Compassion. Oxford dictionary defines it as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Berkley says it literally means to suffer together. Other institutions add that the feeling motivates us to want to help. I say compassion is a love for others no matter their state and for ourselves no matter our state thus resulting in a desire to care and assist (I don’t like the word help because it implies the other person is helpless which I believe is never the case).
Compassion is probably currently one of the most important areas of study regarding the health and well being of mankind.
This topic (along with forgiveness, empathy, resilience, and love to name only a few) is no longer spiritual, abstract, intangible, out there, or non scientific. Stanford, one of our country’s greatest research institutions, has dedicated an entire center to research the topic of compassion. It is called The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Berkeley, another top university, has a website entitled Greater Good in Action: Science-based Practices for a Meaningful Life.
Harvard has a group in their medical school dedicated to Communication, Compassion, and Empathy.
HeartMath Institute has wonderful research on the benefits of compassion in helping us to relax and optimize our heart rates for better health.
If you google compassion research you find an enormous number of peer-reviewed studies on the SCIENCE of compassion. Holy cow! Compassion is now a science, an area of study. Real scientists. Real research. Real answers.
So, now that I have established that I am not just talking about some unimportant topic that is relevant to only the wildly enlightened few, I want to share our observations about how critical it is for people to have compassion for themselves, others, and their children.
Our number one goal in working with people (and ourselves) is to find the path back to compassion.
For example, if someone is struggling with a child who is challenging to them, they must find compassion for the child, or they will have a very hard time rebuilding the relationship with the child. We often see parents of AD/HD children who are very exhausted and frustrated wrestle with standing in compassion for their children. Maybe the parent does not struggle with organization and cannot relate to why the child cannot “just do it.” Sometimes the parent also struggles with AD/HD tendencies and had to exert enormous effort to accomplish their goals. In their mind, they believe that the child is just not trying hard enough. They cannot even feel compassion for themselves. Compassion is out of reach.
Judgment is blocking compassion. The parent is judging the child as lazy, not trying hard enough, or not good enough. Judgment hurts both parties. The parent is frustrated and triggered and even miserable. The child who is never oblivious to the judgment feels ashamed, angry, and/or possibly hopeless. The key is not just in finding strategies to help the disorganized child, it is to help the parent find their way back to compassion for the child who is struggling with a neurological variation that makes school very, very difficult. If the child could do the work or organize themselves with ease, they would. I refer to the late Dr. Mel Levine’s book The Myth of Laziness. There is no such thing as a lazy person. It is a symptom of a deeper issue.
Whenever we judge others, we are lacking compassion. We have not walked in their shoes. We are not even imagining walking in their shoes, which is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and value someone else’s perspective, even if it varies from your own. Empathy is a gateway to compassion.
We often can be compassionate towards the obviously physically handicapped, the blind, the deaf, the intellectually and/or developmentally delayed (if it is evident), the starving, the poor, the abused. It becomes harder to be compassionate with those who we believe “should” be able to do more, be more, or contribute more. A 20 year old young man should be able to take care of himself. A criminal should be able to reform himself. A drug addict should just stop using. A child should be able to remember her homework. How hard it that?
Well, when you look deep into the recesses of the person’s brain or psyche, you might just discover why it is so hard if not impossible. The problem is…we can’t see into a person’s brain to remind ourselves that, “Oh, yeah! That person’s front lobe has some hyperperfusion making organization really, really hard.” If we could we might be more compassionate.
What does compassion do for us? Well, apart from all the wonderful health benefits referenced in the research mentioned above, compassion allows us to be OK when someone else is struggling. Being OK is a very valuable commodity for the human psyche. When we believe we are OK, we tend to be healthier all around.
What does compassion do for others? Simply, knowing someone else has compassion for you helps you be OK just as you are. If you are not OK with yourself just as you are, bad things start to happen including anxiety, low self esteem, depression, unhappiness, shame, illness, etc.
What if no one has compassion for you? (This is a belief that many people have.) This is rarely true but we can become immune to compassion if we tell ourselves it isn’t there. So, what if we really believe no one has compassion for us. No one understands. No one gets me. The bad things start to snowball. Then what do you do?
People who feel a lack of compassion from others typically are mirroring the fact that they themselves have little to no compassion for themselves. Self compassion is the most important of all. Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you. If you cannot love yourself, you cannot allow others to love you. You literally have put up the road block signs for love.
If you are thinking, well, I am really down in the dumps and cannot find a way to love myself. Take advantage of the two way mirror. Start sending out compassion to little things (maybe not even people at first). Send some compassion to a little bug in your home and escort them outside instead of stepping on them. Feel compassion for animals. Then move up to children, especially babies. Then step into compassion for those less fortunate that are not close to you. Move to friends or acquaintances. Then family if possible. You will find forgiveness to be invaluable when attempting compassion with family. Forgiveness is a future blog post.
You must learn what compassion feels like. This will allow you to search inside for that spark of compassion we all have for ourselves. We can be gentle with ourselves. Forgive ourselves. Understand our strengths and weaknesses and embrace them. Recognize what makes us lovable. Love ourselves. Then we can be happy and healthy. Seriously. Happy and healthy are hard to come by if we are not compassionate with others and ourselves.
If you really embrace the concept of compassion and how it can heal you and others, then I have just written myself out of a job. Yay!