At the lowest points in our lives, the presence and care of one supportive person can be life-changing. Our pain or loss may be just as real, but we suffer less knowing we’re not alone.
Coming together in this way works a sort of alchemy, transforming one person’s pain into a shared feeling of uplift. Indeed, compassion is the opposite of a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers. Both giver and receiver benefit.
Psychology researchers have begun developing a science of compassion: What is it? What are the benefits? How can we foster it? Based on a review of studies (link is external) on compassion, here’s what it is and why it’s a good thing:
- Our suffering is recognized and acknowledged. Compassion starts with a willingness to see someone else’s pain. Rather than looking away, denying the pain, or choosing to ignore it, we acknowledge the person’s experience. This acknowledgment makes us feel less alone in our suffering.
- We understand the universality of human suffering. Part of compassion is knowing that at some point, everyone hurts. In this way the pain is relatable. While pain is a personal experience, it is also a common and unavoidable part of what it means to be human. Thus we feel a further joining with others in the shared recognition that pain is part of existence.
- There is an emotional response to our suffering. Compassion is not simply knowing that another person is in pain; there is an emotional component, a “feeling with,” as the etymology of compassion suggests. It’s comforting to feel another person’s heart go out to us.
- Compassion requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings. While there are benefits to being compassionate, it’s also not easy. Connecting emotionally with another’s pain activates our stress response (fight-or-flight, or freeze). It takes emotional work to stay with a person’s pain rather than fleeing or trying to deny it in some way (e.g., by blaming the person for their distress). When we see that a person isn’t running from our pain, we’re better able to withstand our own discomfort.
- There is a motivation to alleviate our suffering. Compassion involves feelings but not just feelings. We would probably not feel much compassion from someone who acted sad for us but was unwilling to help. When we respond with compassion we’re moved to act. As a result another person’s compassion can improve our situation, and we feel better just knowing someone is trying to help us.
You can probably think of people you know who seem to have a lot of compassion, and others who have little. Recent studies suggest that compassion is not a fixed trait; it can improve with treatment, which in turn leads to other benefits.
First, the treatments were effective in increasing compassion. The average increase was considered “moderate,” meaning we would likely notice that the person was a better version of themselves.
Those who received training in compassion experienced a range of additional benefits, including:
- Greater mindfulness. Compassion requires our presence and our acceptance, so it’s not surprising that the treatments led to increases in this dimension. As we’ll see below, it also makes sense given that some of the specific interventions were explicitly mindfulness-based.
- Better mood and lower anxiety. Compassion training was effective at lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety, which is a remarkable finding. By focusing on alleviating others’ suffering, we alleviate our own in the process.
- Enhanced overall well-being and lower distress. Along with greater compassion came an overall sense of wellness and ease in life. These findings again underscore that compassion is helpful all around.
A crucial finding from the review by Kirby and colleagues was that compassion training could also increase our capacity for self-compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff, who has led the way in research on self-compassion, defines it (link is external) as:
“being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience.”
Self-compassion is the antidote to our tendency to ignore our own needs and be critical of ourselves when we most need love and support.
Practices to Raise Compassion
So how can we increase our ability to show compassion for ourselves and others? The review by Kirby et al. noted that the treatments involved some combination of:
- Guided Meditation. A common practice to enhance compassion is the loving-kindness meditation. It involves deliberately fostering a sense of warmth and care for others and oneself, starting with those who are easy to love and moving gradually to more complicated relationships. Ready to give it a try? Here’s an example: The Befriending Meditation from Finding Peace in a Frantic World (link is external).
- Education. Simply learning more about compassion can increase our ability to enact it. For example, it can be helpful to learn about the benefits to ourselves and others of greater compassion, and to distinguish it from other experiences like pity or, in the case of self-compassion, being self-indulgent. We may find that just by being more aware of the concept, we’re better able to practice it. Dr. Neff’s book on self-compassion (link is external) is an excellent starting point.
- Self-Reflection. When we take time to think about our own experiences of compassion, we might discover things that can get in the way. For example, we might find that being overextended lessens our access to compassionate responses, or that overly harsh expectations of ourselves make it hard to be self-compassionate. This reflection can help us discover ways to remove these blocks.
- Imagery. We often resist compassion from ourselves and even from others. It takes practice to open ourselves to receiving love and care, and that practice can begin through imagery. For example, one study asked participants to “imagine a ‘compassionate being’ expressing compassion to them.” Over time we can become more comfortable with being on the receiving end of compassion—which can also increase our ability to extend compassion to others.
- Writing. Some studies had participants write a letter to themselves from the perspective of a compassionate friend, since for some reason it’s much easier to be compassionate with others than with oneself. With practice we can begin to internalize greater compassion for ourselves. Writing (as opposed to just thinking compassionate thoughts) may be particularly beneficial because we can be more deliberate and explicit about the words we use; it can also make it easier to commit the practice to memory so we can access it when we need to.
Have you wanted to improve your relationships and express more care and concern for the people in your life? Are you tired of beating yourself up and ready for an alternative? Consider giving one of these approaches a try.
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Raila is exactly where Samson was and wants to go down with every Kenyan – Mutahi Ngunyi
Controversial Kenyan political activist Mutahi Ngunyi is back, this time taking issue with the National Super Alliance (NASA) flagbearer Raila Odinga. Ngunyi h
Tripp Advice (Youtube)
3 Ways To Keep A Woman Around
Do you know what it takes to keep a woman around and keep her interested in you?
Do you know how to get a woman so attracted to you so you can create a successful long-term relationship with her?
Join me on my daily walk as I go through the 3 things you need to focus on if you want to keep a woman around.
Thank you all who believe in your greatness for that is the first step to achieving your dreams.
You must not be afraid to try and you must not be afraid to make mistakes. Some people will enjoy your failure, some will even pay to see it. They will not understand that with every failure you get the success of learning.
The person who tries and makes mistakes is better than the person who does not try because the person who does not try has not even started making mistakes.
Before a plane takes off it first moves on the runway to gain momentum. The plane does not rise instantly
The runway momentum is very key to the plane rising. You may seem to be working but not rising. You work every day following your dreams but your situation does not get any better. This is the truth, just like a plane is built for the sky you are born for greatness. You may not be rising because you are on the runway but you will rise when you have enough momentum.
When you have gained enough momentum not even gravity can pull you down. In this case, gravity is anyone who wants to see you fall and people who discourage you. If you have been up before you understood you would have low moments.
A plane can’t stay in the sky forever. It must land for servicing and refueling. Use your lowest moments to reflect and become a better you. Use your lowest moments to improve yourself, this will prepare you for the next flight in life.
Yes, you were born for greatness so hit the runway.
One of My Favorite Time Management Techniques
My encouragementto you is to make a list of all the ways you spend your time and then number them according to what quadrant they fit into. Anything that is a 3 or 4 either is something that you either need to stop doing, delegate or adjust in some way. The number that you want to appear most on your list is 2 as that means you are spending the majority of your time on things that are important and yield the biggest payoffs.