If we were having coffee this weekend I’d ask you whether you think our world could use more compassion.
I certainly do.
I’m amazed by daily reports of abuse and neglect, particularly against the most vulnerable in our societies.
Compassion is feeling sympathy for someone who is stricken by misfortune with a desire to alleviate the suffering.
Regardless of whether that person is you or someone else, three things are necessary for compassion:
- You must recognize the suffering
- You must feel moved and want to help
- You realize the common humanity in suffering
It’s easy to recognize suffering if there are outward signs, but many people hide their anguish for a variety of reasons.
And sometimes we don’t recognize it in ourselves, either. We often confuse sadness and anger when they can be one and the same.
This was something I discovered after enduring a long-term, verbally abusive marriage. I was extremely angry at the way my spouse treated me, but didn’t realize the feelings of outrage were interlaced with great sadness.
With some therapy and a lot of helpful books, I was able to develop a better awareness of my own feelings and how they dictated my behavior. I learned about Emotional Intelligence (EI), which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships carefully with insight and sensitivity.
It’s taken a lot of self-reflection and work, but I score much better today on EI measurements. Also known as emotional quotient (EQ), Justin Bariso, author of EQ Applied, researched for two years what emotional intelligence looks like. He composed a list of 13 signs of high EI. It’s an easy read in case you’re wondering how many you possess.
This is easy for me when it comes to other people. I’ve always been empathetic and sometimes to my own detriment. This is a hallmark of codependence; putting other people’s needs first because you feel sorry for them. But, what about yourself?
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that showing empathy to ourselves is a sign of good mental health. Instead, I’d listen to my inner critic, which is always quick to point out weaknesses and failures. Compassion was something I saved for others, not realizing how much I needed it, myself.
Once I began to practice self-compassion I found a sense of peace. A calm mind allows for thoughts and feelings to flow freely with a clarity that doesn’t hide or distort the truth.
Realize normal vs undue suffering
This one is a bit more complicated. Yes, everyone suffers at times. But, at the hands of an abuser, you mistakenly think that you deserve the pain; that you’ve done something to warrant the criticism and put-downs. Essentially, I could look at other abused people and feel sorry for them, but not myself.
It’s a strange concept now that I’ve healed from those years of malicious treatment. If only I had cared for myself back then the way that I do today. I would’ve salvaged so much time and self-esteem. However, I’m grateful that I got out of that toxic environment with a much better appreciation for myself.
I still have moments where I doubt my abilities. But, I recognize this as a human condition that everyone feels at times.
The difference now is that I’m aware when those feelings strike. I’ve learned to counter the fear and doubt by using positive self-talk.
I’ve learned to treat myself the way that I’d treat a loved one; with care and compassion. I focus on my strengths and allow for the weaknesses. If I fail at something I encourage myself to try again.
Because of all that I’ve learned, I’m able to be my own best friend. And that helps me be a better friend to others!
Revised & reposted from 2017