THREE EMOTIONAL SYSTEMS
compassion focused therapy (cft)
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) is based on the latest neuroscience. It provides practical skills to build the Soothing System and bring all three systems into balance.
Although essential for our survival, the Threat and Drive systems make us hold onto the pain of the past, get triggered by anxieties about the future, and berate ourselves in the present.
There is no peace at the level of these Threat and Drive systems unless their use is balanced with a third system: The Soothing System.
We need our Soothing System for calm, connection, trust, peace and resilience. It is the Soothing System that activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, deactivates the Sympathetic Nervous System, and empowers us to work through the following:
NAVIGATE DISTURBING THOUGHTS
Navigate difficult thoughts, such as painful memories, fears, predictions, anxiety-based imagery, looping thoughts, and self-criticism.
PROCESS PAINFUL EMOTIONS
Process through painful and overwhelming emotions, such as anger, fear, pain, disappointment, sadness, and loneliness.
Lead yourself through difficult situations, such as relationship distress, trauma, stress, failures, loss, disappointments and frustrating events.
"Unfortunately, for many people, the Soothing System is often both hugely misunderstood and underutilized, or it is completely blocked."
Andreas Comninos, PhD
DETECTION & PROTECTION
The Threat System and threat-based emotions (fear, anger, disgust, etc.), do not know the difference between a perceived or real threat. You may have a false belief that feels real in the moment, only to react irrationally within 100 milliseconds!
Our ability to imagine and ruminate, can keep the Threat System running even in the absence of actual external threat. Plus, we feel the sting of negative memories, like being reprimanded much more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise.
ACQUISTION & ACHIEVEMENT
This system motivates us towards our needs (food, water, connection, shelter, and comfort) and wants (achievement, success, money, status, social rank, etc.).
Powerfully motivating, it focuses our attention on pursuits. However, it can push us towards behaviors that cause harm to ourselves or others – leading to stress, perfectionism, burnout, depression.
Highly influenced by Dopamine, the ‘reward chemical’ (produces rushes of pleasure). The Drive System urges us to 'get more,' eat more, achieve more, crave more, etc.
The Drive System can also lead to addictive and compulsive behaviors: chasing and ruminating in unrequited love; obsessive behaviors to avoid anxiety, over-caring, over-working and substance-use.
SAFETY, CARING, CONTENTMENT
Like the Threat and Drive Systems, we are all hard-wired with our Soothing System. It operates naturally when there are no threats to defend against. The issue nowadays is many of us are in over-Drive or in constant stress, so we do not allow for the Soothing System.
Unlike the Threat and Drive Systems that can over-activate us, the Soothing System is a more sustainable fuel source. It is associated with self-actualization, balanced focus, long-term goal attainment, and peaceful states – feeling safe, calm, and content.
This system taps into neurochemicals oxytocin, endorphins, and other opiates. It allows us to truly connect with ourselves and others, giving/receiving affection, care, acceptance, kindness, encouragement, support and affiliation.
The Soothing System is associated with action-oriented self-care, self-compassion. It provides anxiety relief, a balance to the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, and detox from the stress chemicals involved in Threat and Drive Systems.
"Our ‘tricky’ brains can produce dozens of unwanted thoughts... we can hold onto the pain of the past, we can get triggered by unwanted anxieties about the future, and we can attack present unwanted emotions with our Inner Critics.
Andreas Comninos, PhD
cause of underutilized
Self-criticism is both the cause and result of a underdeveloped Soothing System. A berating Inner Critic activates the Threat System, creating an excess of cortisol and stress hormones, an increase in anxiety, hostility, suspicion, distrust, and disconnection in your relationship with self and others.
Self-kindness and Self-compassion allow access to the Soothing System. However, due to negative memories, we can learn to associate kindness, closeness, and love with threat – not safeness. Thus, the mere act of self-kindness, or standing up to Inner Critic, can trigger a Threat System response!
"When we practice self-compassion, we are actually moving our sense of safety from the Threat System to our own care-giving and attachment system (Soothing System). This awakens our own ability to ‘self-soothe’ which triggers the release of opiates and oxytocin, which generates feelings of safety and peace."
Andreas Comninos, PhD