Compassion is the ability to understand the suffering of others and responds to the desire to alleviate and reduce it. This concept is simpler and at the same time more intense than empathy, it pushes us to want to help and mitigate a suffering that is foreign to us.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, makes us be more understanding with ourselves, especially when things don’t go as we hoped. Learning to develop compassion is a skill that can help us feel happier and more satisfied with our daily life; without abusing or lulling ourselves into it, of course.
Psychologist and researcher Paul Gilbert, creator of compassion-centered therapy, points out that feeling compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for others. Rather, it is a motivation that gives us the energy needed to help others, so that they themselves, with our help, can alleviate their own suffering.
The components of compassion
Literally, the word compassion means “suffering together” or “managing emotions with sympathy”. It is an emotion that arises when we perceive suffering in others and that pushes us to try to alleviate this pain that we see in others. It is divided into several components:
-A cognitive component that includes the attention and evaluation of the suffering of others, as well as the recognition of our ability to act in the face of it.
-A behavioral component that includes the commitment on the part of each and the firm decision to act in a way that helps eliminate suffering.
-An emotional component that pushes us to act on impulse by generating emotional reactions that cause us personal satisfaction. Our level of psychological well-being depends, in part, on the type of relationships we have with others. If we weave relationships with threads of kindness and compassion, it will be easier for us to feel satisfied with our actions.
Compassion opens our hearts
This emotion helps us connect with our heart to put ourselves in the shoes of others. It opens the door of emotions, allowing us to feel what our neighbor is experiencing, his pain and suffering.
Compassion, if real, helps us stop looking only at ourselves and look up to see our surroundings. It reminds us that we are not alone in the world, but that others are also important. If we offer honest help, it will give us great inner peace.
The act of compassion brings us closer to our neighbor, gives us the opportunity to give our best to help others, with humility and closeness. This makes us more human, sensitive and honest with the people around us, and of course, with ourselves. Whenever we care about someone in need, we are opening our hearts and offering the other sincere help.
The fear of compassion
Why don’t we take advantage of so many opportunities? We do not allow ourselves the opportunity to act with compassion because our focus is not well placed. Social neuroscience has shown that our natural impulse is to help. At the brain level we are programmed to deliver. So why don’t we sometimes help?
The emotion of compassion can lead us to feel fear of acting for several reasons, for example:
- Thinking that helping others to alleviate their suffering will make us vulnerable, this can cause us rejection.
- Being unable to observe the suffering of others, as this can awaken sad emotions that we may not want to feel.
- Reliving, through the feeling of compassion, the unresolved wounds of childhood, preventing us from coming into contact with the suffering of others.
- Feeling that if we come into contact with a suffering that does not belong to us, we will not be able to get out of it.
- Focus our attention on something else, which we perceive as “more important”.
Self-compassion: the ability to accept ourselves for who we are
Self-compassion is about realizing our inner suffering, being able to understand its meaning, being able to accept it, and ultimately granting ourselves affection. It’s a way of nurturing self-affection when things don’t go as planned.
Compassion invites us to look at society as a transformative force, from the inside out. Instead of filling ourselves with self-criticism and judgment, self-compassion allows us to be benevolent and to develop a loving adult within us who will care for and protect us every day. Suffering, in this case, instead of distancing us from humanity, unites us to it.
4 steps to develop compassion
If we want to perceive others’ suffering and exercise self-compassion, it will be necessary to train ourselves in the way we perceive pain. The only thing we have to do is concentrate, realize that we are not alone, that there are people who need help. That is, don’t look the other way. This means that in coming into contact with the suffering of others, we can feel upset by our emotions. This will be our second exercise, learning to manage the emotions that arise in us when we act guided by compassion.
Perceiving suffering, whether it is your own or someone else’s, is the first step to feeling compassion. For this we should open our hearts, so that we can get in touch with our emotions. For example, if we are on the street and we see that someone is in pain, we may stop for a moment to feel that pain, instead of walking away, as if it has nothing to do with us.
Evaluate the suffering of others
It is important to practice the gaze without judgment, otherwise compassion will not arise within us. It will not appear even if we have not taken the previous step of perceiving suffering. For example, if we think that the person deserves his pain, then it is possible that compassion will not show up.
Fully experience the emotion
Opening up to emotions means allowing us to try them all fully, even if at times they make us suffer and cause us a little discomfort. If we let ourselves be carried away by compassion, we may come into contact with a feeling of goodness.
For example, if we see news on television that strikes us, let us cry, don’t block it. In this way, we may feel freer when we feel compassion.
After being able to perceive the suffering of others, evaluate how great it is and experience it without censorship. We must act so that all an inner feeling does not remain. For example, work to try to relieve the pain of a friend or family member and offer them the emotional support they so badly need.
The positive effects of compassion
There are many positive effects for society and for ourselves when we feel compassion. For the Dalai Lama, the power of compassion has the following capabilities:
- Encourage an education focused on empathy, ethics and personal development.
- Create new economic systems that are fairer for society.
- Recognize that we are one human species, where there is no separation between them / us or higher / lower.
- Develop dialogue and communication instead of violence.
- Reduce social inequality by allowing greater transparency in all areas.
- Eliminate cultural differences, prejudices and corruption.
As we welcome compassion into our life, we will notice significant changes. We can feel by imagining a family member suffering and seeing the effects it causes in our body and then transmitting feelings of goodness and compassion to this person. Observe what changes in you with this exercise. Afterward, try to send good feelings to someone we like and understand what changes in our body.
Mindfulness or awareness helps us to develop this compassion that we could then turn towards others. To develop it, we should generate a mental space, private, where we can perceive the suffering of others, in order to take action . So we will start placing our bricks, helping to build a more just and generous world.
Change in society begins with us, feeling empathy and compassion first of all towards ourselves and then towards others. There is no excuse not to start today. The sooner we begin to feel compassion, the more happiness and well-being we can experience in everyday life.