The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as:
Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’
Other definitions describe a deep understanding and sympathy for the plight of others. So what has this got to do with counselling, and what does it mean for our sense of self?
As a Counsellor I spend a lot of time with Clients creating a non-judgemental compassionate space where they can explore what’s going on for them. This allows Client’s not just time to speak and for me to hear to what they are really trying to say; but also for them to really listen to themselves, to really hear and feel what they are saying and what it means for how they would like things to be.
Sometimes really seeing yourself and how life is for you, can feel harsh; to face the unhappiness and issues head on for the first time, needs not just understanding and empathy from your Counsellor but also from yourself. Time and again I see how little compassion people have for themselves, and how desperately they need that to change.
Even the definition of compassion that I started with suggests compassion is something you can only have for other people, but in my experience this is just not true. If you can cultivate a deep understanding, empathy and sympathy for how you got to where you are and why you are so unhappy or distressed you can begin to forgive yourself and let go.
We have all made poor choices at times, found ourselves in situations we were unable to cope with, felt stressed, depressed, unhappy or at a loss. If we allow ourselves to be ok with that and give our selves permission to start again, without having to bring the baggage of self-blame to all the other issues we have to deal with; we can give ourselves the freedom to make the changes we want.
For instance if a family member has died 6 months ago, is it still ok to feel sad? To still be looking for their face in familiar places? To still miss them? To still struggle to get out of bed? Or to still be crying? If you can treat your self with compassion, to understand what that person meant to you, what a big part they played in your life and what it feels like now they are gone; you begin to allow yourself time to grieve, without denigrating yourself every time it is hard to get out of bed or you find yourself crying at something that reminds you of them. You give yourself permission to heal in your own time, in the way that works for you.
So how do you cultivate compassion for yourself and others, when it is easy to put yourself down and play the blame game?
Don’t be so quick to judge: try to understand why you or others are acting the way they are.
Imagine what it’s like: Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, what do you imagine it feels like. Conversely if you were your own best friend, what would you imagine you would say or do to comfort you?
Try to find a peaceful space: Meditation, listening to music, baking, painting and doing something creative are all ways to focus on something positive for a while. Sometimes our emotional and mental lives are heavy and stressful, giving yourself space and permission to do something you enjoy encourages peace and healing.