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Questions about compassion.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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10 October 2018 21:39
 

1. How often do you experience compassion as a clear and distinct feeling?

2. Do you meditate or reflect or consider the idea of compassion as a deliberate or regular exercise?

3. Do you feel compassion is voluntary, involuntary or both?

4. What is your most frequent subject of compassion:
   
    A. Particular persons or creatures that you happen to be close with.
    B. Persons or creatures who are in some particular circumstance that you identify with and feel strongly about.
    C. Persons or creatures who are, to your knowledge experiencing some distress that you identify with or feel strongly about.
    D. Something else.
    E. No particular subject.
   
I want to highlight, in particular the distinction between circumstance and experience. My niece lost a pet cat yesterday and was extremely distraught. We all were. It got me thinking about the number of times that I find myself dismissing other people who complain about a problem. Should I be less sympathetic to their pain because it’s source doesn’t resonate with me? Do I have any control over this?

Thanks

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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11 October 2018 03:19
 

For reasons I won’t go into, I almost never feel compassion “as a clear and distinct feeling.”  There are limit cases—even blanket exceptions—among intimates, of course, but as a rule I never do.  Instead I experience what friends of mine from grad school (they were in pysch, I was in phil) called “objective compassion” (they observed it; I had no name for it, or awareness of such a thing per se), and because of this they urged me to go into psychology, as a therapist specifically (eventually I heeded their advice, though for my own reasons mainly).  In any case, compassion “as a clear and distinct feeling” is quite foreign to me.  I get by in an emotional vacuum as far as that particular emotion is concerned. 

 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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11 October 2018 04:58
 

Compassion is something to be observed in others. Those who observe compassion in themselves are being something other than compassionate.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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11 October 2018 09:07
 

I’ve usually thought of the involuntary feelings for others as empathy, and the more conscious concern for others as compassion.  Of course, compassion is often driven by empathy, but acts of compassion can also be driven by a moral code arrived at intellectually.

I think that our ability to empathize is based on many factors, including biology, upbringing and experiences.  And that empathy is felt most strongly when it relates in some way to our own experiences.  We might easily relate to the feelings of losing a pet, but it is a little harder for us who have never known real hunger to feel what this would be like.  So we must consciously put ourselves in their place to arrive at true compassion.  Also, I think it is one of the better aspects of human nature to feel protectiveness towards the defenseless, e.g. children and other vulnerable creatures.

I value the ability to empathize, but if out of control it can also be paralyzing and lead to the inability to help others.  You could then become absorbed in your own feelings, which is the opposite of showing compassion for others.

If a first-responder or caregiver were to too strongly empathize with all those who need their help, they might not be able to function well.  However, I think a degree of empathy is often needed, or at least helpful, in relating to others and in determining their needs.  What is important is to act compassionately, whether it be from a place of emotion or from knowing what needs to be done and doing it.

[ Edited: 11 October 2018 17:45 by Jan_CAN]
 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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11 October 2018 15:59
 

BB:
It got me thinking about the number of times that I find myself dismissing other people who complain about a problem. Should I be less sympathetic to their pain because it’s source doesn’t resonate with me? Do I have any control over this?

We’d be wrecks if we felt emotionally moved by everyone’s problems.  Part of being a friend, I think, is to listen and nod, but also to give perspective.  Seriously, a lot of problems are not problems.  Like when a friend complains about the mess of getting the house remodeled.  Hey, I think, you’re getting new carpeting, geez, feel happy!  Of course, I don’t say that.  Just nod along. 

Maybe I actually have a problem feeling empathy.  I long for more friends who are looking at life positively.  I have a couple, and they are a treasure.  Not that they never have problems, but they are more likely to see what most people call problems as interesting challenges.  They don’t lapse into “misery loves company” for everyday headaches.  But yeah, if a pet dies, that is legitimately sad.

I like what I just googled on objective compassion.  I’m involved with facilitating a support group.  We facilitators are specifically not therapists, but just present to give structure to the discussion.  I used to come home very upset by the very real and serious problems that people voiced.  (I’m talking mental illness, violence, drug abuse.)
But lately, I’m becoming more objective, trusting that people will create their own paths after voicing their dilemmas and listening to what others share with them.  Otherwise compassion can slip into co-dependency.  I have experienced my own in this regard, and often see it in others.

 
Jefe
 
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Jefe
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11 October 2018 16:35
 
Brick Bungalow - 10 October 2018 09:39 PM

It got me thinking about the number of times that I find myself dismissing other people who complain about a problem.

My impatience with complaint is directly related to how easy I feel the source of the complaint could be fixed or eliminated by the one doing the complaining.

