What is compassion?

Compassion entails empathizing with another person’s suffering and wishing to do everything in one’s power to alleviate that suffering. Compassion literally translates as “to suffer with another person.” It is defined by emotion researchers as the emotion that occurs when one is confronted with another’s pain and feels driven to alleviate that suffering.

Despite the fact that the ideas are related, compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism. In contrast to empathy, which refers to our ability to understand and experience the emotions of another person, compassion is defined as when those feelings and ideas are accompanied by a desire to assist that individual. While compassion can be felt without resulting in action, altruism is the kind, selfless activity that is typically triggered by such feelings. However, compassion can be felt without resulting in action, and altruism is not necessarily driven by compassion.

Scientists have begun to trace the biological foundation of compassion, which suggests that it serves a deeper evolutionary purpose than many people realize. Cynics may dismiss compassion as sentimental or irrational. Researchers have discovered that when we feel compassion, our pulse slows down, we release the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and parts of the brain associated with empathy, caregiving, and pleasure light up, which frequently leads in our desire to engage and care for other people.

Types of Compassion

Compassion frequently manifests itself in one of two ways, each of which differs depending on where the feelings are aimed. Compassion for others is a virtue. In order to have compassion for other people, you must first understand their suffering and then work to find a strategy to alleviate that suffering. As a result of these feelings, you are compelled to take action and do everything in your power to improve the situation.

The other is Self-Compassion— Compassion for oneself means treating oneself with the same level of kindness and compassion that one would exhibit to a friend or family member. When you’re not berating yourself for past transgressions, you’re accepting of who you are and your imperfections. 

Compassion Fatigue

Nonetheless, It is possible that continual exposure to the suffering of others will result in what is known as compassion fatigue, which is a severe side effect of compassion. The term “vicarious traumatization” or “secondary traumatization” is also used (Figley, 1995). Working with folks who are suffering from the aftereffects of traumatic experiences can leave an emotional residue or pressure on the individual. It is distinct from burnout, but the two conditions can coexist. Compassion Fatigue can emerge as a result of exposure to a single case or as a result of a “cumulative” level of trauma experienced by a group of people.

Compassion fatigue is that feeling that you have– no more empathy left to give.

When Mother Teresa wrote to her superiors about her plans for the nuns, she made it clear that they were required to take a year off every four or five years so that they might recuperate from the stress of their care-giving responsibilities. She deeply understood the manifestations of Compassion fatigue.

According to F. Oshberg, MD, the first thing you should grasp is that it is a process. Not only do you wake up fatigued and devoid of any physical or emotional energy on one day, but you also wake up exhausted and devoid of any physical or emotional vitality on the next day. Compassion fatigue develops gradually over time, requiring weeks or even years to manifest itself. For most people, it’s an inability to see the good in others, whether you work at home or in an office. Through over-utilization of your compassion skills, your capacity to experience and care for others gradually deteriorates. You might also suffer emotional blunting, which is when you react to things in a way that is different from what you would expect.

References

Kindness Combats Compassion Fatigue – Think Kindness. (2014, September 15). Think Kindness. https://thinkkindness.org/uncategorized/kindness-combats-compassion-fatigue/#:~:text=Mother%20Teresa%20advocated%20strongly%20for,effects%20of%20their%20caregiving%20work..

Compassion Fatigue: Watch for These Warning Signs | Banner. (2021, June 11). https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/watch-for-these-key-warning-signs-of-compassion-fatigue#:

Boyd, D. (2017, January 4). Compassion Fatigue. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue.

What Is Compassion?. (2021, November 1). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-compassion-5207366.

Compassion Definition | What Is Compassion. (n.d.). Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition.

What is the difference between Empathy and Sympathy?

A friend who is experiencing some sort of loss or unpleasant situation feels compelled to sympathize with us and we want it to be a mutually beneficial and encouraging experience. Is there a way to respond to any kind of crisis, whether it’s physical or emotional, in a way that conveys warmth and understanding? Is it sympathy or empathy that we show?

Empathy and sympathy are sometimes conflated, but they are in fact quite distinct. According to Merriam Webster, empathy is the ability to understand another person’s sentiments, but not necessarily share them. Empathy is the capacity or action of entering into or sharing another’s feelings or pursuits. Empathy is the capacity to comprehend another person’s point of view. The idea of projecting one’s feelings is implicit in the concept of empathy. It is possible to have empathy for someone even if you don’t know how they express their feelings because of what you know about them.

Sympathy is defined as a sense of sadness or sorrow for the tragedy of another. Despite the fact that sympathy may not be as warmly accepted as empathy, mournful pity can provide some warmth and comfort in the face of another’s troubles— provided it is delivered with care and sincerity, of course. However, if you feel pity for someone, they may feel alienated from you as a result of your sympathy. Always make an effort to reply to someone in a genuine manner. It’s important to keep in mind the feelings and needs of the individual you’re trying to help, too. Even simply being there in silence can be really beneficial in many situations.

“Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable one.”

– Dr. Brené Brown

Empathy may bring people together and make them feel included, but sympathy generates an uneven power dynamic and can lead to increased isolation and detachment, according to Dr. Brené Brown. It’s a bad consequence given that sympathy is normally a good thing. Dr. Brown explains how to demonstrate empathy in four simple actions. placing yourself in the shoes of another, Listening without making any judgments, Being able to recognize in another individual’s feelings that you yourself may have experienced, Assuring the other person that you can identify with their feelings.

