attachment disorder

Impaired Self-Soothing and Emotional Regulation

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Part 3

Impaired Self-Soothing and Emotional Regulation

” Liotti and Gilbert (2011), Fonagy (1996), and many other developmentally based researchers describe how people cannot learn to emotionally regulate in the same way as they learn facts. Social encounters can soothe us when in distress, and it is through repeated experiences of such support that people can come to learn to sooth and emotionally regulate themselves in an automatic and implicit way (Fonagy, Gergely, & Jurist, 2003; Germer, 2009; Gilbert, 2009; Schore, 2012; Siegel, 2010). Babies begin their lives experiencing extreme and unintegrated bodily sensations (Allen, 2013). Allen (2013) states “integration of disparate experiences is a developmental achievement, and such integration rests on a mentalizing infant–caregiver relationship in which the caregiver holds the infant’s mind in mind” (p. 82).

There is much evidence from the child development literature that demonstrates the important ongoing role that attachment figures have in helping us tackle challenges and anxieties in life. For example, Sorce, Emde, Campos, and Klinnert (1985) showed that infants who saw an encouraging figure at the other end of a visual cliff felt enabled to walk across transparent Perspex and overcome any uncertainty about the apparent drop beneath them. Infants whose mothers looked afraid did not move across the Perspex because they were signalled of danger.

Compassionate internalized representations of self and other can therefore give us courage to approach problems and fears. Interpersonal trauma, however, compromises the development of emotion regulation capacities (Schore, 2012; Siegel, 2010) and the capacity to integrate various aspects of experience (Liotti & Gilbert, 2011). Gilbert (2009) describes how there can follow an escalation of difficulties because when the soothing system is compromised by threat, less caring impulses will emerge. Such behaviors shut out possible sources of reparative emotional support.

Compassion-Focused Therapy

Compassion-focused therapy (CFT) engages each client toward caring for his or her own well-being and pays particular attention to the emotional tone of self to self relating during the therapeutic process (Gilbert, 2009, 2010). It facilitates a mindfulness to the person’s own needs and addresses adaptive emotional processing by harnessing a warm, wise, and nonjudgmental appreciation of the client’s own predicament. That is, experiencing the process with “affiliative emotion” (Gilbert, 2014). It may do this by including imagebased skills training and then using that to address attachment-based fears, learnt survival strategies regarding self-care, and emotional conditioning (Gilbert & Irons, 2005)…”


  1. Kennedy, A. (2014). Compassion-Focused EMDR. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 8(3), 135-146.



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