There’s another risk when we compare our suffering to someone else’s suffering: we lose out on the opportunity offer ourselves a compassionate response. Brené Brown does a great job addressing this in her youtube video on the difference between empathy and sympathy. One universal truth about traumatic memories are that they cause suffering, and the only way through suffering is compassion. When we start saying “well, at least,” we deny that opportunity to recognize our suffering and be compassionate with our experiences. Instead, we start boot-strapping it. We pull ourselves up by our boot-straps and push forward. Ignore, push down what we feel, rinse, repeat. I’ve been there. It’s an easy response, but it also causes us a lot of suffering.
Compassion can be a tricky concept to understand, and I’m a therapist who likes concrete terms that are easy to define. Compassion doesn’t fit nicely into one of those definitions, and it often throws people for a loop when I ask “How might you be more compassionate to yourself in this situation?”
We aren’t hardwired to be good at self-compassion. There are some hypotheses out there about how being less compassionate towards ourselves has helped us survive as a species. Nowadays, I’m not sure we need to be as hard on ourselves as we are. A little compassion goes a long way. When we start boot-strapping, we miss out on compassion and the important information that feelings provide us. When we look at situations with compassion, we can shift from suffering to understanding.
And wow, what a difference understanding makes. Maybe not everything is your fault. Maybe it’s easier to understand why you feel the way you feel. It doesn’t make feelings the truth, but it does mean they help you move forward using both your logical and emotional thoughts.
As cliché as it sounds, there is something to be said about having someone else witness our suffering. We are a lot better at having compassion for others than we are at having compassion for ourselves. Therapy is one way that you can see what it’s like to have someone else offer you a compassionate response. My guess is that you might also have some friends or family members who might know how be compassionate with you as well. Wherever you chose to get your compassion, I hope you are able to experience the difference between boot-strapping and compassion. It really does make a world of difference.
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