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Questions about compassion.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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12 October 2018 23:18
 
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  When seen by the physician on duty, I was withdrawn and not weeping, though my voice was shaky and I had difficulty explaining what was wrong.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.

I really appreciate that. I can empathize, I think with at least a shade of that experience. Maybe more significantly stories like this are very useful to me in solving my own contrived moral paradoxes. I think the real, practical effort to help is what actually illuminates moral theory at the end of the day. Understanding our own thresholds and tolerances and special sources of strength through lived experience.

I will reflect on this for some time.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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13 October 2018 04:13
 
Brick Bungalow - 12 October 2018 11:18 PM

I really appreciate that. I can empathize, I think with at least a shade of that experience. Maybe more significantly stories like this are very useful to me in solving my own contrived moral paradoxes. I think the real, practical effort to help is what actually illuminates moral theory at the end of the day. Understanding our own thresholds and tolerances and special sources of strength through lived experience.

I will reflect on this for some time.

I’d just like to add something to my story.  What the doctor did in the short time I was with him, by his understanding and kindness, by saying and doing just what I needed at that moment, he gave me hope.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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13 October 2018 06:10
 
Jan_CAN - 13 October 2018 04:13 AM
Brick Bungalow - 12 October 2018 11:18 PM

I really appreciate that. I can empathize, I think with at least a shade of that experience. Maybe more significantly stories like this are very useful to me in solving my own contrived moral paradoxes. I think the real, practical effort to help is what actually illuminates moral theory at the end of the day. Understanding our own thresholds and tolerances and special sources of strength through lived experience.

I will reflect on this for some time.

I’d just like to add something to my story.  What the doctor did in the short time I was with him, by his understanding and kindness, by saying and doing just what I needed at that moment, he gave me hope.

Fortunately the doctor offered a concrete solution for you, as well as kindness.  Sometimes kind words and hugs and promises that time will heal are not enough.  I wish there was not so much stigma in our society around depression.

 
Jefe
 
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Jefe
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13 October 2018 13:50
 
hannahtoo - 12 October 2018 12:24 PM
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.

Thanks for sharing.  Depression is tough.  Really tough.  And not always easy to spot in others, or share with our loved ones.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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13 October 2018 14:15
 

I love emotions, you guys know that. But here’s a good book on the topic.

https://www.amazon.fr/Feelings-Practical-Managing-Impossible-Problems/dp/1476789991

 
 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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13 October 2018 15:56
 

So you’re also talking about nature v nurture. Compassion is close enough to empathy to be a prerequisite to good relationships. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about having less of it. Less loyalty is something you’ll hear a lot of depressed people wish they were more of. Query the distinction.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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13 October 2018 18:43
 
Jb8989 - 13 October 2018 03:56 PM

So you’re also talking about nature v nurture. Compassion is close enough to empathy to be a prerequisite to good relationships. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about having less of it. Less loyalty is something you’ll hear a lot of depressed people wish they were more of. Query the distinction.

Could you elaborate?

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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14 October 2018 01:20
 
Jan_CAN - 13 October 2018 04:13 AM
Brick Bungalow - 12 October 2018 11:18 PM

I really appreciate that. I can empathize, I think with at least a shade of that experience. Maybe more significantly stories like this are very useful to me in solving my own contrived moral paradoxes. I think the real, practical effort to help is what actually illuminates moral theory at the end of the day. Understanding our own thresholds and tolerances and special sources of strength through lived experience.

I will reflect on this for some time.

I’d just like to add something to my story.  What the doctor did in the short time I was with him, by his understanding and kindness, by saying and doing just what I needed at that moment, he gave me hope.

Yes, even the smallest act can be enough to tip the scales in the other direction, especially (and paradoxically, I think) coming from a stranger.  I’m glad to hear it did for you.  Respect to you for your courage and recovery, in progress or otherwise.  Confiding in someone like that takes courage, and overcoming any emotional hardship is, I think, an accomplishment, especially one like yours.

 
Jan_CAN
 
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Jan_CAN
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14 October 2018 05:14
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 14 October 2018 01:20 AM
Jan_CAN - 13 October 2018 04:13 AM
Brick Bungalow - 12 October 2018 11:18 PM

I really appreciate that. I can empathize, I think with at least a shade of that experience. Maybe more significantly stories like this are very useful to me in solving my own contrived moral paradoxes. I think the real, practical effort to help is what actually illuminates moral theory at the end of the day. Understanding our own thresholds and tolerances and special sources of strength through lived experience.

I will reflect on this for some time.

I’d just like to add something to my story.  What the doctor did in the short time I was with him, by his understanding and kindness, by saying and doing just what I needed at that moment, he gave me hope.

Yes, even the smallest act can be enough to tip the scales in the other direction, especially (and paradoxically, I think) coming from a stranger.  I’m glad to hear it did for you.  Respect to you for your courage and recovery, in progress or otherwise.  Confiding in someone like that takes courage, and overcoming any emotional hardship is, I think, an accomplishment, especially one like yours.