If it is a problem of their own construction and relatively easy (IMHO) to fix, my patience is pretty low.

I will point out how they could rectify their situation, but that sometimes backfires.
(Like when you tell a person that riding on maxed credit cards is contributing to their feeling broke all the time…)

Whereas, helping out my 85 year old mother who has trouble walking, and doesn’t feel comfortable driving at night, is not an issue for me at all.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 October 2018 18:32
 
nonverbal - 11 October 2018 04:58 AM

Compassion is something to be observed in others. Those who observe compassion in themselves are being something other than compassionate.

As a quality of character I would agree. It’s not an award to give oneself. Still, I think there is an experience we can truthfully identify. There are behaviors that represent compassion. I think it’s possible, without hubris to recognize when we have done right. Not to be exceptional but simply to behave adequately.

 

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 October 2018 18:35
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 11 October 2018 03:19 AM

For reasons I won’t go into, I almost never feel compassion “as a clear and distinct feeling.”  There are limit cases—even blanket exceptions—among intimates, of course, but as a rule I never do.  Instead I experience what friends of mine from grad school (they were in pysch, I was in phil) called “objective compassion” (they observed it; I had no name for it, or awareness of such a thing per se), and because of this they urged me to go into psychology, as a therapist specifically (eventually I heeded their advice, though for my own reasons mainly).  In any case, compassion “as a clear and distinct feeling” is quite foreign to me.  I get by in an emotional vacuum as far as that particular emotion is concerned.

This is largely my experience as well. I have a sense of regret that I don’t get worked up at funerals or get moved to tears by a touching story. I think catharsis is healthy in moderation.

My greatest experiences of loss involve pets.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 October 2018 19:13
 
hannahtoo - 11 October 2018 03:59 PM

BB:
It got me thinking about the number of times that I find myself dismissing other people who complain about a problem. Should I be less sympathetic to their pain because it’s source doesn’t resonate with me? Do I have any control over this?

We’d be wrecks if we felt emotionally moved by everyone’s problems.  Part of being a friend, I think, is to listen and nod, but also to give perspective.  Seriously, a lot of problems are not problems.  Like when a friend complains about the mess of getting the house remodeled.  Hey, I think, you’re getting new carpeting, geez, feel happy!  Of course, I don’t say that.  Just nod along. 

Maybe I actually have a problem feeling empathy.  I long for more friends who are looking at life positively.  I have a couple, and they are a treasure.  Not that they never have problems, but they are more likely to see what most people call problems as interesting challenges.  They don’t lapse into “misery loves company” for everyday headaches.  But yeah, if a pet dies, that is legitimately sad.

I like what I just googled on objective compassion.  I’m involved with facilitating a support group.  We facilitators are specifically not therapists, but just present to give structure to the discussion.  I used to come home very upset by the very real and serious problems that people voiced.  (I’m talking mental illness, violence, drug abuse.)
But lately, I’m becoming more objective, trusting that people will create their own paths after voicing their dilemmas and listening to what others share with them.  Otherwise compassion can slip into co-dependency.  I have experienced my own in this regard, and often see it in others.

The namesake of this forum invokes something called ‘worst possible suffering’.... lets just truncate that to ‘feeling badly’. Ostensibly our pity for other is based on their distress, I think. Is our estimation of the validity of their distress significant if the distress is real? I think of people in my family who are touched in some way whether by developmental disabilities or substance abuse. They frequently complain about things that strike me as trivial or even nonsensical. Still, they are in real pain. My inability to identify with their appraisal of a situation is a detriment to my ability to identify with their pain. Do you think that’s good?

Can we engage in a thought experiment where we table differences of opinion on superficial details and simply say ‘I understand what it is to be in pain and to be somewhat confused about the source of that pain’ ? I’m not sure that’s possible but I hope it is. I feel like there must be some vehicle to circumvent our crossed signals and shortcut to the point where we acknowledge the pain itself rather than the perceived source. What if we try to recall a circumstance where we were suffering and the people around us dismissed our suffering because they could understand or appreciate our reasoning?

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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11 October 2018 20:13
 

BB:
I think of people in my family who are touched in some way whether by developmental disabilities or substance abuse. They frequently complain about things that strike me as trivial or even nonsensical. Still, they are in real pain. My inability to identify with their appraisal of a situation is a detriment to my ability to identify with their pain. Do you think that’s good?

It is harder for me to feel compassion for people who cause their own troubles.  Of course we all do, to an extent.  But people who, over and over, make the same poor choices are difficult for me to bear.  Yes, we all have our weaknesses.  Definitely.  But after decades, especially when the problem is clear (to me as well as the person), I find it wearisome.  I too think, why can’t I be more compassionate?  Yet I long to spend more time with people who can show greater self control and appreciate life, rather than being stuck focusing on negatives.  In a way, I think that is a life affirming choice. Again, avoiding the co-dependency trap.  That is, not seeing my worth as mainly a long-suffering rescuer.

