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Boosting self-compassion & self-encouragement by strengthening attachment security: twelve practical suggestions (1-6)

This blog post is downloadable both as a Word doc and as a PDF file

Research suggests that self-compassion may be as much as ten times more relevant than mindfulness for improvements in anxiety, depression & quality of life (Van Dam, Sheppard et al. 2011), although the two concepts (self-compassion & mindfulness) overlap to a great extent (Baer, Smith et al. 2008; Kuyken, Watkins et al. 2010)   Self-compassion for ourselves and empathy for others are powerful contributors to wellbeing - and both are deeply interlinked with the security or insecurity of our "attachment" in important close relationships both now and earlier in our lives (Wei, Liao et al. 2011).  A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post "Behavioural systems (attachment, care giving, exploration, sex & power): hyperactivated, hypoactivated or just about right?" and then last week "Behavioural systems (attachment, care giving, exploration, sex & power): using imagery & compassion to fine tune them".  In the latter I described research showing both that there are a whole series of ways to strengthen a sense of attachment security in adults, and that repeated (rather than once off) use of these methods tends to lead to more lasting positive changes.  Increasing attachment security has important benefits for how we relate to other people (for example, increased empathy, cooperation & kindness) and for how we relate to ourselves (for example, reduced risk of anxiety & depression, and increased resilience, authenticity & self-compassion).  Today's post is practical.  I list the first six of a dozen ways of strengthening attachment security and hence working towards these benefits:  

1.) Remember loving people from your past:  Who earlier in your life was loving and supportive to you?  Who was most important for you in providing reassurance & encouragement?  Maybe one or both of your parents?  Maybe another member of your family or relative?  Maybe a teacher, a good boss, or an old friend?  Remembering key people from our past and the positive things they said to us, how they looked, the tone of their voice, maybe their touch ... these can all be powerfully reassuring and settling for us when we're feelings threatened, demoralised, self-critical or anxious.

2.) Remember loving people from your present:  And how about people in your life now?  Do you have friends or a partner or others you know, who are particularly good at helping you feel settled & reassured when you're feeling flustered or down?  Again, visualising them, remembering or imagining what they would say to you, how they would reassure you & care for you, their voice tone & kind facial expression.  Maybe link to a particular memory.  Explore who and what is most helpful for you.

3.) Think of inspiring spiritual teachers:  Are you a spiritual person?  Are there particular religious or spiritual teachers who touch you, who really matter to you?  Are there specific things that they've said that help you to feel safe, loved, reassured, held?  Again it may be helpful to link to memories, images, tones of voice, words.

4.) Think of one's own inner ‘friend', ‘parent', or ‘wise aspect':  We are often much better at empathising with, supporting & advising our friends than we are for ourselves!  Getting perspective on our situation by imagining what one would feel and say for a friend going through difficulties like ours can be helpful (see the post "Reappraising reappraisal" for further ideas).  Imagine an 'inner friend', a 'wise' part of ourselves - that can support us, reassure us, help and encourage us.  

5.) Use photographs, symbols & other tangible links:  Women undergoing a painful procedure experienced less pain if they looked at a photograph of their partner (Master, Eisenberger et al. 2009) - in this research study, looking at a photograph reduced pain even better than holding their partner's hand.  In further research (Dal Cin, MacDonald et al. 2006), wearing a reminder bracelet doubled the rate that participants followed through on their intentions at six weeks follow-up, compared with a group who had intended to act but hadn't been given any physical reminder to wear.  Photographs of those who particularly love and support us, physical reminders, religious symbols - carrying or wearing these links can help us feel cared for and safe.

6.) Use favourite quotations, bible verses, buddhist sayings & inspiring writings:  Maybe you've come across sayings (spiritual or lay) that particularly touch you, that particularly help you to feel peaceful, safe & content.  There is research suggesting that it is this experience of safeness & contentment that combats self-criticism, insecure attachment, anxiety & depression more than just feeling other types of relaxed or activated positive emotion (Gilbert, McEwan et al. 2008).  Try learning the words to repeat to yourself, possibly try "meditating" on them, possibly write them down and carry them with you.  

See the blog post "Boosting self-compassion ... twelve practical suggestions (7-12)" for six more ideas.

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