Thanks, Anal.  I still don’t fully understand why it is that this doctor, a stranger, had so much power to help me as much as he did in that brief time; I’m just very grateful.  I appreciate your kind words about courage, but it may have been more a matter of desperation.  I hadn’t thought of my recovery (I’m well now) as an accomplishment, but that’s a nice way to think about it.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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14 October 2018 06:47
 
hannahtoo - 13 October 2018 06:43 PM
Jb8989 - 13 October 2018 03:56 PM

So you’re also talking about nature v nurture. Compassion is close enough to empathy to be a prerequisite to good relationships. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about having less of it. Less loyalty is something you’ll hear a lot of depressed people wish they were more of. Query the distinction.

Could you elaborate?

Roughly speaking, Empathy is “I feel with you.” Compassion is “I feel for you.” For both there’s such a thing as real bad fatigue (e.g. compassion-fatigue). It comes when you’re bonding too much, or you’re bonding in situations when you should be doing a priority check. Left unchecked, it can turn into complacency (with a person or thing), sadness or even depression. It’s a weird concept; to think that compassion can swing toward the dark, but I can assure you that it’s quite common.

Carrying an attachment regardless of how you feel after you’ve vetted it, is a type of blind loyalty. If we did a venn diagram, we’d see a bunch of overlap between the three. Loyalty’s a little different, however, because it appears almost equally cultural where as empathy and compassion likely have a more biological basis. (i.e. almost everyone is taught that we’re supposed to be fervently loyal to family and friends).

Despair, loss, morning, sadness are all a little bit more straightforwardly painful. For example, Jan’s series of losses make sense that they would cause a type of dark emotional time. It sucks, but it’s normal.

Often times, perfectly mentally healthy people feel obliged to remain compassionate and committed to people we love, even if there’s a slow negative creep in the mix. You want to ask yourself whether it’s healthy compassion v. your positivism misplaced, masquerading as loyalty. Most people don’t want to go there, because they feel like it’s an affront to thier identity. I call them happy sad people.

 

[ Edited: 14 October 2018 06:49 by Jb8989]
 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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14 October 2018 07:48
 

jb8989:
Often times, perfectly mentally healthy people feel obliged to remain compassionate and committed to people we love, even if there’s a slow negative creep in the mix. You want to ask yourself whether it’s healthy compassion v. your positivism misplaced, masquerading as loyalty. Most people don’t want to go there, because they feel like it’s an affront to thier identity. I call them happy sad people.

I think this is what I termed co-dependency, though this word may describe the extreme.  Please correct me if I am wrong. 

Sometimes compassion requires letting the person learn a hard lesson for himself, rather than trying to shield him from the consequences.  Of course, this does not pertain if suicide is in the equation.  However, this is not as cut-and-dried as it might seem.  I know several people who are manipulated by loved ones who threaten or fake suicide attempts.  In one case, this was verified by the patient at the hospital bragging that he had carried out a “brilliant ruse.”

What the world needs now is more compassion, definitely.  My point is just that sometimes people can be wrongly manipulated by appealing to their compassion or they can jump to an ultimately unhelpful response.  The complexity is illustrated in the responses to homeless people.  Reactions can range from repulsion, fear, or anger on one hand, to various acts of compassion on the other.  Is it most helpful, ultimately most compassionate, to offer homeless panhandlers cash, or a bag lunch, or shelter, or shelter with conditions attached?  I believe compassion is appropriate, in some form.

[ Edited: 14 October 2018 07:51 by hannahtoo]
 
Jb8989
 
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Jb8989
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14 October 2018 08:31
 
hannahtoo - 14 October 2018 07:48 AM

jb8989:
Often times, perfectly mentally healthy people feel obliged to remain compassionate and committed to people we love, even if there’s a slow negative creep in the mix. You want to ask yourself whether it’s healthy compassion v. your positivism misplaced, masquerading as loyalty. Most people don’t want to go there, because they feel like it’s an affront to thier identity. I call them happy sad people.

I think this is what I termed co-dependency, though this word may describe the extreme.  Please correct me if I am wrong.

No, it plays. I think of co-dependency as actually broader. People depend on other people either to their benefit or detriment. And it’s not always cut and dry. I think of “happy sad people” as caught in the belief that it’s shameful to question compassion-infused loyalties, even if just as a matter of interspective curiosity. Because they think it’s a “how things should be” perspective. So they’re the same and different in my mind.

hannahtoo - 14 October 2018 07:48 AM

Sometimes compassion requires letting the person learn a hard lesson for himself, rather than trying to shield him from the consequences.  Of course, this does not pertain if suicide is in the equation.  However, this is not as cut-and-dried as it might seem.  I know several people who are manipulated by loved ones who threaten or fake suicide attempts.  In one case, this was verified by the patient at the hospital bragging that he had carried out a “brilliant ruse.”

