Updated: Nov 7
What is compassion?
The word compassion is used very often, interchangeably with empathy and concern. It has its origin in the Latin word "compati" which means 'to suffer with." There are two ways humans respond to the distress of others. The first is empathic distress, and the other is compassion. At first, you feel the empathy and weight of others' pain, and later you feel empathic concern or compassion in which positive emotions and desire to help are involved. These two responses entail different emotions; empathic distress usually induces the feeling of withdrawal that leads to poor mental and physical health.
In comparison, compassion or empathic concern is helping develop prosocial behaviour. It creates interpersonal and social connections that include the desire to help and action instead of pessimism, pain, escape, and withdrawal. A compassionate person wants to act, to help alleviate others' suffering. The difference between compassion, empathy, and altruism is clear. It is frequently confused with empathy. Emma Seppala, an associate director of The Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford Medical School, in her blog that she wrote for Psychology Today drew the difference between empathy and compassion. According to her, empathy is an emotional experience and understanding for another's feelings, e.g., feeling sad at a friend's sadness. Empathy is part of compassion, but they are not identical or interchangeable. Compassion is the emotional response to the perception of suffering but combined with the desire to help and act.
To be compassionate means feeling compassion for yourself and towards others. You must start with yourself. When you will feel compassionate towards yourself, then you will be able to feel compassion towards others healthily. Self-compassion is treating yourself in the same way as you treat your friends during their hard times. Three fundamental elements that are felt during pain are: being kind to yourself, common humanity (acknowledging that everyone can make a mistake and suffer from pain), and mindfulness. Self-compassionate people tend to be more compassionate towards others, happier, and more motivated in life with better health and less depression and anxiety. Self-compassion makes you strong and resilient, and you always need the strength and resilience to cope with life's stressful and unfortunate events. Being mindful of your journey, struggle, and hardships along the way, being kind to yourself during difficult times makes a great difference. Embracing yourself despite all the deep and superficial imperfections and failures make you stronger and thrive in life. If you are not kind and compassionate towards yourself, nobody will.
Self-compassion is being kind and gentle to ourselves. The general reaction and treatment we all give ourselves and others after some failure and the unfortunate event is complaining, judging, anger, and worrying. All of these emotions harbors negativity. But these negative reactions can be easily changed into more thoughtful, mindful, kind, and positive emotions. The simple ways to garner self-compassion are:
Having positive and kind self-talk.
Start eating food that is healthy for your body and brain.
Taking time off from work to go outdoors, to park, for a walk.
Stop worrying about making people happy at the expense of your time and health.
Spending time with people you love and showing kindness to them and even strangers.
Recognize common humanity and acknowledge we all are prone to suffering and struggle
Accept that people fail to achieve goals, have failed relationships, and we are people.
When you are thinking too hard and being unkind to yourself, stop whatever you're doing and take a deep breath.
Travel, plan a trip, look around your surroundings.
Be mindful; it means just being present at the moment.
Practice a digital detox now and then.
Write in your journal.
Avoid self-judgement and self-criticism
Allow yourself space and flexibility to make mistakes
Practice verbalizing your needs and boundaries
You shall not forget that suffering is a shared and common thing. To be compassionate towards yourself is understanding common humanity, and it leads you towards being compassionate toward others.
Compassion Towards Others.
Compassion, whether is towards yourself or the others, consists of these components:
Cognitive (recognizing that there is suffering)
Affective (feeling an emotional shift by that suffering)
Intentional (wishing a relief from that suffering, whether your own or others)
Motivational (being ready to act to relieve that suffering, again your own or others).
Compassion is like a muscle; you can strengthen your sense of compassion with exercise. There are several habits that can help you strengthen your sense of compassion. Training yourself for meditation and making a habit of practicing it is a good start. The same is for a walk, if you want to go for a walk and meditation for 30 minutes daily, that will help you with your mental and physical health. If you fail to do that for 30 minutes and do it for only 10 or 15 minutes, do not be hard on yourself and don't consider yourself a failure, as 10 minutes are still better than 0 minutes. There are several compassion-cultivating practices. As we know to suffer and acknowledging suffering causes us pain, so we immediately dismiss the bad news we read on paper or hear on tv, so it won't touch us and spare us the pain. The simple and initial way to cultivate compassion is appreciating others and what they are doing. When you go to a grocery store and standing in line, think about all the people who are making it possible, the people who grow food for everyone to feed, the ones who transport the food and goods to every corner, the people who stock the shelves and the cashier who deals with every customer. Take some moments to think about having an appreciation for all those people.
Benefits of Being Compassionate.
Being compassionate and making it part of your lifestyle leads you to greater psychological and physical well-being. Several studies indicated that being compassionate towards others and the act of giving makes humans as happy as the act of receiving. Jordan Grafman, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health, headed a brain-imaging study. In the study, they found that the part of the brain that gets activated by any pleasure experience is equally active when we do something compassionate for others. In another study conducted by Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, it was revealed that how the act of giving makes humans happy. The participants were divided into two groups, they were given an equal amount of money. One group was asked to spend money on themselves, and the other group was told to spend it on others. In the end, the participants who spent their sum of money on others were substantially happier than the other participants who spent it on themselves.
Getting support and help.
Apart from all the simple practices discussed above, you can get support and help for your emotional well-being once you are ready and willing. Our counsellors at Avery Therapy Centre are trained in supporting people in developing their ability to be compassionate and self-compassionate through respectful, gentle, and effective processes. These processes involve a combination of talk therapy, somatic/body-based practices, and gentle mindfulness techniques. Other resources are brought in to strengthen your understanding and capacity for self-compassion, such as at-home exercises, books, journaling, and video resources.
Counselling and Therapists in Vancouver.
If you live in Vancouver and are looking for a counsellor, Avery Therapy Centre can support you in your counselling journey. We care about your mental well-being and offer low-cost and affordable counselling in Vancouver and online as well. Avery Therapy Centre understands that seeing a therapist can be overwhelming for many people. But to achieve self-understanding, self-compassion and compassion, and insight, you need to take this first step to reach for counselling. Avery Therapy Centre offers registered and qualified counsellors to support you through challenges like anxiety and depression. Low-cost counselling, as mentioned earlier, is also provided at Avery Therapy Centre.