Browsing School of Human Sciences by Subjects
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Compassion: From its evolution to a psychotherapyThe concept, benefits and recommendations for the cultivation of compassion have been recognized in the contemplative traditions for thousands of years. In the last 30 years or so, the study of compassion has revealed it to have major physiological and psychological effects influencing well-being, addressing mental health difficulties, and promoting prosocial behavior. This paper outlines an evolution informed biopsychosocial, multicomponent model to caring behavior and its derivative “compassion” that underpins newer approaches to psychotherapy. The paper explores the origins of caring motives and the nature and biopsychosocial functions of caring-attachment behavior. These include providing a secure base (sources of protection, validation, encouragement and guidance) and safe haven (source of soothing and comfort) for offspring along with physiological regulating functions, which are also central for compassion focused therapy. Second, it suggests that it is the way recent human cognitive competencies give rise to different types of “mind awareness” and “knowing intentionality” that transform basic caring motives into potentials for compassion. While we can care for our gardens and treasured objects, the concept of compassion is only used for sentient beings who can “suffer.” As psychotherapy addresses mental suffering, cultivating the motives and competencies of compassion to self and others can be a central focus for psychotherapy.
Creating a compassionate world: addressing the conflicts between sharing and caring versus controlling and holding evolved strategiesFor thousands of years, various spiritual traditions and social activists have appealed to humans to adopt compassionate ways of living to address the suffering of life. Yet, along with our potential for compassion and self-sacrifice, the last few thousand years of wars, slavery, tortures, and holocausts have shown humans can be extraordinarily selfish, callous, vicious, and cruel. While there has been considerable engagement with these issues, particularly in the area of moral psychology and ethics, this paper explores an evolutionary analysis relating to evolved resource-regulation strategies that can be called “care and share” versus “control and hold.” Control and hold are typical of primates that operate through intimidatory social hierarchies. Care and share are less common in non-human primates, but evolved radically in humans during our hunter-gatherer stage when our ancestors lived in relatively interdependent, small, mobile groups. In these groups, individualistic, self-focus, and self-promoting control and hold strategies (trying to secure and accumulate more than others) were shunned and shamed. These caring and sharing hunter-gatherer lifestyles also created the social contexts for the evolution of new forms of childcare and complex human competencies for language, reasoning, planning, empathy, and self-awareness. As a result of our new ‘intelligence’, our ancestors developed agriculture that reduced mobility, increased group size, resource availability and storage, and resource competition. These re-introduced competing for, rather than sharing of, resources and advantaged those who now pursue (often aggressively) control and hold strategies. Many of our most typical forms of oppressive and anti-compassionate behavior are the result of these strategies. Rather than (just) thinking about individuals competing with one another, we can also consider these different resource regulation strategies as competing within populations shaping psychophysiological patterns; both wealth and poverty change the brain. One of the challenges to creating a more compassionate society is to find ways to create the social and economic conditions that regulate control and hold strategies and promote care and share. No easy task.
The experience of loneliness: The role of fears of compassion and social safenessThere are multiple factors associated with an increasing rate of loneliness. One common thread may be social disconnection and a reduced ability to feel safe in social settings for fear of giving to and receiving help from others. This study used an online survey to explore loneliness and its relationship with related psychological constructs of social connectedness, social safeness, subjective happiness, and fears of compassion in 177 adults (Female = 126), aged 18–70 years. The results showed that those with high loneliness reported significantly higher fears of expressing compassion for others and self, and receiving compassion from others, as well as lower reported social safeness, subjective happiness and social connection compared to those with reported low loneliness. Those with moderate levels of loneliness were not significantly different from the high loneliness group on fears of compassion towards others or measures of positive affect. The findings show that social safeness, and fears of receiving compassion from others or self are highly related to those with high levels of loneliness.