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Food for thought

Why Does Compassion Feel So Good? Here Are Five Reasons

Posted on February 7, 2018 at 12:30 AM

We thought that you may find this excerpt from an article posted on the Psychology Today website to be very interesting. View the article in its entirety at the URL below.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/think-act-be/201802/why-does-compassion-feel-so-good-here-are-five-reasons

Why Does Compassion Feel So Good? Here Are Five Reasons

The best news: We can improve our capacity for compassion.

Posted Feb 01, 2018

At the lowest points in our lives, the presence and care of one supportive person can be life-changing. Our pain or loss may be just as real, but we suffer less knowing we're not alone.

 

Coming together in this way works a sort of alchemy, transforming one person's pain into a shared feeling of uplift. Indeed, compassion is the opposite of a zero-sum game in which there are winners and losers. Both giver and receiver benefit.

 

Psychology researchers have begun developing a science of compassion: What is it? What are the benefits? How can we foster it? Based on a review of studies on compassion, here's what it is and why it's a good thing:

 

Our suffering is recognized and acknowledged. Compassion starts with a willingness to see someone else's pain. Rather than looking away, denying the pain, or choosing to ignore it, we acknowledge the person's experience. This acknowledgment makes us feel less alone in our suffering.

We understand the universality of human suffering. Part of compassion is knowing that at some point, everyone hurts. In this way the pain is relatable. While pain is a personal experience, it is also a common and unavoidable part of what it means to be human. Thus we feel a further joining with others in the shared recognition that pain is part of existence.

There is an emotional response to our suffering. Compassion is not simply knowing that another person is in pain; there is an emotional component, a "feeling with," as the etymology of compassion suggests. It's comforting to feel another person's heart go out to us.

Compassion requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings. While there are benefits to being compassionate, it's also not easy. Connecting emotionally with another's pain activates our stress response (fight-or-flight, or freeze). It takes emotional work to stay with a person's pain rather than fleeing or trying to deny it in some way (e.g., by blaming the person for their distress). When we see that a person isn't running from our pain, we're better able to withstand our own discomfort.

There is a motivation to alleviate our suffering. Compassion involves feelings but not just feelings. We would probably not feel much compassion from someone who acted sad for us but was unwilling to help. When we respond with compassion we're moved to act. As a result another person's compassion can improve our situation, and we feel better just knowing someone is trying to help us.

Increasing Compassion

You can probably think of people you know who seem to have a lot of compassion, and others who have little. Recent studies suggest that compassion is not a fixed trait; it can improve with treatment, which in turn leads to other benefits.

 

A recent study by a research team in Australia summarized the effects of compassion-focused psychological treatments. Here's what they found:

 

pressmaster/Adobe Stock

Source: pressmaster/Adobe Stock

First, the treatments were effective in increasing compassion. The average increase was considered "moderate," meaning we would likely notice that the person was a better version of themselves.

 

Those who received training in compassion experienced a range of additional benefits, including:

 

Greater mindfulness. Compassion requires our presence and our acceptance, so it's not surprising that the treatments led to increases in this dimension. As we'll see below, it also makes sense given that some of the specific interventions were explicitly mindfulness-based.

Better mood and lower anxiety. Compassion training was effective at lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety, which is a remarkable finding. By focusing on alleviating others' suffering, we alleviate our own in the process.

Enhanced overall well-being and lower distress. Along with greater compassion came an overall sense of wellness and ease in life. These findings again underscore that compassion is helpful all around.

A crucial finding from the review by Kirby and colleagues was that compassion training could also increase our capacity for self-compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff, who has led the way in research on self-compassion, defines it as:

 

"being touched by and open to one’s own suffering, not avoiding or disconnecting from it, generating the desire to alleviate one’s suffering and to heal oneself with kindness. Self-compassion also involves offering nonjudgmental understanding to one’s pain, inadequacies and failures, so that one’s experience is seen as part of the larger human experience."

 

Self-compassion is the antidote to our tendency to ignore our own needs and be critical of ourselves when we most need love and support.


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1 Comment

Reply JamisonDef
1:26 AM on February 9, 2018 
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