I was told by a therapist that I was identifying too much with a mentally ill relative who was also an addict.  I needed more objective compassion.  Yes, that person had a hard life, but my misplaced empathy was not helping him learn to take responsibility for his actions.  Being truly compassionate meant setting limits as well as assisting in crucial ways.

As for developmental disabilities, I have less personal experience.  Of the school children I’ve worked with and the neighbor’s daughter I’ve seen grow up, I know the attitude of the family is often key to the affected person’s attitude toward life, that is, whether they elicit positive feelings from others.

 

[ Edited: 11 October 2018 20:26 by hannahtoo]
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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11 October 2018 22:15
 

To be clear, I reference special needs strictly as a throwaway. It could be anything. The point was only that the suffering of others is (I argue) real and legitimate whether or not we can appreciate the stated reasons.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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12 October 2018 07:51
 
Brick Bungalow - 11 October 2018 10:15 PM

To be clear, I reference special needs strictly as a throwaway. It could be anything. The point was only that the suffering of others is (I argue) real and legitimate whether or not we can appreciate the stated reasons.

...or appreciate their unstated reasons.  Often they don’t know why they suffer or what they are really suffering from.  From my stance, those reasons fascinate me, which may be why, when it was necessary, people were comfortable confiding as they explored those troubling unknowns for themselves. 

In clinical work you see patterns to suffering even as each suffering is qualitatively unique.  That’s what makes it doable and keeps it interesting.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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12 October 2018 08:09
 

Lack of sensitivity and compassion can not only affect relationships, but can have dire consequences.

I find it difficult to share personal stories here at the forum and often regret (and later delete) when I have done so.  However, I think doing so on this topic might serve a purpose and could help others.

I’d always been a happy person who enjoyed a well balanced life, with only the usual minor problems.  I thought of myself as emotionally strong, but several years ago I started slipping into a deep sadness, caused by serious illnesses and deaths of those close to me.  I’d start to recover from one crisis, and another would happen.  Several family members needed me to be strong, but I felt like I was in a pit that I couldn’t climb out of, and I was ashamed by my weakness and difficulties in coping.

That’s when you find out that most of your friends prefer to be around happy, fun people.  They are uncomfortable with your pain, so they change the subject, avert your gaze, minimize and trivialize.  In your vulnerable state, this just adds to the despair, so you just stop talking.  You withdraw into yourself and become isolated just when you need a friend the most.

Reaching a crisis where I had barely slept and had not eaten for over a week, when I had worked out in my mind what I thought was a clever plan to make my suicide look like an accident, I confided in my husband (who had just lost his father), just how bad I was feeling.  He took me to an after-hours clinic (my family physician had recently closed her practise).  When seen by the physician on duty, I was withdrawn and not weeping, though my voice was shaky and I had difficulty explaining what was wrong.  This elderly, experienced and sensitive doctor recognized the situation; he took my hand and reassured me.  He started me on antidepressants and referred me to a psychiatrist for monitoring, but just as important, he showed me understanding and compassion.  I’m not completely sure I’d still be here if he hadn’t.

 
 
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12 October 2018 12:24
 
Jan_CAN - 12 October 2018 08:09 AM

Lack of sensitivity and compassion can not only affect relationships, but can have dire consequences.

I find it difficult to share personal stories here at the forum and often regret (and later delete) when I have done so.  However, I think doing so on this topic might serve a purpose and could help others.

I’d always been a happy person who enjoyed a well balanced life, with only the usual minor problems.  I thought of myself as emotionally strong, but several years ago I started slipping into a deep sadness, caused by serious illnesses and deaths of those close to me.  I’d start to recover from one crisis, and another would happen.  Several family members needed me to be strong, but I felt like I was in a pit that I couldn’t climb out of, and I was ashamed by my weakness and difficulties in coping.

That’s when you find out that most of your friends prefer to be around happy, fun people.  They are uncomfortable with your pain, so they change the subject, avert your gaze, minimize and trivialize.  In your vulnerable state, this just adds to the despair, so you just stop talking.  You withdraw into yourself and become isolated just when you need a friend the most.

