Compassion

Along with my interest in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I am also interested in Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT). Here I will aim to signpost to some good resources for learning more about CFT as well as try to describe some of the key ideas in a nutshell and say a little about why I think it can helpfully be applied to miscarriage and baby loss. Like most of my site right now, this area will be a work in progress (my mind is pointing out I sound like a broken record), but do please check back soon.

I initially learned about CFT from reading Paul Gilbert’s wonderful book “The Compassionate Mind”. A central idea is that we have “old brains” which have evolved due to our early history as hunter gatherers to have strongly developed THREAT and DRIVE systems, but that these can be mismatched with the demands of modern life – and pregnancy and baby loss. It’s very useful to be hard wired to spot threat is a lion may bound into your cave overnight – it’s not so useful to be hard wired for threat in the middle of the night when you’re pregnant again after miscarriage, just “checking” for any signs of bleeding when you need a wee. Often we can spend too much time in THREAT mode due to this mismatch, leading us to feel that we are anxious too much, too often – and anxious about that, too. We also have “new brain skills” such as analysing, which exacerbates that problem. So THREAT mode is necessary for our survival, but we are predisposed to spending too much time in it and need to work to balance that out. DRIVE mode is also necessary for our survival – as hunter gatherers, without DRIVE we wouldn’t have been motivated to get enough food to eat without it. In modern life, it is still adaptive to be in DRIVE mode sometimes, for example at work or when there’s a ton of presents to wrap on Christmas eve or dishes to do at home. In a trying to get pregnant after miscarriage context though if we are too often in DRIVE mode without awareness it could lead to conflict with our partner who may be not ready to try again yet or craving to rekindle other aspects of your lives. Too much time in DRIVE mode can leave us feeling burnt out, depressed and exhausted. Luckily there is a third mode – our SOOTHING system. For most of us, this is the least well utilised mode as we spend so much time and energy on the other two. It can be helpful to think of this like developing weak muscles as you would do by going to the gym. Also, if you think of how your upper arm works and imagine your triceps muscle was much more toned than your bicep – would the arm perform optimally? I’m no expert on physiology, but I’d think not. So what we want to aim for with our mental health is generally balance and flexibility – DRIVE, THREAT and SOOTHING modes all working harmoniously in moderation.

There are many influences beyond our control which can throw us of course when we get pregnant – like how easy or hard it is to conceive, miscarriage, history of miscarriage and anxiety about it happening again and pregnancy complications like pelvic pain and gestational diabetes. We can also have a more stressful pregnancy if there are any concerns regarding the baby’s health or development. It can also be helpful to reflect on our own experiences of being parented – if we find ourselves having self-critical thoughts a lot, it may be useful to reflect on whether either of our own parents was either often critical of themselves or of us. If we consider that they were, it can be helpful to have compassion for them too – they perhaps also had someone in their early years be critical of them, too.

So if you’re on board with wanting to learn more, here’s some initial signposts –

Here is a link to a TED talk by Kristin Neff about what self-compassion is, and what it’s not – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z29ptSuoWRc&feature=youtu.be

Here is another TED talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability. I’m linking to it here because it takes courage to be vulnerable, which is a big bit of opening up to self-compassion – https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en

And another TED talk by Brene Brown here on listening to shame, because often difficult experiences around pregnancy can bring up feelings of shame, and it can be particularly liberating to learn to develop your self-compassion towards those feelings, rather than either pushing them away, denying that they exist or criticising yourself for feeling that way – https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en

Here’s a TED talk by Steven Hayes about how bringing compassion or love to yourself even when it’s hard can be liberating and allow you to bring more love into the world. – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o79_gmO5ppg

Here’s a blog post in Psychology Today about using self-kindness to cope with stress –

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-compassion-chronicles/201806/using-the-practice-self-kindness-cope-stress?fbclid=IwAR1rr76JFcjh5D-TRrARUWLtMEl_IjxyqmLGD3HBW58KUg0x7nTtPMTZYf4

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