“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”

– Dr. Brené Brown

As Brené Brown points out, empathy requires us to remember or reflect on unpleasant feelings. Feelings such as frustration, anxiety, and confusion are being recognized as we try to understand another person’s perspective. Opting for empathy over sympathy or complete disengagement can be challenging at first, but the long-term benefits far outweigh these difficulties. Because when people are confronted with a problem or a difficult situation, they frequently aren’t looking for a quick fix. There is a possibility that they are searching for someone who can help them feel less isolated in their efforts to solve the problem. Someone who has been through a similar situation may be what they are looking for. To connect with someone, you have to be able to empathize with their situation.

References

‘Sympathy’ Vs. ‘Empathy’: What’s the Difference? | Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/sympathy-empathy-difference.

RSA Short: Empathy – Brené Brown. (2013, December 10). Brené Brown. https://brenebrown.com/videos/rsa-short-empathy/.

Sympathy Vs. Empathy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/202007/sympathy-vs-empathy.

Am I growing cold?

For a long time, I could empathize with others to the point of stopping my daily routine or activities until they are okay. When someone was in such agony, I felt it in my heart as well. I would absorb people’s emotions to an alarming degree—whatever they felt, I felt as well, regardless of whether it was a crowd of strangers. Occasionally, I’d break down and sob over the well-being of someone else. And what’s even more interesting is that the person wasn’t shedding a tear. I was unable to discern my emotions from those of others.

I had the sensations of their pain and emotions as my own. I’d question myself, “Why am I like that?” especially that the emotions/feelings don’t belong to me. It was so awful that I was constantly exhausted and drained myself to the point of self-abnegation. But why did I feel responsible for their issues or distress if there was nothing I could do? Although I am an empath, I had to learn to discern my own sensations from those of others. Why was my empathic capacity unhealthy to a certain degree? – It had reached the point of continual burnout and I simply couldn’t handle it any longer. I was constantly emotionally depleted. I needed to find a way to balance the external influences, or else I risked dealing with my own mental health.

What is Empathy?

According to Merriam Webster, Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Affective empathy and cognitive empathy are two distinct types of empathy that are studied by researchers. Affective empathy refers to the feelings we experience when we are able to relate to the emotions of others. There is a possibility that other people’s emotions could be transmitted: If they appear to be happy, you are happy; if they appear to be unhappy, you are unhappy; if they appear to be in pain, you are in pain. You may also become more sensitive about the welfare of others because of your ability to detect their emotional states. Affective empathy, on the other hand, can sometimes heighten your own distress when you face suffering, preventing you from effectively providing support.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to comprehend the thoughts and feelings of another on a mental level. For those who don’t like the idea of constantly absorbing other people’s negative feelings, some argue that cognitive empathy may be more advantageous. Somatic empathy, according to some, is the third type of empathy. In this case, a person can feel the bodily sensations that another person is feeling.

Who is an Empathy?

An empath is someone who is extremely sensitive to the feelings as well as emotions of others. Their capacity to discern what someone else is feeling extends beyond empathy, which is defined simply as the capacity to understand another’s feelings, to actually taking on those feelings; experiencing what the other person is experiencing on a deep emotional level.

As described by Dr. Judith Orloff, an empath is someone who soaks up the joys and stresses of the world around them like “emotional sponges.”  Emotional and energetic stimuli, good or bad, can’t escape from empaths, according to her book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” which she published in 2012. This is explained further by Kim Egel, a San Diego-based therapist—Empaths are more sensitive to external stimuli such as sounds, large personalities, and hectic environments.  They bring a great deal of heart and concern to the world, and they are extremely sensitive to what is going on around them.

Empaths who neglect their own well-being can have a negative impact on themselves and those around them. I had to learn how to regulate my emotions and, more importantly, how to take care of myself as a result of the constant emotional drain and distress. Accepting that there is nothing I can do and learning how to let go without feeling guilty or distressed was a major part of my process of self-awareness and self-acceptance. I needed to establish boundaries to protect myself– Establishing boundaries around emotionally taxing situations helped me reduce the risk of reaching my breaking point.

Empaths have a hard time turning off their high level of emotional sensitivity. People’s emotional energy around you can cause stress or depression in some people. You can’t help but feel this way about your loved ones. However, recognizing and letting go of them can have a significant impact. You do not have to “lessen” your capacity for caring — you can increase your resilience while also cultivating concern for others.

Now that I’ve mastered the art of distancing and regulating my emotions from those of another– I’m able to experience what they feel while still shielding myself. It feels incredibly good–I have practiced and mastered emotional regulation, and I will never stop practicing because there is always something new to learn and improve upon. However, there are instances when I feel as though I’m growing cold, particularly in situations where I can’t do anything other than feel what is but also avoid dwelling too much on the situation. At moments like this, I have to keep reminding myself to practice mindful acceptance. It’s okay to be incapable of assisting– it’s okay to preserve oneself.

References

Creative Consultant | Licensed Therapist | North County San Diego, CA. (2022, January 5). Kim Egel. https://www.kimegel.com/.

The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. (2021, August 9). Judith Orloff MD. https://drjudithorloff.com/empath-survival-guide-description/.

Are You Highly Attuned To Other People’s Emotions? You Might Be an Empath. (2021, June 17). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-an-empath-and-how-do-you-know-if-you-are-one-5119883.

Fisher, R. (n.d.). The Surprising Downsides Of Empathy. The surprising downsides of empathy – BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200930-can-empathy-be-bad-for-you#:~:text=Yet%20in%20recent%20years%2C%20researchers,them%20into%20aggression%20and%20cruelty..

Empathy. (n.d.). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy.

What Is An Empath? 15 Signs And Traits. (n.d.). What Is An Empath? 15 Signs and Traits. https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-an-empath#major-empathy.

Fisher, R. (n.d.). The Surprising Downsides Of Empathy. The surprising downsides of empathy – BBC Future. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200930-can-empathy-be-bad-for-you#:~:text=Yet%20in%20recent%20years%2C%20researchers,them%20into%20aggression%20and%20cruelty..