Therapy: Promoting Wellbeing through Compassion

Lotus FlowersResearch suggests that teaching people to develop compassion can reduce shame and self-criticism, as well as change the brain structure in a clear and dramatic way promoting longevity, physical and emotional wellbeing.
It’s hard to think of any therapy that doesn’t encourage practicing with compassion and teaching people to connect with compassion in everyday life. Compassion is a quality that sustains wellbeing and relationships.

Compassion is our response to hurt—our own and that of others. It includes firstly directly contacting the experience of hurt, an embodied visceral connection, then allowing this experience to touch the heart, without trying to fix it or push it away. It’s a full mind-body experience and takes an act of courage.

In order to contact compassion we need to slow down, stop doing and pay attention, be present, be mindful acknowledging what is going on. When we slow down we allow more space and compassion naturally arises. It’s our natural response to care, caring for ourselves and others.

Compassion is harder to find in conflict situations. The first step is to slow down, recognize that we are in conflict and start attending what is going on in us: what do we experience in our body and heart? Usually we begin to blame, “I am hurt and it must be somebody’s fault”. However, the entryway into compassion is self-forgiveness, recognizing we are at war with ourselves, we are hurt because we feel things should be different.

At this point we could work with the blame, be compassionate toward our “it’s all about me state of mind”, “the world is out there to get me”. We feel something is missing, something is wrong—we are not enough. Underneath blaming others there is a sense of victimhood, weakness, shame, and deficiency.

When we hurt, we not only blame others, but also blame ourselves and add more to the hurt. We use self-blame to control ourselves, to have power over so we blame others to have power over them. There is still in each of us some wholeness, some intrinsic wisdom toward finding compassion.

When we forgive ourselves we transform the shame, the hurt we are in and realize we are not bad—a a sense of compassion naturally arises. We start to free ourselves, we forgive and hold our hurt place then we can begin to really forgive others as we see their hurt places.

Forgiveness is an inner experience of the heart/body: we let go of shame, of a sense of badness. When we hold our hurt with kindness, another possibility opens up: we can begin to look at how others also hurt. Compassion is a gradual process. We can learn to develop compassion with the help of a friend or therapist.


Brach, T. (2012). Cultivating a Forgiving Heart. The Compassionate Brain, Session 3, with Rick Hanson.

© 2013 Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.