Compassion and empathy are two words which have found their way more and more into our everyday language. Do we really understand what they mean and are we practicing these values?
I am still learning and integrating these two words and certainly at times I have to work really hard to bring in these emotions.
Certainly there are specific therapies that now focus on compassion such as Compassion Focused Therapy but we don’t need to go to a workshop or class to achieve compassion.
If we want to bring these aspects into our lives we need understand what they are first. Recently I read a description that highlights the subtle difference between empathy and compassion. In his book “Same Soul – Many Lives” Dr B Weiss states that empathy is an intellectual approach in trying to understand another person’s feelings. Compassion is more instinctual and comes from the heart so you can be compassionate without being empathic.
Trying to understand another person’s feeling can increase our awareness of others situations which we may have no prior knowledge or understanding of. It can often be suggested to “walk in another’s shoes” – to understand and appreciate how the other person is feeling.
Compassion is often a spontaneous feeling and comes from the heart with actions that are based in kindness. Both empathy and compassion take us on the eventual path of unconditional love.
It can be incredibly hard to put these into practice at times especially when you have been hurt by others but we always have choices in how we react and we choose our attitude. It can take a lot of mental strength, awareness and inner calm to show compassion but by doing so can drastically change the whole situation. Often it is not about changing the other person but it is about changing ourselves. If you come from a place of compassion then you are less likely to feel anger or frustration, stress will be reduced and you can let go of grudges and bring in forgiveness. This in turn may have a positive effect on the other person and thus changing the energy between you both.
It may mean taking time out to think and reflect quietly about a situation and then going back with a compassionate and/or empathic response.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:-
- How would I feel if I were in their shoes?
- What is contributing to them acting/behaving as they do?
- If I was at my most compassionate self how would I see the situation and how would I want to respond?
Compassion and empathy are not just for others but are equally important for ourselves. The starting point is always with ourselves and by being compassionate i.e. being kind and understanding, these two emotions and values can greatly enhance our lives and lead to the ultimate goal of unconditional love.