Experts suggest there are six emotions: anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness and surprise.
Buddhists believe the best response to another’s sadness, fear and even anger is compassion, the ability to understand another person’s suffering and to ease their distress. For Laura D’Olimpio, empathy,
feeling the feelings of another or imaginatively reconstructing the feelings of another
and sympathy, the ability to identify
with the other based on feelings of common humanity,
are both components of compassion, but they can also be problematic. Empathy risks triggering self-misery, while sympathy assumes it is possible to experience the feelings of another. Neither guarantee mercy nor aid. It is too easy to stand by and say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible, I know what you’re going through,’ or ‘poor you, my condolences.’ Real change, the kind of change that reduces human distress, takes effort. A compassionate individual refuses to stand by, wring their hands and offer meaningless platitudes. Compassion is ‘fellow feeling’, understanding the misery, fear or anger of a fellow human. It calls us to end or relieve suffering. More importantly,
everyone has the capacity to be compassionate: to treat others as you would wish to be treated. To be kind and tender, generous and forgiving, hospitable, helpful and attentive, curious, listening and present, empathic and connected, respectful, understanding and acknowledging. It takes courage, self-reflection and self-compassion.
For Dr Kristin Neff, compassion is
feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience.
Why, then, was self-compassion mentioned in the definition from The Charter for Compassion? Self-compassion, according to Neff, is
acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?
So, while compassion requires change on a communal, collective and global level, self-compassion implies a willingness to change on a personal level.
One way we can be more compassionate towards our self, is to learn how to regulate the six emotions listed above, a process of checking in on and altering (not repressing or denying), one’s feelings, thoughts, actions, words and even physiological responses. Emotional regulation also allows us to interact and communicate with the rest of society in a healthy, peaceful and meaningful way.
Emotion regulation (ER) is regarded as a crucial factor in well-being, in the popular literature, clinical psychological practice, and scientific research alike.
Nyklícek, Ivan, Ad Vingerhoets, and Marcel Zeelenberg. Emotion Regulation and Well-Being. New York, Springer, 2011, p. 2.
Neither emotional regulation nor self-compassion can stop us from feeling sad, angry or fearful. Emotional regulation will (particularly if combined with mindfulness), help us to recognise, understand and accept difficult situations and deal with them rationally.
Self-compassion combined with emotional regulation soothes and comforts the inner self. It can help us find appropriate and loving support from those around us, but in our worst moments, when we feel utterly abandoned, self-compassion, self-care and mindful awareness is a powerful, healthy and humane response. Why? Kristen Neff believes compassion for others begins with self-compassion. Humanity is not ‘us and them’, it is just ‘us’. If we fail to care compassionately for ourselves, how can we begin to care for others?
Today’s Footnote: Do you yell at the television because you’re irritated by the politician being interviewed? Do you turn away from your partner and refuse to speak to them for a week when they question your decisions? Do you slam the door to put a full stop to your arguments? Do you hang out the car window and hurl thunderbolts of rage at the driver of the car in front of you? If so, maybe a hearty meal of emotional regulation served with a side of compassion and topped by the sweet sauce of self-compassion will give you the perspective you need.