Does compassion help us grow?
Some interesting thoughts and research on compassion that may intrigue you
We all know that compassion is the ability to recognise when someone is suffering and thus respond to their suffering. Some of us respond to other’s suffering as if it were our own whereas others question whether true compassion exists —or whether it is inherently motivated by self-interest. The development of empathy is influenced by cognitive development, the increasing ability to differentiate self and other and to take another's perspective. Children who receive nurturing from parents who model empathy and who explain the reasons behind moral behaviour are more likely to demonstrate empathy.
Social exchange theories argue that self-sacrifice does not exist unless benefits outweigh the costs but this idea has been rejected hugely by many people who work both spiritually and emotionally in their daily lives. Social Psychologist C.Daniel Batson has also rejected this idea as he expressed that people help others in need out of genuine concern for the well-being of the other person. The key ingredient to helping is "empathic concern". According to his 'empathy-altruism hypothesis', if you feel empathy towards another person you will help them, regardless of what you can gain from it
In order to understand how compassion works we must first of all be in touch with our feelings and own sense of pain. We must then be able to respond to suffering in a sensitive way that recognises the feelings and needs of the other person.
There are many different ways of determining what compassion actually is and we can draw many comparisons. Neptune, ruler of Pisces - the planet of sensitivity and creativity has been associated with compassion and empathy and many people who have strong Neptune aspects in their natal charts are said to respond to the needs of others very well.
It has been argued that empathy can indeed increase our sense of general wellbeing, as when we give to others we also learn how to give back to ourselves and interestingly research has suggested that if we our kind to our needs we are more likely to make healthy choices as research proves:
A study was conducted by asking 84 female college students to eat a donut followed by one piece of candy . Between the two treats, researchers reassured half the women that everyone eats unhealthy from time to time, while the other half received no such encouragement. When it came time for the candy, the participants who were encouraged to be self-compassionate ultimately exercised more control over their eating habits which could suggest that the more time we spend communicating and engaging with others about our own feelings of ignorance and self doubt the more confident we are going to feel about making positive choices.
Another interesting example that relates to compassion is some research that was carried out by Emory University where neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns focussed on brain activity. Participants were given the chance to help someone else while their brain activity was recorded. It was discovered that helping others triggered activity in the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulated, portions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure which was said to be a remarkable finding as it suggested that helping others brings the same pleasure we get from the gratification of personal desire. If we continue to care and nurture our own needs then our sense of wellbeing will also increase, making room for more positive thoughts that encourage us to help others. Self compassion is not the same as self indulgence as other research by Kristen Neff, PHD suggests: “if we care about ourselves compassionately we are more motivated to learn from our mistakes, grow and then reach our full potential”.
Undoubtedly there are occasions where we may help others or choose to take part in a task to take benefit for ourselves but it is important to take note of the different types of empathy and compassion that we can feel in any given situation. But clearly research alongside findings predict that compassion is deeply routed in our brains. What’s more is that the more emotional experiences we tend to undergo in life enhances and expands our emotional awareness which allows us access into other peoples’ spaces which we can’t help but relate to. When we are able to relate to a pain or a feeling that we have suffered within ourselves the need for compassion inevitably becomes far greater.
How do you know if you are self compassionate?
- You are warm and understanding towards others
- You understand failure and refuse to beat yourself up, but instead accept that it is an inevitable part of the life journey
- If you are confronted aggressively you remain calm at all times
- You don’t dwell on things, but are instead gentle with yourself
- You accept reality with sympathy, truth, kindness and great emotion
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