NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Acceptance and Self Compassion

In a prior article, I discussed the concept of self compassion (see my article: Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance).  In this article, I would like to expand on this topic and explore why self compassion is so important.

Acceptance and Self Compassion

As I mentioned in the prior article, many psychotherapy clients come to therapy being harsh and punitive with themselves.  This harsh sense of self usually develops at an early age due to traumatic childhood experiences and, without therapy, continues into adulthood.

If this harsh sense of self goes unaddressed by the psychotherapist, it will become an obstacle in the therapeutic work.  This is due to the fact that a harsh sense of self often comes with a negative belief  of "I don't deserve to feel better."

If this negative belief of not deserving to feel better goes undetected and unresolved in therapy, it will undermine the client's and therapist's work together.

Even though, initially, clients might be unaware of feeling undeserving of compassion, if a therapist explores this possibility with clients, most clients, who have this unconscious negative belief, are able to identify it.

Identifying a negative belief about oneself is only the first step, but it's an important step.

Certain forms of experiential therapy, like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, ask the client for the negative belief with regard to the presenting problem.  Discussing the negative belief about oneself is an essential part of the therapy (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs and Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

However, if the negative belief about oneself remains unconscious, the therapist needs to use therapeutic techniques to get to this unconscious level because just asking some clients won't be enough.  This is because talking about the negative belief is addressing to the client's prefrontal cortex, which is the logical part of the brain.  But trauma "lives" deeper in the brain in the limbic system of the emotional part of the brain, so the therapist needs a method of getting to this unconscious level if the client is unable to access it through a discussion.

In those instances, the therapist needs to use a form of experiential therapy to get to a deeper level.  The Affect Bridge is one technique to get to this deeper unconscious level (for an explanation of the Affect Bridge and how it works, see my article: Bridging Back to Heal Old Emotional Wounds).

The next step is working directly with this negative belief and its associated emotions.  In doing so, the therapist provides the client with the psychoeducation that the negative belief/emotions are just one part of him or herself--not the whole self (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are and Parts Work in Therapy).

It's usually a relief to clients to realize that this problem is only one aspect of themselves and that they continue to have access to the healthier parts of the self to do the therapeutic work.

Once the negative belief/emotions have been worked through in therapy, the client usually has a greater capacity for self compassion, which contributes to the healing experience and the working through of the trauma.

A lack of self compassion is usually indicative of early unresolved childhood trauma.

The child internalizes the negative beliefs/emotions that his or her caregiver imparts--whether this is done consciously or unconsciously.

Unless the child receives therapy to overcome the trauma, these negative beliefs/emotions will follow him or her into adulthood and have a significant negative impact on self perception as well as interpersonal relationships throughout life.

When negative beliefs/emotions present themselves as an obstacle in adult trauma therapy, the trauma therapist must have the necessary therapeutic tools and techniques to identify and work through them.

Whereas experiential therapy, like EMDR therapy, gets to the deeper part of the brain, the limbic system where the trauma "lives," talk therapy usually does not get to this level.  Even though talk therapy can provide intellectual insight into unresolved trauma, it often doesn't result in healing or change on an emotional level.

When the client is able to develop self compassion, this becomes part of the healing and working through of the trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Unresolved psychological trauma is very difficult, if not impossible, to resolve on your own.

To overcome traumatic experiences and develop self compassion, you need the help of an experienced trauma therapist.

Once you have worked through the trauma, you can free yourself of your traumatic history and lead a more fulfilling life

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing, EFT and Sex Therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.