Let’s talk about Compassion
Are you one of the many who feel for those suffering all over the world? Do you feel compassion and maybe even pity when you see people running in war-torn areas. Or children dying of hunger and other illnesses, or any one of the other horror scenarios portrayed nightly on your tv? Are you moved to help when you see someone in a difficult situation in your everyday life?
I think it is easy for most of us to feel compassion with the situations of others we deem less fortunate than ourselves.
Compassion, though closely related is however not the same as empathy or pity. When we feel empathy we are able to place ourselves in the others person situation. That does not necessarily mean that we want to help them though. Pity is feeling sorry for someone but not necessarily from the perspective of wanting to help them. Compassion is when we are able to let go of just thinking about ourselves and turning our attention on the needs of others.
Why do we feel compassion for others?
When we see someone suffering we commonly experience a feeling of wanting to help. We want to do something to help alleviate their situation which we perceive as undesirable. There is a desire to share their suffering/pain. Thus compassion arouses a whole array of different emotions in us, like kindness, caring, being tolerant, considerate and so on.
Research tells us that compassion is apparently an inherent aspect of our being. In his co-edited book The Compassionate Instinct, Dacher Keltner, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley suggests that the brain “…seems wired up to respond to others’ suffering—indeed, it makes us feel good when we can alleviate that suffering” He also references studies at the Universities of Wisconsin and UC Berkeley which show that both in situations regarding those close to us as in cases where someone unknown is suffering some harm, our “compassion” instincts are activated. They also found out that compassion could be trained.
Further research from both The Max Planck Institute and (David Rand) at Harvard show that helping is not restricted to adults but appears intrinsic of both adult and child behaviour.
The other end of the spectrum
However we also witness behaviours contrary to a general feeling of compassion by the majority. The opposite feelings or reactions may present as indifference, ridicule or even loathing. An example of this would be the response to the Boko Haram kidnapping in 2014 by commentator and writer Ann Coulter. While most of the rest of the world was in shock and experiencing compassion for the plight of the kidnapped girls, she appeared to be poking fun at the concern expressed by others.
What about self compassion?
But what about YOU? How compassionate are you with yourself? It appears that the majority find it more difficult to express self compassion and directing love and attention to ourselves and our situations. Now this is not about being narcissistic, egotistical, conceited or selfish in their negative forms but rather in the positive sense of these words.
Is self compassion being selfish?
Let me share a secret with you – it is not only ok to be self-ish, take care of, nurture and be happy with yourself; it is highly recommended and very beneficial. Check this: if you are unhappy, down, tired, miserable, in a rut (and any other adjective you can find to describe such a state), how can you give to others, how can you show love, be supportive, compassionate and kind?
Do you find yourself being harsh and critical of yourself? Do you call yourself all kinds of names when you (or worse still someone else) feel you have done something wrong? And then this nagging feeling of actually BEING WRONG- not good enough, not strong enough, not fast enough, not accomplishing enough… you get the picture right? Well, I received a personal message for you this morning – YOU ARE PERFECT AS YOU ARE! THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU!
Self compassion can actually help others
You, like the rest of us, are doing the best you can at this moment in time! And as there is no time better than right NOW, what about taking a step to start being compassionate to yourself. Start by taking time out (every day) to love yourself, nourish yourself in any way you need to. Also forgiving yourself, and giving yourself the love and attention you need will grow your feeling of self-compassion. I believe you will soon start noticing a change in your level of tolerance, kindness, how you listen and react to others and of course yourself.
Some ways to cultivate self compassion
Being self-compassionate is telling yourself, ” I love me, I accept myself, I forgive myself, I honour myself, and I am doing the best that I can because that is the best I can do.”
This will not only help you get out of any victim state you might be in. It will recharge your batteries, making you feel more alert, present, balanced and motivated. You are then in a better place to give.
- Remember of course to also be open to receiving. Allow others the opportunity of also being in balance by accepting what they have to offer. Especially when it is coming from a place of love and respect.
- Be more patient with yourself
- Learn to be more accepting of yourself and your shortcomings. Rather than judging yourself or your mistakes accept them and make an attempt to understand why they happened.
- We know that physical touch as in massage causes the oxytocin hormone to be released. It calms and soothes us. Our sense of security is attributed to this hormone. So just by hugging ourselves or holding ourselves we encourage a feeling of self compassion.
What difference will being compassionate make to your life?
Even when others are acting in ways which we disagree with, being compassionate towards them will benefit us. For one thing it brings us to a state of calmness. We are less agitated, more patient and are better able to listen. Accepting others and their situations the way they are, means less stress about wanting to fix them. We may also react less negatively to their situation. Accepting others unconditionally makes us more relaxed. We stress less about what we perceive might not be ok with their situation.
Being compassionate will bring you a deeper sense of pleasure. Many studies have shown that helping others and being compassionate really increases our sense of happiness.
Compassion can help us in our own development. In many 12 step programs where service is an inherent part of the “treatment”, alcoholics are reportedly less likely to relapse if they have been actively involved in helping other.
Further benefits of being compassionate are lower blood pressure, improved physical, mental and emotional health. Being compassionate also deepens our spiritual development. Compassion on this level makes us less prone to judging others and more likely to be accepting. It reduces anger and makes listening easier. Other studies have shown a direct relationship between helping others and happiness as can be seen from the conclusion of a 2008 article by F. Borgonovi Doing Well by Doing Good. “Results indicate that formal volunteering is correlated to health and happiness, and systematic differences in correlations were not due to differences in socio-economic characteristics. Volunteering is significantly associated with happiness, and increased frequency of formal volunteering increases levels of self-reported happiness.”
Both on a spiritual level as from the perspective of mind and body, there is much evidence to show that compassion does indeed influence our lives in very positive ways. When we are compassionate we not only help others but we help and benefit ourselves at the same time
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