My Five Tips on Being Healthy with Compassion

1. Compassion and feeling sorry for someone are not the same. Compassion includes recognizing someone’s distress, regarding the distress as valid, and having an inclination to be of assistance. Feeling sorry for someone has more to do with empathy and sympathy – it is the act of feeling the same (similar) emotion(s). Compassion has an almost invigorating, uplifting by-product while feeling sorry, empathy or sympathy for someone can lead to you becoming stuck in the other’s hurt and pain (even if those are not your true emotions).

2. Compassion for others needs to be tethered into compassion for yourself – this is not to say that the two need to be the exact same, it is fine if you have a dose more compassion for others than for yourself. But, having compassion for yourself will allow you to notice when your compassion for another is putting you at risk for an unhealthy relationship or mistreatment. In other words having compassion for yourself (i.e. the distress you are experiencing by being exposed to another person’s distress) will help you disengage from the situation before you become damaged by the distress.

3. You need to take breaks from compassion –otherwise you can be at risk for compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a term used to describe the damage that a helper (i.e. someone who is expressing compassion to someone else) can sustain if the amount of distress she/he is exposed to exceeds her/his psychological resources, reserves. Even though the helper is not the one who is personally experiencing the distress, being too close for too long can lead to damage – think of the sun, we all need to receive sunlight in order to be healthy, but too much sun for too long leads to dangerous sunburns, dehydration or worse.

4. Practice intellectual compassion – as the name implies, intellectual compassion does not include the emotional experience of compassion rather it remains on a logical level. Switching from emotional to intellectual compassion can be a way to conserve some of your emotional energy without losing your care and concern for the other.

 5. Build your emotional/psychological reserves. Making your psychological resilience, your emotional immune system a priority by investing time and energy into activities that truly nurture your personality/spirit/soul/self helps you prepare for the times when you express compassion. The analogy of a bank account is a helpful image – stockpile funds so that when the rainy day comes, you have high doses of compassion to extend.

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