Compassion, like love, is a word used freely, possibly without much consideration of its meaning.
We talk about ‘feeling compassion’. But it’s much more than an emotion, although it’s certainly ‘heartfelt’.
You might have noticed the phrase ‘experience compassion’, which suggests it involves ‘knowing’, and awareness of a situation.
Others believe in ‘practising compassion’, and talk about ‘acts of compassion’, which adds a third important component: doing something.
What exactly is compassion?
Compassion involves the whole person – head, heart, and hands. When you are experiencing, feeling, and practising compassion, you are engaging with another human being in the fullest way.
In simple terms compassion involves three, almost inseparable parts:
- Awareness – noticing, knowing about, and attempting to understand someone else’s suffering or need, from that person’s point of view
- Empathy – putting yourself into the other’s shoes, and trying to feel as that person feels; recognising that human beings share similar fears, challenges, and pain
- Action – using your awareness and feelings to shape your behaviour towards the person; treating the person with appropriate care and kindness
Any one of these, without the others, is empty or, at best, inadequate.
Self-compassion – the ‘Golden Rule’ in reverse
Many decent and compassionate human beings live according to an age-old principle that says: ‘Behave towards others, as you would like them to behave towards you’. Many of us forget, though, that we should treat ourselves like that too.
The ‘Golden Rule’ works both ways. Self-compassion is about engaging with ourselves exactly as we would with those in need of care.
We can be gentle with ourselves without being indulgent. We can treat ourselves kindly without being self-pitying. We can focus on our own needs without being self-centred.
D. I. (F.) Y.
You do it for others, so ‘do-it-for-yourself’, too. When you practise self-compassion, the same three-fold ‘head-heart-hands’ approach applies:
- Be aware of your pain, need, or challenge. Acknowledge it.
- ‘Empathise’ with the part of you that feels sad, or hurt, or threatened. Give yourself permission to feel that way. And believe that it is human and natural to have these feelings here, and now.
- Act kindly towards yourself, in a way that might bring comfort, self-forgiveness, or just lift your spirits.
Make time for a chat with a trained psychologist, who can help you with these important self-compassion skills.
Make it part of your life
Self-compassion is a little like going through life with a loving friend. You.
Think about how you act towards a loved friend. You again.
- You don’t ignore your difficulties or hurts
- You are understanding of your mistakes, faults, and failures
- You speak kindly and respectfully to yourself
- You honour, protect, and care for yourself
- You don’t expect yourself to be perfect – just human
You already know how to be a good friend, so you know the rest….