Compassion-focused imagery reduces shame and is moderated by shame, self-reassurance and multisensory imagery vividness

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Iona Naismith *
Camilo Duran Ferro
Gordon Ingram
William Jimenez Leal
(*) Corresponding Author:
Iona Naismith |


Compassion-focused imagery (CFI) is an emotion-regulation technique involving visualization of a person, animal or object offering one compassion, to generate feelings of safeness. It is proven to increase self-compassion and reduce negative affect. This study explores two hypotheses not previously investigated: i) which sensory modalities can stimulate compassionate affect; and ii) whether presentation of pictorial stimuli can enhance CFI. Additionally, we examine iii) whether CFI can reduce shame and iv) whether self-criticism inhibits CFI, since previous studies have involved small samples or methodological limitations. After completing measures of self-criticism, selfreassurance and imagery abilities in five sensory modalities, participants (n=160) were randomly assigned to look at compassionate images during CFI (visual input), compassionate images before CFI (priming), or abstract images (control). Participants trialled CFI then rated compassionate affect and completed open-response questions. Before and after CFI, participants recalled a shame-based memory and rated state shame. Correlational analyses explored whether self-criticism, self-reassurance, and multisensory imagery abilities moderated outcomes. CFI significantly reduced shame regarding a recalled memory, particularly for those high in shame. Compassionate affect was predicted by imagery vividness in visual and bodily-sensation modalities. Self-criticism predicted poorer CFI In multiple regressions, self-reassurance predicted poorer CFI outcomes but self-criticism did not. Between-group effects did not emerge. Qualitative data suggested that pictures helped some participants but hindered others. CFI is a promising technique for shame-prone clients, but may be challenging for those with low imagery abilities or unfamiliar with self-reassurance. Multiple senses should be engaged.

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