Compassion: For yourself and others

Helping others

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

Ian Maclaren

Practicing compassion is a powerful way to help others, and is more sustainable than being empathic.

Whilst empathy is a wonderful trait, having too much can leave you feeling drained, because you absorb other people’s pain and distress into yourself. Whereas, by showing compassion, you remain sufficiently detached to show both care and a degree of resourcefulness that enables you to help people.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Dalai Lama

Compassion is the cognitive understanding of how another person is feeling. It’s better for our own wellbeing and that of others. Buddhism calls it ‘Karuna’, meaning you have concern about another, not by sharing their suffering, but by feeling FOR them not WITH them.

Matthieu Ricard is a French Buddhist monk and author of the book Happiness. In it, he quotes research by Tania Singer, a neuro-scientist and director at the acclaimed Max Plank Institute in Germany.

Singer found that – when repeated over time – empathic resonance with other’s pain can lead to burnout. This was particularly noticeable in the medical profession, such as nurses. By contrast, people with compassion were less likely to burn out.

“Compassion strengthens our fortitude, our inner balance, and our courageous determination to help those who suffer.”

Matthieu Ricard

Helping yourself

Self-compassion – having compassion for yourself – is also good for you!

However, we are often our own worst critic. To counteract this tendency, Dr Kristin Ness talks about three components of self-compassion:

  1. Self-kindness (as opposed to self-criticism)
  2. Common humanity (as opposed to isolation)
  3. Mindfulness (as opposed to over-identifying with our thoughts and feelings)

Another way of looking at it is to have the motivation and intention to treat ourselves as we would a good friend.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that builds on and complements Kristin’s work. It suggests that self-compassion is closely allied with emotional resilience, and gives three steps to help you practice self-compassion:

  1. Begin by acknowledging what and how you feel. Don’t stay in your head. Be in touch with your emotions, including negative ones such as anger, hurt, rejection, shame, or feeling a failure
  2. Acknowledge that other people in your position would probably feel the same as you. You are human! You are not alone! Stop beating yourself up!
  3. Finally, be kind to yourself. Think what you would say to a friend, and say it to yourself. Do something that you know cares for you: what activities make you feel calmer and more relaxed? Often something as simple as going for a walk (particularly in nature) can help you get things in perspective.

Once you’ve done these three steps, you can decide what to do about whatever made you feel that negative emotion in the first place.

Test how self-compassionate you are >

We’re all human, imperfect, and never will be perfect. Going into 2018, how can you be kind to yourself?

One of the most helpful pieces of advice I was once given was for me to acknowledge to myself that I am doing my best – if you can truly know you are doing your best, then that is more than good enough.

Practicing self-care

Here are some other ways to help take care of yourself and put your challenges into perspective:

  • Don’t overwork, especially when the pressure is on. Working too hard stops you being resourceful
  • Practice mindfulness (See my articles on Mindfulness and What mindfulness means for you)
  • Be kind to yourself. Stop beating yourself up. We are only human, and sometimes things don’t go according to our grand plan!
  • Make time for your friendships. Try to have a few work friends that you can turn to in times of trouble as they will be more likely to understand; however, they can sometimes unknowingly collude, so also talk work problems over with people who do something completely different to you
  • Practice empathy (within reason). Try to understand where the other person is coming from – but don’t over-extend your empathy or you’ll feel too much pain and that’s not good for you or them. Instead, ask how they feel, what they want and what they think. This will help you both understand the situation more fully, and determine how best to respond. It shows empathy, but prevents the exhaustion that comes from experiencing too much emotion
  • Take a break during the day, to gain perspective and restore your mind
  • Look after your physical self. Get enough exercise, eat healthily, and get enough sleep
  • Read my article on positive psychology

To appreciate the importance of relationships, please see this 12-minute TEDx talk.




Next month

Perfecting the art of public speaking