How To Be Truly Compassionate
Posted on 14th July 2021
Compassion is not simply being kind to others. There are seven componenents to true compassion and three ways in which it flows.
The 7 Components of Compassion
Kindness is best defined as the quality of intentionally acting with consideration, generosity or concern for others, without expecting anything in return. It has been noted that kindness can help reduce stress andimprove our emotional wellbeing. Being kind not only involves acts of kindness to others, but to ourselves too - which we often find harder, but is of true importance.
Understanding is a process of awareness, tolerance and comprehension. To be understanding is to be sympathetically aware of other people's feelings and to have good insight into situations. Only with proper understanding can we make the best decisions.
Dignity is the right of a person to be valued and treated ethically with honour. Acting with dignity towards others often indicates that we respect that individual. We must also show self-respect by acting with our dignity in mind also. To do this, we must believe we are worthy.
Respect can be described as having regard for the feelings, wishes or rights of others. Respecting someone
usually is a result of admiration for someone or something due to their abilities, actions, qualities or achievements. Respecting oneself could mean setting boundaries, pursuing your own interests and protecting your dignity. It has been said that for others to respect you, you must first respect yourself.
Experience, knowledge, intelligence and having good judgement could all be said to be defining features of someone who is wise. Tasks like decision-making, problem-solving or conflict resolution require wisdom. Wisdom is also needed for when we want to make a positive change to our lives or to know when something cannot be changed and we therefore need to work on accepting it.
Courage is often seen as the ability to do something major like fighting a battle or skydiving. In truth, courage is the act of feeling fear and doing something anyway. It is the practice of emotional strength to persevere and withstand adversity - being resilient.
Emotional strength can be defined as the power to endure and overcome a difficult situation, but also as the ability to respond in an open and vulnerable way in the face of intense emotional experience. In other words, it's important to remember that true emotional strength has little to do with stoicism or momentary reaction. Rather, it is a measure of someone's internal coping abilities, i.e. how well the are able to adapt to or recover from a stressful situation.
The 3 Flows of Compassion
Us to Us
The flow of compassion from ourselves to ourselves. In other words, how good we are at exercising self-compassion. Self-compassion can be split into three elements: self kindness, common humanity and mindfulness.
Practicing self-kindness entails being warm and understanding towards ourselves when we suffer, believe we have failed or feel inadequate in some way. Someone who is compassionate towards themselves will recognise that being imperfect, making mistakes and experiencing difficulty is an inevitable part of life so accept this reality with sympathy rather than getting angry or engaging in negative self-talk or criticism.
Self-compassion also involves recognising that suffering and feeling inadequate is part of the shared human experience i.e. something we all go through rather than something that happens to you alone. This is known as common humanity. Someone not exercising self-compassion may have the irrational belief that they are the only person suffering or making mistakes.
Taking a balanced approach to our negative emotions so feelings aren't suppressed nor exaggerated is helped by the practice of mindfulness. We are being compassionate to ourselves when we allow ourselves to hold space for our emotions, acknowledge them and are willing to observe them with clarity and open-mindedness.
The World to Us
We cannot often change how the world treats us or whether other people treat us with compassion. However we can recognise who isn't compassionate and make decisions based on that, and we can change how we view our misfortune, circumstance or position in the world.
Us to the World
This is the flow of compassion which people usually conflate with the definition of compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin 'compati' meaning 'suffer with.' In other words, when we are motivated to go out of our way to ease somebody's suffering, we are being compassionate.
However, it is important to recognise all of the components which play a part in being compassionate, such as courage and strength. Sometimes to be truly compassionate to someone else, not only should we act with kindness and understanding, we must also act with wisdom, courage and strength.
For example, telling someone a hard truth or setting strong boundaries in a relationship. This is sometimes referred to as 'tough love.' We may also need to exercise this type of compassion when dealing with ourselves when we perhaps need to set goals, make a hard decision or practice self-discipline.
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