The Soothing System

Since the start of the year I’ve been sharing blogs with you which explore ‘The Compassion Focused Therapy Model’.  We started off with an introduction to the model, then we focused in on ‘Drive’, followed by ‘Threat/Protection’.  Today I’ll be focusing on the third system which is called ‘Soothing’.

The Soothing System is all about feeling calm, being able to manage difficult emotions and  feeling connected with others.  Words we associate with this system include safety, caring, compassionate, kindness, calm, wellbeing and grounded.  The prefrontal cortex in our brain is at work when we are in the Soothing System and chemicals such as opiates and oxytocin will be rushing around our bodies.

The Soothing System works in three different directions; giving to others, receiving from others and giving compassion to ourselves.  

The Soothing System is vital to our development from the moment we are born.  Psychologists have conducted fascinating experiments with monkeys which show that for healthy development they don’t just need food but also warmth, comfort and contact with others.  The Soothing System helps us (and animals) to form vital social bonds which keep us comfortable and safe from harm.

Whilst this all sounds very nice it’s important to note that the Soothing System is often much less prominent in peoples day to day lives than the Drive and Threat/Protection Systems.  From an evolutionary point of view this makes sense as we need to prioritise managing any threats and achieving what we need to before we can allow ourselves to rest.  

The Soothing System is often also impacted by negative life experiences and messages which we pick up in our childhood and from the culture we live in.  We may for example be resistant to engaging with the Soothing System due to fears of being seen as selfish or arrogant, we may feel that we haven’t got the time or perhaps this system is unfamiliar to us and we simply don’t know how to activate it.

When we don’t engage with our Soothing System there is a risk that we can start to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety.  That’s why this type of therapy is called ‘Compassion Focused Therapy’ because we recognise the need to develop the Soothing System, to become more compassionate towards ourselves and others.  This helps to balance out the Drive and Threat/Protection System.

There are lots of different ways to activate the Soothing System and as with the other systems it’s very much down to your own individual preferences.  One particularly effective strategy can be to practice breathing exercises, body scans or meditation.  These work by turning on the parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system which is ‘on’ when you are in Threat/Protection mode.  There may be other things which you find soothing such as a warm blanket, certain foods, music or smells.

The other important element of the Soothing System is connection with people (or animals!) who make us feel safe and comfortable.  Make sure you seek out the right connections for you and put your energy into these positive, nourishing relationships.

Take some time to pause and reflect on how your soothing system is functioning at the moment …

How often are you in soothing mode – is this quite prominent in your day to day life or is it something which you would like to experience more?  

What feels comforting to you?

What activities could you try to see if they put you in soothing mode?

Who are the people you feel safe and connected with?

If you enjoyed this then you might like to explore these previous Forrest Rambles: 

The Power of Love!




Feel Pawsome!

Forest Bathing


Yoga for Mental Health