I first started out, I wasn’t simply anxious about public speaking, I was really bad at it. And I have the evidence to prove it. After the first psychology course I ever taught in graduate school, I was told that I had the worst evaluations in the history of the program. The problems continued in my role as a psychologist when I started giving workshops. I would bore the audience, criticize people, and be confusing. It was excruciating. I knew I was bad, but I did know how to be better. I kept trying, but I felt like I was failing again and again and again. The hours, and often days, after workshops would be filled with shame and self-loathing. As I think back on that younger me who went through that, I feel sadness for how much pain he endured. That younger me didn’t know any better at the time and was only doing his best.

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June 2017 Tool of the Month: Four Emotion Systems Handout

Four Emotion Systems: Flexibility is key!

In our work with clients who tend to be highly self-critical and shame-prone, one of the first things we seek to do is to create a deblaming platform for understanding how the person has come to operate the way they do in the world. It’s important that client (and therapist alike!) understand that even though certain behaviors or tendencies might be contributing to someone’s suffering now, these things likely evolved for very understandable and important reasons.

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Research Spotlight: Shame, Guilt and Drinking Problems

In this month’s post, we’ll turn the spotlight onto a paper that recently came out of our own center. A special thanks to all of the clients who, by choosing to come to our center, support our scientific research, and to all of the participants who donated their time to this project – our research wouldn’t be possible without people like you!

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Shame in Context: Considering Culture in the Approach to Shame

girl_shame.jpgMany researchers in English-speaking countries describe shame as uniformly maladaptive, and guilt as uniformly adaptive. In fact, a quick Google search of the terms pops up headings such as, “Shame is Lethal,” “Why Guilt is Better than Shame,” and “Guilt Versus Shame: One is Productive, the Other isn’t…” And, in fact, research does tend to show that in independence-focused cultures such as much of the USA and Europe, shame and how people cope with shame tends to be more problematic. Yet, a more nuanced perspective of emotions emerges when we begin to consider how emotions function in context. One relevant context is culture. In particular, people from more interdependent cultural contexts, such as much of Asia, tend to see shame as more adaptive and valuable, and the research seems to support their experience. In general, shame in these cultures is not as reliably associated with problems with mental health or social functioning and appears to serve valuable functions.

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April 2017 Tool of the Month: Review of the book “Tribe – On Homecoming and Belonging”

We humans are an incredibly social species. One of the reasons why shame is such a powerful and painful emotion for us is that it is intimately tied to our sense of belonging, and in particular, a feeling that our place in the “tribe” may be threatened. In order to understand shame, we also need to understand the role that belonging and a sense of tribe has for us as a species.

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March 2017 Research Roundup: Got Gratitude? It does a body (and mind and relationship) good!

We all know how great if feels when someone expresses appreciation to us. But expressing gratitude isn’t only beneficial for the receiver; it does wonders for the giver, as well. The popular YouTube channel called ‘SoulPancake,’ has a series of videos they call the “The Science of Happiness” and we were struck by one video, in particular that demonstrates the impact that expressing gratitude can have on the person who is giving the appreciation. So if you want a bit of a “pick-me-up”, check out this video.

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February 2017 Research Roundup: Compassion, Conflict, and Connection

When we think about health, some perennial pieces of wisdom likely come to mind: don’t smoke, don’t drink too much alcohol, eat more vegetables, exercise. Yet, there are a few important components missing from this conventional health wisdom. Did you know, for example, that having less than three people in your social circle that you feel emotionally close to is risk factor for numerous psychological and physical maladies? Or, that feeling socially isolated is as great of a health risk as smoking or obesity? If you did, congratulations, you wise chap, you. If you didn’t, you’re in good company.

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Lovingkindness for everyone in the room

Those of us who struggle with shame and self-criticism often believe that we are alone and different from others. We may also be more likely to be lonely and to have fewer close relationships, since shame and self-criticism can interfere with connection. In our groups for people who are highly self-critical, we have found that having the group extend wishes of lovingkindness to each group member using personalized lovingkindness phrases can be a powerful connecting experience and can help activate peoples’ social safety systems.

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February 2017 Tool of the Month: Lovingkindness Meditation Tracking Worksheet

It’s apparent from the data that practicing lovingkindness meditation (LKM) has a host of benefits (see our prior blog post if you would like more evidence). However, just knowing that something is good for us doesn’t always mean that we will change our behavior to move toward it -- yep, I’m looking at you, spinach! One way to help support and sustain behavior change is to track our behavior and its consequences. For this reason, when we introduce the idea of LKM in groups or with individual clients, we encourage people to use a daily tracking form. Every day, people can record whether they practiced LKM, what happened during the practice, and if they noticed any changes as a result of the practice. We encourage clients to approach this tracking as a scientist would an experiment—be curious and collect data. We ask them to track any patterns that may have emerged, indicating what worked and what didn’t work. We encourage them to track whether the data support our hypothesis that LKM might be beneficial to their therapy goals, or whether we should try something else.

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January 2017 Research Roundup: All About Altruism

Unfortunately, there often seems to be a wide chasm between what happens in the research lab and what happens on the front lines of clinical work. On the one hand, researchers need to listen to clinicians and learn about their direct experiences with clients. On the other hand, clinicians can benefit from hearing about clinically relevant research. We hope these “research roundups” provide useful summaries of recent research that can improve your practice with highly shame prone and self-critical clients. 

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