Category Archives: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Self-Compassion

You may have noticed that “mindfulness” and “self-compassion” have become popular phrases on magazine covers and in self-help books. Unfortunately, it’s also true that people sometimes refer to mindfulness, self-compassion, and acceptance as if they are synonyms for the same idea.

These three words actually represent distinct concepts, although they are interconnected. In short, mindfulness is a practice that gives us a starting point for acceptance, and self-compassion is like an advanced level of acceptance that gives us the space for a new way of being in the world and within ourselves.

Here is a simple guide to understanding the differences between these terms, as well as the ways that mindfulness and acceptance are important building blocks for self-compassion.

Mindfulness: Starting with where you are

We have to begin with cultivating mindfulness, which is about noticing what is occurring right now in this moment. Mindful awareness will always be the necessary starting point. It makes sense that we cannot accept something or be compassionate about it when we have not yet become aware of it.

Being mindful means making contact right now, in the present moment, with our own experience. This can include our thoughts, feelings, urges, and physical sensations. Our societal conditioning has led us to always be focused on the future (what will happen next) or the past (what has already happened). This can distract us so much that we are barely aware of how we are reacting to circumstances right now.

What mindfulness teaches us is that our sensations and inner experience exist only in the present. When we practice mindfulness, we create a habit of noticing our own experience from moment to moment. For example, noticing the physical sensations and thoughts that accompany an emotional trigger can help us to understand and change how we react to that trigger.

Acceptance: Letting go of the urge to resist

Acceptance is about willingness. Accepting our experience means dropping the struggle. Often it is our internal resistance to negative experiences that makes them so painful for us. When we use our mindfulness practice to observe our thoughts, feelings, and sensations without automatically reacting, we can then choose to accept the reality of what is happening without needing to control or change it.

This does not mean that we have relinquished responsibility for the situation, or that we are resigned to allowing these circumstances to remain unchanged. Acceptance just means that we are willing to engage with the reality of what is actually happening rather than pretending things are different or attempting to force an outcome. It’s about accepting what is out of our control and taking responsibility for what is in our control. It is about staying present and willing to have all of the experiences that are occurring in the moment.

You are probably familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The most difficult part of that equation is knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change. The practice of mindful awareness and acceptance can help to get us to that point of discernment.

Mindfulness and acceptance are not passive

It would be easy to assume that mindfulness (noticing the present moment) and acceptance (letting go of resistance) require us to passively observe what is occurring without intervening in any way. However, these tools actually allow us to become active creators of our own circumstances.

Mindfulness is about observation, but it is also about action. Our values can guide our behavioral choices, helping us decide what actions to take in the moment. We refer to mindful and intentional actions as “values-based actions.” The human tendency is to revert to old coping behaviors that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. These behaviors tend to be based on what has happened to us in the past, rather than what is actually happening right now in the present moment. Mindfulness practice helps us to break this cycle by taking action intentionally based on our experience in the moment.

In the same way, acceptance is not a passive state, but an active way of opening ourselves to reality. We use the phrase “radical acceptance,” first coined by Marcia Linehan (founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy), to describe the complete and total acceptance of our experience with all its flaws and frustrations. When we are able to fully accept our experience in this way, we are able to learn how to replace unhelpful behaviors with values-based actions.

The next step beyond acceptance: Self-compassion

Self-compassion takes acceptance one step further—not only accepting our internal experiences as they are, but also sending them loving kindness.
Dr. Kristin Neff outlines three aspects of self-compassion on her website, self-compassion.org:

1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment. Instead of ignoring experiences that are painful or uncomfortable, or criticizing ourselves for handling a situation badly, we can choose to hold those experiences gently and with warmth and compassion.

2. Common humanity vs. isolation. Self-compassion requires us to understand that there is nothing unique or special about suffering, which is an experienced shared by all humans. It can be freeing to remember that no matter what we experience, we are not alone in feeling that way.

3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification. We must be able to find a balance between acknowledging the particular sensations of our experience without being overwhelmed by what is happening.

Using mindfulness, acceptance, and self-compassion

As you can see, there is more to mindfulness and self-compassion than is commonly implied. But it’s good news that these tools are interconnected, because mindful awareness plus acceptance can lead you to a place where self-compassion is possible—creating a more sustainable way to be and act. Therapists who are trained in mindfulness can guide you through this growth and transformation process.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we offer individualized therapy that provides the tools you need to reach your goals and be more fulfilled. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Bay Area Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Center

Bay Area CBT

We are a group practice of cognitive behavioral therapists located in the Bay Area. We offer a number of empirically supported treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), compassion-focused therapy (CFT), mindfulness-based therapies, and schema therapy. We apply behavioral principles while emphasizing an attachment and relational frame that considers the whole person.

Integrative Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a term used to describe a form of therapeutic treatment that combines strategies used in both cognitive and behavior therapies as well as other scientifically proven evidence-based treatments. These treatments have demonstrated to be highly effective in alleviating a variety of struggles including: panic, social phobia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety and rumination, eating disorders, marital distress, anger, chronic pain, and trauma. CBT helps individuals develop effective coping skills.

The cognitive therapy model states that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected and influence one another. Cognitive interventions include identifying unhelpful and distorted thinking, testing and modifying beliefs, and developing skills to distance from one’s thoughts. The premise is that the core beliefs and stories that we have developed about ourselves in childhood continue to impact our current behaviors. These stories are like lenses that distort our perceptions and experiences with others and can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies in relationships. Cognitive interventions help individuals understand how their conditioning from early childhood is impacting their current relationships and influencing their behaviors. The goal is to help individuals recognize the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to create behavioral flexibility.

bay area cognitive therapy

Behavioral therapy encourages individuals to experiment with new behaviors. It is based on the premise that existing patterns of behavior have been established and learned through social conditioning. For example, a child who is repeatedly told “no candy,” throws a fit, and then the parent gives in and allows the candy. The child has learned that throwing a fit garners his desire. Behavioral therapy assists clients in unlearning unhealthy behavior and replacing it with values-based action.

CBT can help you recognize your thoughts, feelings, and behavior and how these influence one another. The objective is to decrease the level of influence that your thoughts and feelings have over your behaviors. Cognitive behavior therapy is an empirically supported treatment and has been proven to be extremely effective for individuals with maladaptive behaviors. There are several approaches (all working toward the success of behavior replacement), and are considered part of the CBT umbrella. Some include:

Oakland cognitive behavioral therapy

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
  • Schema Therapy
  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT). Assists in recovery of post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Mindfulness-Integrated cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Cognitive Therapy
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy
  • Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy
  • Functional Analytic Psychotherapy
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Behavioral Activation

 

In short, CBT helps individuals take incremental, constructive steps towards replacing automatic and learned behaviors with positive new ones. CBT teaches: 1) tools for tolerating and relating to thoughts and feelings differently and 2) testing out new behavioral responses. Through identifying distorted/negative thinking processes and schemas that influence behaviors, the therapist and client work together to replace old behaviors with alternative behaviors that are more effective, positive, and based on values. The goal is to develop skills to cope with your internal experiences so that they don’t stop you from taking actions towards creating the life that you want.