Courage, Connection, and a big ‘ole Hug!

The following is a guest post from Beth Fier who attended the PracticeGround offering, Compassion Focused Training with Russell Kolts, last fall.  Beth then offered a one hour talk to the learning community on CFT.  Her she applies to concepts of CFT to choosing her 3 words to improve for 2014 as I suggested doing earlier this month.


Courage, Connection, and a big ‘ole Hug!



Over the last year, I’ve become completely enamored with learning how to more skillfully and whole-heartedly bring compassion into my sessions and my life.  Why?  Because I’ve been searching for an antidote to shame and that “not quite good enough” feeling that I suspect we all feel from time to time.  For some of us (myself included) that sinking, shrinking shame feeling happens way more often than we’d like, and I have watched this same feeling paralyze my clients over and over again despite their best efforts to move forward.  I believe that compassion just may be the answer.

I’m not talking soft and fuzzy compassion here, which is often what my clients first think when I introduce the idea. I mean the kind of compassion that is willing to face demons in the service of angels.  The kind that requires us to put our hands in the dirt, and dig out rocks that seem way too big and heavy.  This kind of compassion is undeterred by finding roots in the way where it wants to plant seed, and it doesn’t give up even when it’s afraid that the season will be too dry, too wet, too cold…it simply moves in the direction of fostering growth, as best it can, without giving up.  This kind of compassion takes a ton of effort, strength and commitment and I have been truly inspired by watching my clients take this on.

I also committed myself to learning compassion, as best I can, by throwing myself into learning compassion focused therapy.  As a result, I feel like I’ve had my hands in the dirt a lot this year, and it sometimes seems I’ve had to do too much heavy lifting.  Funny thing though, when I’m in that dirt, I’m also grounded, present and full of gratitude, hope and emotion…Lots of emotion.

And because I enjoyed Kelly’s recent post on choosing 3 words to sum up improving in the next year, I decided to follow suit.  These are my words, which sum up how I want to continue on the path of compassion and why.

So my first word is Courage…

Courage: defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” The the original meaning of the word was “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart,” as Brene Brown, who’s done lots of work on the study of shame often shares.

Core to CFT is the evolutionary principle of threat avoidance.  Our brains are designed by nature to detect threat and stay alive, but sometimes what we learn from the world around us prevents us from fully living.  We hold back, we avoid, we try to protect ourselves and those we love. And in so doing, our world gets smaller and we actually find ourselves in places where the threats seem larger.  I don’t need to be without fear, but I am going to need courage to be present, really present, with what’s scary about myself, my work, and the people I love.

My second word is Connection…referring back to word #1, courage, when necessary!

Connection: The act of connecting; a contextual relationship or association. I want to notice it, practice creating it, experience it fully when it shows up!

When we allow ourselves to be present and accepting of the whole of ourselves and those around us, we are incredibly vulnerable.  Yet in so doing, we also open ourselves up to a world of possibility.  CFT is based on helping our clients to access connection in a way that accesses not just safety, but actual safeness.  The quality of these two experiences is quite different, though the behavior may look the same.  Think function.  If I am motivated to escape feeling anxious, I might use self-soothing.  This experience is quite different from allowing myself to notice and feel connected to the anxiety while at the same time offering myself soothing as an expression of care and concern.  As I am better able to connect with both threat and care, I believe I will be better able to connect with my clients.  Ultimately this will allow us to work more effectively toward accessing their own sense of connection, both with themselves and their own loving relationships.

And my last and I think favorite word is Hug, since it also ensure that words #1 and #2 remain close at hand.

Hug:  When reading Kelly’s post on Hygge, my initial thought was “Hmm…sounds and awful lot like hug.”  Clicked on her link “taking good care of the present moment,” and surpise – Hugging comes up again!  The link is a talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, who explains that conscious breathing, while hugging, multiplies happiness by connecting us to the reality of the person we hug.

Since I’ve already committed to noticing Connection, word #2, I decided this coincidence required more investigation.  Although the origins are a bit fuzzy, it seems that both Hygge and Hug derive from the word Hugr, which means “courage, mood.” And viola! We have now come back full circle to word #1, Courage.  Funny the connections we can find when we’re curious (which would probably be my 4th word if I were choosing)!

As human beings, we all need the nurturance that a warm, well-meaning hug can provide. Affiliation is in our genes.  But, so many of my clients haven’t had the luxury of hugs they could rely on which makes finding Hygge incredibly hard and scary.  So these wonderfully tricky, imaginative brains of ours, the ones that can conjure end of the world scenarios at the drop of a hat, need to learn to offer the essence of Hygge and few hugs.  Little by little, we can teach these brains to imagine compassion: what is feels like, what it sounds like, how it thinks, how it looks and how it helps create a space for warmth and safeness, even in the face of uncertainty and fear.

So for me, this year is all about the Hug.  Hugging in the sense of risking a close embrace, giving a nice little squeeze, and then letting go of each moment that presents itself.  The comfortable and uncomfortable, the happy and the sad, moments of being alone and being together…at the same time breathing in all of the beautiful connections within and without.  My hope is that in so doing, I will continue to grow as a therapist, grow as a person and help to grow the community of those who are striving to bring compassion into their own lives.  Want to join us?  Can I offer you a hug?

Get involved in compassion:


The Compassionate Mind Foundation,

The Compassionate Mind Foundation, USA

The Center for Mindfulness and Compassion Focused Therapy

CompassionateMind.Net: The Inland Northwest Compassionate Mind Center




Brach, T. (2003). Radical acceptance:  Embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha.  New York: Bantam Dell.

Germer, C.K. (2009). The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion.  New York: The Guilford Press.

Gilbert, P. (2009). The compassionate mind: A new approach to life’s challenges. London: Constable & Robinson.

Gilbert, P. & Choden (2013).  Mindful Compassion: Using the Power of Mindfulness and Compassion to Transform Our Lives. London: Robinson

Saalzber, S. (1995).  Loving kindness: The revolutionary art of happiness.  Boston:  Shambhala.

Siegel, D. (2007).  The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Tangney, J.P. & Dearing, R.L. (2002). Shame and Guilt. New York: The Guilford Press.

Beth Fier is an DBT therapist in private practice in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  She works collaboratively as a member of the DBT Center of NJ consultation team, where she focuses on working with adults on second stage DBT treatment issues related to shame, acceptance and self-sufficiency.  She facilitates the DBT Advanced Program for skills graduates and currently runs the Cultivating Connections Group Series which includes focuses on broad based goals for: 1) Promoting self-acceptance; 2) Increasing skills for tolerating and embracing imperfection in self and others; 3) Improving regulation of shame and shame based experiences; and 4) Strengthening and/or expand social networks by building a sense of personal community.  Beth provides clinical consultation and training to behavioral healthcare organizations interested in DBT and/or creating or refining cultural competence initiatives and has trained other mental health professionals locally and at state and national conferences on such topics as DBT, alternative approaches to community mental health service, leadership development and cultural competence in behavioral healthcare systems.  In 2009, she was awarded the New Jersey Counseling Association’s Tabler Award for Distinguished Services for her commitment to the counseling profession.