“You can tell how wise someone is by how compassionate they are,” someone told me.
I have always been impressed by that and am seeking to be more compassionate. It also helps with couples I counsel.
Recently, I read the book, “Making Friends with Death” which highlights compassion. Judith Lief had great insights that I would like to share with you:
Compassion has three components-awareness, friendliness and openness.
Distractedness and self-absorption are the two obstacles to compassion.
The warmth and appreciation that we feel when we begin to accept ourselves leads, in turn, to an increased appreciation of others.
Instead of hiding from the suffering of others, we could let ourselves feel its sharpness.
Each time we lose sight of awareness, friendliness and openness, we run into problems for we are no longer expressing real compassion but compassion with a twist. Our misguided display of so-called compassion does no one any good and may actually cause harm.
When we are in touch with our own pain and discomfort, we are not as threatened by the pain we see in others and can be present rather than try to fix it. (pp. 99-107)
Another twist is manipulative compassion-we are so determined to help that we ignore the objections of the person we are “helping.” We are more invested in the project of helping than in the person being helped. We look down on them and try to convert them to our way of thinking and doing things- making them more like ourselves. We act as if we know what is best for them. Not only should they want our help, they should be appreciative once we impose our help on them. When we do not go along with such compassion the person often turns to anger. We are also upset if the people we help do not show quick enough results.
Compassion Credential-we make use of other people’s misfortunes to bolster our personal identity as “helper.” We are known for helping; it is our image, our reputation. Those who cannot be helped are a threat to us. We want people to see how much we care, how much we tried to help. This can twist even further by feeding off the very people we are attempting to help. The “helpee” feels guilty, vulnerable and increasingly dependent on us. We need them to be weak so we can demonstrate our compassion. It is like parents who are threatened when their children begin to show signs of independence.
Rush Job Compassion-take time to look around, see what is happening and how best to help or you can throw money at the problem and not even look someone in the eye or feel their pain, not connect. We stifle our feelings and close off the possibility of openness.
Guilt-Based Compassion- We focus on how we believe we should feel around someone in distress and make ourselves wrong if our feelings do not match our “should.” Nothing we do feels adequate in this situation- instead of simply allowing it to be, we act out of guilt to the point that sometimes we feel estranged and then get demanding of the person we are “helping.” The more demanding we are, the less satisfying it feels to help.
Heavy-Handed Compassion- We try to manipulate the tone of the whole environment- to ensure everyone is aware of the significance of the occasion. We take our task to help so seriously that we squeeze out the fun or lightness or spontaneity. We can take ourselves so seriously that we get caught up in our own importance rather than in helping.
Be in the moment with the person, open to their experience instead of having preconceived notions of how it should be, how feelings should be, how you should act. Be open to the person and let it unfold. Who knows, if you are truly open and vulnerable, they may help you. That may be the most helpful thing you can do for them.