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How to develop compassion: a fundamental tool for relationships

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One of the communicative and relational skills that can help us most to live in peace.

Compassion is sensitivity to the suffering of oneself and others. Its objective goes beyond comprehension, which is why it mobilizes the individual towards the commitment to alleviate and prevent this discomfort.

Even being necessary, socially compassion is not well seen. For many, it awakens contradictory emotions and becomes a non-pleasant feeling. Rejecting the possibility of feeling it in the first person and that others feel it, deprives the individual of a basic tool for their emotional balance.

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How to develop compassion

This week, Pilar Hurtado, a collaborating physician at the Mensalus Psychological and Psychological Assistance Institute, presents compassion as a fundamental tool for our personal relationships and encourages us to receive it from the love towards oneself and towards the other.

In fact, for many, the concept of compassion has a negative connotation (“I do not want you to feel compassion for me”). Why is it so complicated to integrate this concept?

Yes, this is a very repeated phrase. It is true that because of our Judeo-Christian roots, compassion is not well regarded, it seems to underestimate or belittle those who suffer. However, compassion, from the Buddhist perspective, is love and affection from which one hears their pain and the pain of others, is the sensitivity with suffering, with the commitment to alleviate and prevent it. Its essence is completely removed from prejudice, disparagement or invalidation, and is directly related to motivation and love.

In other words. It is a behavior aimed at producing well-being in those who suffer (we repeat, whether it is oneself or another person). In fact, compassion is a necessary instrument to achieve personal calm. Otherwise, we would be continually immersed in a duel of titans.

Why?

For a double war: the struggle between the different states/faces of the self (“I blame myself for”) and the struggle of me against the world (“I blame others for”). Of course, living like this is exhausting. Therefore, compassion provides a state of peace and tranquility from which we obtain basic wellbeing to open ourselves to other contexts, enhance our personal relationships and feel fulfilled.

What else implies self-pity?

The self-pity refers to the treatment of love that we give when things do not go well and, consequently, shame and self-criticism emerge. Self-Pity is an act of self-listening that leaves the guilty thoughts aside to promote respect. It is a clear sign of self-care.

Its structure is very complete. If we break it down, we find an emotional component, a cognitive component, and a behavioral component. The balance between these three elements is precisely what makes it an efficient tool.

Tell us more…

In the first place, compassion is an emotion that arises from the perception of the suffering of others and that provokes an impulse aimed at alleviating the suffering we perceive. On the other hand, it implies a cognitive component constituted by several facets: the attention to the suffering of others, the evaluation/analysis of said suffering, and the recognition of our capacities to intervene and alleviate it in an efficient way. Finally, compassion is also defined by a behavioral component that responds to the commitment and the decision to take actions aimed at eliminating suffering.

Differences between compassion, self-esteem, and empathy

Compassion and empathy are the same?

It is easy to confuse compassion with empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the place of the other, is the ability to understand and respect their thinking, feeling and behavior. Being empathetic means intellectually understanding the suffering of others.

All right. Compassion is something more. Compassion differs from empathy because, in addition to understanding perceived suffering, it awakens an impulse to carry out an action that treats such suffering with wisdom.

Compassionate action can neutralize the cause of suffering, but its main motivation is to accompany the pain with courage and strength while it is present. As we pointed out, it is a mobilizing feeling: it seeks care and attention.

And what is the difference between self-pity and self-esteem?

Self-esteem increases when we do things right. Self-pity refers to how we see and treat ourselves (the way we address ourselves) when things have not gone well for us. With it, a relationship of acceptance and non-judgment towards us is cultivated (we succeed or we fail).

Self-pity is one of the fundamental ingredients of positive self-concept and, with it, of self-esteem. Without self-pity, will we take care of our person from love and affection?

A way to live more authentic relationships

Broadly speaking, how can we develop compassion?

On an individual level, meditation is perfect to develop this ability. Likewise, experiencing compassion and the impact it generates through group work is, without doubt, another excellent way.

In recent years, different training programs have been created for compassion towards oneself and towards others (both in the general population and in the population with mental pathology). The results have shown the reduction of anxiety, anger, hostility, and depression among the participants, as well as an increase in the ability of Mindfulness (mindfulness).

Specifically, Paul Gilbert (2015) has developed the Focused Therapy in Compassion (CFT) from an evolutionary perspective and a model of emotional regulation for people with high degrees of shame and self-criticism.

Gilbert tells us that in order to develop compassion it is necessary to practice attention towards the suffering of the other. This is one of the first points to train. From here it is possible to empathize with the goal of intellectually understanding their suffering. Finally, as we explained, taking another step is to devise and carry out behaviors that seek to alleviate perceived suffering. These are behaviors that can be aimed at finding physical contact and/or transmitting a message: “I care about you and I care about your pain”.

For all this, it is interesting to inquire into our personal experience and build trust in our wisdom in security space. Group work offers this space.

What would you say to all those people who are reading this interview and, from the start, feel uncomfortable with compassion?

The practice of compassion offers an internal dialogue with a therapeutic power capable of alleviating suffering and increasing happiness outside of external circumstances. Training compassion generates a balance that, from the outside, is difficult to understand.

For this reason, all those readers who fear compassion would encourage them to do a work of introspection that brings them answers and would invite them to give themselves the opportunity to grow this essential tool for personal relationships, far from judgment and criticism.

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