Tag Archives: mindfulness

Recovering from Trauma

I wrote a while back about the impact of shame and how often this can lie at the root of psychological distress. Here’s a few more pointers on how shame can be tackled with compassion focused therapy.

Shame often disguises itself in more easily identifiable emotions, including, anger, disgust, anxiety, and depression. When shame is unresolved it can lie dormant for a long time. Typical behaviours that we might find ourselves caught up in are, self harming and aggression (attack), submissiveness to other’s demands (submit), and withdrawal from others (hide).

Shame is a normal human emotion, essential for the survival of social evolution, however, if left to eat away at us, it will often raise its ugly head again and again when we are feeling vulnerable or stressed. The power of shame is such that it can feel like a knife in the back, knocking our confidence and sense of direction and self worth. We can feel shamed socially, leaving us vulnerable and highly alert to other people’s judgments, and shamed internally, where we become our own worst and punitive critic, irrelevant of other people’s comments.

The good news is, no matter when or where our sense of shame comes from, the shameful mindset has been learned and therefore, we have the opportunity to learn a new mindset, one based on compassion.

The compassionate mindset involves first looking at the root cause, usually a situation or comment from others in the past, that first sowed the seeds of shame. This is followed by skills based training in Mindfulness, a meditative technique, which opens the door to a new way of interacting with our emotions, behaviours and thoughts. In a nutshell, Mindfulness increases self awareness of the shameful mindset, promotes self healing, and nurtures our ability to develop kindness, compassion, and a non-judgmental stance towards ourselves.

A great book for anyone struggling with shame and looking for an alternative path to freedom is The Compassionate Mind Approach to Recovering from Trauma by Deborah Lee.

Mindfulness as a powerful adjunct to cognitive behavioural therapy

Presently there is a lot of talk about the practice of Mindfulness in the media as one of the ‘new’ forms of treatment for depression and anxiety. Ironically, mindfulness as a form of meditative practice is in fact as old as the hills. It is only recently, that evidence-based studies have brought to the fore the powerful effects this practice can have in reducing some of life’s most difficult problems – rumination and worry.

I have been using mindfulness techniques myself for about 6 months and I for one can testify to the beneficial effects they have had on reducing my own inner world. It is important to note here that I am not implying that I no longer find myself caught up in worries and pessimistic thoughts. In fact, I think I have become even more aware of how often my mind tends to lead me down this old familiar path of negativity. The effect  of practicing mindfulness has led me down a completely different path, one where I am able to relatively quickly spot these thoughts as they float into my consciousness and then take a decidedly different course of action. In the past I would only become aware of such intrusions after having acted on them in some way, whether it be to try and ignore them or to act in a way that would suggest that such negative thoughts were truths rather than thoughts or opinions.  Now I am not only able to spot them as they arise, I am happy to let them be, safe in the knowledge that they are just that – thoughts.

The practice of mindfulness appears in theory to be a very simple meditative act but the truth is it is a difficult and sometimes elusive skill to acquire. I have started to introduce mindfulness into my private clinical practice with great effect. Those who fully apply themselves to regular (daily) practice do appear to reap the benefits associated with a grater sense of self and greater ability to let unhelpful thoughts pass by without engaging or trying to escape.

As a cognitive behavioural therapist, there can be a tendency to stick with the evidence-based route, helping clients to challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts. Having incorporated mindfulness into my practice, I now recognise that this approach is not a one-size fits all solution to the problem of depression and anxiety. We cannot ever truly eradicate free thought, which in itself can be a great tool and without which we would lead much less richer lives. We can however, choose to cultivate that part of ourselves that is innately human; the ability to observe our own thoughts. Coupled with a non-judgmental acceptance of our inner ‘chatter’, we might just find ourselves on the path to better mental health and greater contentment despite the ever more chaotic and frantic world we find ourselves in.