Compassion…. a simple word, a simple concept, a lovely experience to both provide and receive. However,
compassion is rarely provided when it’s needed. It’s easy to provide compassion to a victim of a crime, to an innocent child, but what about when someone makes a mistake, hurts someone else’s feelings, or indirectly hurts someone else? Is compassion no longer required? Working with emotional brokenness brings to light just how often people feel anything but compassion for others.
According to Laura Davis, author of Allies in Healing, compassion is a person’s capacity to understand what another person goes through, sense another person’s perspective, perhaps “walk in their shoes”, without losing their sense of self (1991.) This definition of compassion is helpful in maintaining one’s interdependency and intimacy during the most challenging and frightening moments in relationships. Often times, wounded people are involved in loving relationships, which can understandably result in reactive decision making. Whether this reactivity is external or internal, such as yelling or shutting down, remembering to have compassion for the person expressing the wounding can have positive long term affects. Showing compassion is not showing weakness. It is quite the opposite. Having compassion for someone who is expressing pain takes internal strength and courage. This only comes from remaining whole within you or remaining self-differentiated.
But how do I remain whole and self-differentiated when I am feeling hurt and angry?
This is a fair and legitimately normal question. Though it is normal to feel hurt and angry at a person or a situation, it is not healthy for your mind and heart to remain focused on what your first judgments are about the situation. Your first response, though normal, is built-in at a more reactive level. Your reactive level is built to defend and protect your ego and your sense of self. However, further investigation into your deeper internal processes can help you realize the important value or issue this event has stirred in you. If you feel agitated, then you are experiencing yourself at a deeper level. The outside world may be judged as being “stupid” “irritating” “wrong” etc.; however the most important issue is your internal process.
What sorts of emotions and values is the situation stirring in you?
When you own your responses and reactions to life, you stop giving away power to other people or situations. You honor and respect your feelings by recognizing the relationship that occurs within you. Looking simply at your first reaction doesn’t speak to the depth of who you are….it only says “I feel like running, fighting, cutting off, shutting down, judging, shouting, etc”. Looking deeper says we are able to be intimate and honest within ourselves. So what does that have to do with compassion? Compassion can only come when we recognize that all of us are fallible, imperfect, misunderstood, and sometimes hurtful to one another because of our internal processes. If we can understand this possibility for all people, then we can understand our partners with more compassion, without losing our own sense of protection, safety, and love for ourselves.
Being able to understand your internal and external reactions will help shed light on how compassion might be hard to give to your loved one. You may be unable to be compassionate with yourself, which is part of the reason you can’t provide it. Self-love is hard if you don’t believe you’re lovable. The gift of choosing this journey is shorter lows, less times of despair, reduced frustration, less fighting, better communication, and greater intimacy, within you and with others.