Reaching a crisis where I had barely slept and had not eaten for over a week, when I had worked out in my mind what I thought was a clever plan to make my suicide look like an accident, I confided in my husband (who had just lost his father), just how bad I was feeling.  He took me to an after-hours clinic (my family physician had recently closed her practise).  When seen by the physician on duty, I was withdrawn and not weeping, though my voice was shaky and I had difficulty explaining what was wrong.  This elderly, experienced and sensitive doctor recognized the situation; he took my hand and reassured me.  He started me on antidepressants and referred me to a psychiatrist for monitoring, but just as important, he showed me understanding and compassion.  I’m not completely sure I’d still be here if he hadn’t.

It seems you are a well-adjusted person who was going through a time of crisis, and thank goodness you found relief.

At the other extreme is someone who is an emotional vampire.  I’m not saying it is healthy to feel callous.  It is not hard to be kind.  We all need help sometimes.

A close relative of mine went through an acrimonious divorce, which left her with little money.  A few years later, she dealt with breast cancer, and fortunately survived.  A decade after the divorce she would still mention her ex regularly, spitefully.  I finally told her that it was very unpleasant to hear about it.  She didn’t appreciate me saying it, but she admitted others had told her as well.  She felt she couldn’t move on.  She said it would be false and disrespectful to the gravity of the feelings.  To me, that attitude was unhealthy and unhelpful.  But it was her choice.  Also mine not to affirm it.  Luckily she eventually remarried and is happy now. 

My grandma, in her 80’s, lost her favorite son (my uncle) in an auto accident.  Grandma never recovered.  She was sad and lost her verve for life.  What a tragedy, I thought, because she had other children and grandchildren who were still near to her, but could not replace that son in her heart.  The relative whom I described above said she understood because she felt some losses are unrecoverable.  Maybe comparable to the movie drama, in which a person suffers a shock, and her hair turns suddenly white, and she never speaks again.  To me, it seems that life is too precious to give up on ever being happy again.  Yet, I know sadness can be overwhelming.

All this being said, I think there is a difference between suffering through a very acute situation versus continuously undermining one’s own happiness.

 
nonverbal
 
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12 October 2018 12:48
 
Jan_CAN - 12 October 2018 08:09 AM

Lack of sensitivity and compassion can not only affect relationships, but can have dire consequences.

I find it difficult to share personal stories here at the forum and often regret (and later delete) when I have done so.  However, I think doing so on this topic might serve a purpose and could help others.

I’d always been a happy person who enjoyed a well balanced life, with only the usual minor problems.  I thought of myself as emotionally strong, but several years ago I started slipping into a deep sadness, caused by serious illnesses and deaths of those close to me.  I’d start to recover from one crisis, and another would happen.  Several family members needed me to be strong, but I felt like I was in a pit that I couldn’t climb out of, and I was ashamed by my weakness and difficulties in coping.

That’s when you find out that most of your friends prefer to be around happy, fun people.  They are uncomfortable with your pain, so they change the subject, avert your gaze, minimize and trivialize.  In your vulnerable state, this just adds to the despair, so you just stop talking.  You withdraw into yourself and become isolated just when you need a friend the most.

Reaching a crisis where I had barely slept and had not eaten for over a week, when I had worked out in my mind what I thought was a clever plan to make my suicide look like an accident, I confided in my husband (who had just lost his father), just how bad I was feeling.  He took me to an after-hours clinic (my family physician had recently closed her practise).  When seen by the physician on duty, I was withdrawn and not weeping, though my voice was shaky and I had difficulty explaining what was wrong.  This elderly, experienced and sensitive doctor recognized the situation; he took my hand and reassured me.  He started me on antidepressants and referred me to a psychiatrist for monitoring, but just as important, he showed me understanding and compassion.  I’m not completely sure I’d still be here if he hadn’t.

Beautiful and touching story, Jan. Was your elderly doctor feeling a sense of compassion when he counseled you so well? I apologize if my question sounds strange.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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12 October 2018 13:28
 
nonverbal - 12 October 2018 12:48 PM
Jan_CAN - 12 October 2018 08:09 AM

... When seen by the physician on duty, I was withdrawn and not weeping, though my voice was shaky and I had difficulty explaining what was wrong.  This elderly, experienced and sensitive doctor recognized the situation; he took my hand and reassured me.  He started me on antidepressants and referred me to a psychiatrist for monitoring, but just as important, he showed me understanding and compassion.  I’m not completely sure I’d still be here if he hadn’t.

Beautiful and touching story, Jan. Was your elderly doctor feeling a sense of compassion when he counseled you so well? I apologize if my question sounds strange.

Thank you, nv.  I think that his ability to recognize the severity of my sadness (depression) was due to his medical training and experience.  But at the same time, his demeanor was gentle and kind, rather than professional and formal.  When I was trying to tell him what was going on and my voice started to crack, and he suddenly reached out and took my hand, I felt his compassion.  In my vulnerable state, it was intensely moving and comforting.

 
 
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