More than being nice
The world needs more compassion right now. Compassion, while related to empathy, is specifically defined by a sense of shared suffering, often in conjunction with “a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another.” Compassion can be shown by supporting a friend who is sad, organizing or donating to support victims of disaster, volunteering, offering to help someone carry their groceries, etc.
When we talk about someone suffering, we tend to think of death or abuse, but suffering can look like a lot of things, even insignificant things, like traffic, aches and pains, bosses, clients, or coworkers being rude, guilt about making a mistake, or groceries being out of stock. Often, it’s easier to be compassionate about something large and traumatic instead of these small things, even though we still deserve it.
Being compassionate in a relationship
As with most things, compassion in relationships can be executed in both a healthy or an unhealthy way. Unhealthy examples of compassion are:
- Always feeling as though the other person is hurting you intentionally.
- Feeling personally hurt by your partner’s bad mood.
- Feeling as though there’s no flexibility in your rules or agreements.
- Feeling as though it’s your job to fix your partner’s bad mood or feelings.
A healthy compassionate relationship looks like:
- The ability to empathize with your partner and adjust your expectations as needed.
- Trusting your partner to be understanding if you’re having a difficult time.
- Maintaining healthy boundaries, which are rarely needed.
Why is it so hard sometimes?
It’s easy to focus internally on yourself and assume everyone around you is in a neutral state, which can impact your ability to empathize. Additionally, a lack of self-compassion can make it harder for you to be compassionate to others, so make sure you’re practicing it with yourself as well. Media can also have a negative effect, as well as the fact that our culture tends to emphasize more on how we’re different than how similar we are. From the time we’re children, we’re taught that competition should be valued over cooperation, and are very attuned to reacting when we think someone is getting something they don’t deserve. Add on to that the fact that we’re taught to view people as simply good and bad rather than complex, whole creatures, and you have an extensive list about the setbacks we experience when trying to practice compassion.
Balance is key. Remember that compassion doesn’t equal forgiveness, and that you can empathize and have compassion for why someone might treat you badly, but you don’t have to allow them to continue to do so. We can’t control how others treat us, but practicing compassion can alleviate some of the extra suffering we might experience afterwards. Lastly, if you call someone out on doing something bad, make sure it’s with the intention of helping them change for the better.
Here are a few exercises for you to practice feeling compassion. They’re simple, but practice makes perfect, and feeling compassion is sometimes a muscle that needs to be flexed.
Repeat the steps to yourself:
- “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
- “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
- “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness, and despair.”
- “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
- “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
Practice Metta meditation, first introduced to us by Annalisa Castaldo in episode 222:
- “May you be happy.”
- “May you be healthy.”
- “May you be safe.”
- “May you be at ease.”
Find small acts of kindness
- Recognize that everyone is suffering.
- Find a small thing someone could do to ease YOUR suffering.
- Do that thing for someone else, like holding a door, smiling at someone, letting them go first, speaking a kind word, listening to someone, doing a chore for them, being understanding of a bad mood, etc.
- Inner Weather Report: Assess your current emotional state, and see how much sunshine you can generate just by acknowledging your feelings.
- Move remaining feelings of discomfort to your heart, and let them stir up there, mixing in as much of your positive energy as possible.
- Take yourself outside the situation and be objective about it. What would you say to someone else in your situation?
- Examine the difference between caring and caring too much, and figure out where you might be over caring.
- Think back to your objective advice to yourself, and if there’s anything you can enact right now, do it!
Additionally, the Healthy Minds Program, an app for iOS and Android, is free for individuals and is a great resource for mindfulness.