What the world needs now is more compassion, definitely.  My point is just that sometimes people can be wrongly manipulated by appealing to their compassion or they can jump to an ultimately unhelpful response.  The complexity is illustrated in the responses to homeless people.  Reactions can range from repulsion, fear, or anger on one hand, to various acts of compassion on the other.  Is it most helpful, ultimately most compassionate, to offer homeless panhandlers cash, or a bag lunch, or shelter, or shelter with conditions attached?  I believe compassion is appropriate, in some form.

Once source of being manipulated could be compassion, or it could be anything: Love, greed, lust, power and so on. Being persuaded to behave a certain way and being manipulated are different colloquially, but what they’re both talking about is what’s driving us toward habitual behavior patterns. Questioning whether these habits are good or bad is generally a step down the critically thinking road for most people (not for our forum dwellers but most people). Taking your example of homeless people, it’s not a good example. Until we can show data that people who share more experience happiness more and depression less, than this is a hypothetical in resource mindedness and whether one can think systematically for the greatter good of self, family and society. It’s too loaded to say someone who does or doesn’t is more or less compassionate because contributing social factors influence the emotions top down while we dualistically deliberate on them botton up.

 

 
 
Jan_CAN
 
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14 October 2018 10:20
 

As TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher said, “the smallest act can be enough to tip the scales in the other direction…”.  This is very true, and it goes both ways.  Kind actions or words can give comfort and hope, and harsh or careless words can do the opposite.

As mentioned, when I was going through my ‘difficulties’, my family members were all experiencing shared crises and were trying to be strong for each other so weren’t sharing any of our problems coping.  However, even under different circumstances, it appears that it is quite common for many people to not always confide everything with family. 

That’s when friends could become important.  My experiences were disappointing to say the least.  (Unfortunately, my closest friend was not available at that time.)  As a mechanism of self-protection, you learn to test the waters by hinting at what’s troubling you.  When the response is insensitive, you know that that person is a ‘no-go’.  Eventually I just gave up.

Although not overweight to start with, when over a period of several weeks I lost a lot of weight, I even had a co-worker tell me I looked good (she apparently thought the thinner, the better).  I was unwell (presumably pale and drawn), and yet she was totally oblivious.  It still confounds me how clueless some people can be.

During this time period I lied a lot.  I was taking a lot of sick days off work, so I told my boss various things, from flues to migraines.  When I didn’t attend social events, I made lame excuses.  I would say I was fine when I wasn’t.  My purpose here is to say that, if your gut tells you that something is wrong with someone you know, you might want to ask again, perhaps to gently prod, to make it known that you care and are concerned.  And it might not take much; listening and a kind word or two can help and doesn’t require solving major problems.  Also, thoughtful gestures, of the type my late mother would do without asking because she anticipated need, like delivering a meal to a neighbour when she knew they were spending a lot of time at the hospital.  This type of thoughtful compassion appears to be going out of style.

Of course there are those complicated situations, where there are issues of self-destructive behaviour, co-dependency, enabling, etc.  However, it also seems that we are living in a society where we are expected to hide our pain, to suffer in silence.  It doesn’t have to be as serious as clinical depression where suicide is a concern; there are those among us who are suffering for various reasons and they are having to do it alone.  It sometimes seems that if we are in need of help or compassion, we are expected to get it from professionals.

 
 
Brick Bungalow
 
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14 October 2018 12:49
 
Jb8989 - 13 October 2018 03:56 PM

So you’re also talking about nature v nurture. Compassion is close enough to empathy to be a prerequisite to good relationships. On the other hand, there’s something to be said about having less of it. Less loyalty is something you’ll hear a lot of depressed people wish they were more of. Query the distinction.

I feel like empathy is definitely like this.There are many ways that excess empathy can be toxic. I don’t (yet) feel that way about compassion. I think that compassion contains within it a sort of moral intelligence. It contains moderation and insight because it represents the intersection of intention and action. Acts of compassion are often passive or disciplinary as dictated by circumstance.

This is what I derive from the literature at any rate. Maximum compassion isn’t toxic because it entails maximum efficiency.

 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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14 October 2018 15:05
 

Jan:
However, it also seems that we are living in a society where we are expected to hide our pain, to suffer in silence.  It doesn’t have to be as serious as clinical depression where suicide is a concern; there are those among us who are suffering for various reasons and they are having to do it alone.  It sometimes seems that if we are in need of help or compassion, we are expected to get it from professionals.

I wonder if many/most people just assume other people are supporting a friend who is going through rough times.  They don’t know the ins and outs of the particular relationships that person has.  It’s a byproduct of our living so separately these days and being so busy with work and endless errands.  How many people are “lost inside their houses”?  I know that close neighborhoods exist, but I’ve never lived in one.

Your comment is a reminder of the importance of checking in with friends and also of reaching out when needy.

 
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