Five Hindrances to Acting with Compassion

1. Pleasing or giving too much is a hindrance to compassion, it does not serve us or those we are in relationship with.  It does not serve the growth of our business or the resourcefulness’ of our team.  Pleasing, while it is done to avoid disharmony, is manipulation and inauthentic so in some ways, every time we please another at the expense of our authenticity, we are chipping away at our self-esteem.  Now, there will be times when it’s just easier to say you’ll take the Caesar salad even though you’d rather have the turkey sandwich and that’s no big deal.  It just doesn’t matter that much. But when communication is at stake or expressing an opinion where we have wisdom and insight, it is vital that we all learn to be okay with some degree of healthy discomfort, disagreement, or conflict.  When we are coming from a mindset of pleasing our motivation is to gain, appease, ensure others will like us, or to stay comfortable.

Compassionate communication is never a form of lip service.  For those of us who tend to be pleasers, often, we will feel fear, anxiety, and resistance when we think we may be disappointing another person in order to follow through with our truth.  Our job is to do our best to deliver the information in a kind, clear, and direct way and let go of the rest.  It does become easier as we practice and experience the benefits of developing co-equal relationships that come with honest and open communication.

If you have the tendency to say no to most things that feel uncomfortable or if you don’t like deviating one bit, from your set schedule, it may be a good practice to say yes when others ask for help even if it seems like a bother or an inconvenience.  If you have the tendency to please others and never say no because you feel obligated, it is probably a good practice to say no more often.  Pay attention to your inner needs and feelings when you do this practice.  What story are you telling yourself…is it true?

2. Pity disguises itself as kindness; it is kindness from an up position which is superiority.  When one receives pity from another, often resentment and anger are the result.  The person who receives pity may feel her anger and resentment are misguided because she sees the charity and is grateful for the assistance, yet the superior mindset of her benefactor feels yucky and unexplainable.  As Pema Chodron writes, “Compassion is a relationship between equals.”  It happens on the same playing field.  It is not me reaching down to help some poor, unfortunate being below me.  It is me reaching down to lift another human being up because I know what it’s like to be hurting and stumble.  Pity is often mistaken for compassion. 

Do you see how reaching down to help the unfortunate being below me, has a superior feeling, but it’s wrapped around the act of giving so it’s masked with kindness and therefor hard to see?  Many of us slip into pity some of the time.  The more self-aware we become the more conscious we are of our inner needs and drives, giving us the tools to re-direct misguided, fear-based thinking that causes us to think we are better than.

Pity is usually stimulated by the need to be important—the savior, the helper, the person with the answers.  Like many shadow side states, pity usually comes from an underlying feeling of inadequacy, not being worthy, or the need to prove we are enough.  With pity we are reinforcing the misguided thinking that “I am better than, because I have the means and ability to help.”  And it is often followed up with, “Hey look at what I just did; look at how kind and compassionate I am.”  Pity does not build intimacy or safety and it hinders connection.  Empathy and compassion are qualities that foster connection, safety, vulnerability, intimacy, and love. 

3. Changing or fixing is very common, these traits dismiss the person’s pain and experience—this is not compassion.  Compassion is being with the pain no matter how uncomfortable.  Statements such as, “It will be okay,” or “At least it is not as bad as…,” are attempts to change.  Offering solutions before we have validated the person’s experience is fixing.  We quickly rush to change or fix in order to bypass the profound discomfort that comes as we sit with difficult information and circumstances.  If we quickly find a solution to their pain, we avoid dealing with the unbearable discomfort of sitting with.  When we change or fix the person that we are seeking to comfort, she most likely will feel dismissed, not heard or seen, and often isolated and lonely.

Receiving the compassionate and empathetic endowment of another offers validation to the person sharing, enabling the person to feel understood, heard, and valued.  It is difficult to walk with someone in their pain—to really be there.  There is often nothing to do but cry, hold hands, or just sit with them as you both grieve the loss.  There are often no words that help. Compassion is sometimes just being with.  The goal of Compassion is not to take away the pain but to walk with the person through the pain.  It’s a courageous act, to allow what is, to be exactly what it is.

4. Judgement can slip into our thinking so easy and hinder our ability to see clearly.  Judgement often feels like fact rather than a story we are telling ourselves.  So often these stories are unconscious, so they feel like part of who we are.  Sometimes these stories are passed down for generations and we never question the validity; we just buy into this so-called truth.  Often these stories become outdated or no longer serve us; it takes courage to question them and see a larger perspective.  Judgement keeps us small; and is usually based in fear.  Judgement is a grave hindrance to compassion because when we judge we make other human beings into objects.  Their needs, desires, and dreams become less important or less righteous than our own.

As we gain more psychological wholeness our perceptions become more inclusive allowing us to see more of the similarities rather than being threatened by our differences.  It’s as if these differences are put here to test us, to see if we are worthy of being human.  To truly become human, we must see everyone as a person worthy of respect and dignity.  Believing our perspective is “right for all” is a hinderance to respect, dignity, and compassion.  Compassion respects and honors the dignity of all human beings.  When we seek to control, we are seeking to make others fit into our ideals, this is not respect, dignity, or compassion.  This does not mean we allow others to cause harm, actions create consequences and compassion does not tolerate abuse in any form.  Compassion is very tolerant of differences because differences do not cause harm, they are simply a way of expressing that which lives inside.  There is room for everyone. 

A few very helpful self-awareness questions to open-up our perception when we find ourselves in a state of judgment: 

  • Is this true?  Is this completely true? 
  • What happens if I don’t believe this?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • What do my judgements stop me from seeing?

5. Reactivity or up regulated emotions can blind us from the choice to act with compassion.  There is no doubt that we will all feel triggered and upregulated throughout our lives.  As we practice mindfulness and self-awareness, we notice the clues our bodies give that tell us things aren’t quite right.  Giving us the awareness that a change needs to take place soon, if we do not tend to the cues our body gives, we may become overwhelmed with emotion.  As we practice mindfulness and self-awareness, we are also developing tools that give us space between the zing of the upregulated emotion and the choice to react or not.  According to the latest research, the chemical reaction of anger coursing through our body is said to take 90 second from its trigger point to run its course through our body.  After 90 seconds it’s the stories we tell ourselves that keep it alive or not.  Mindfulness and self-awareness are tools that help to redirect the misguided stories and find more effective and resilient solutions to our triggers and challenges.

When we listen to our body, we are tending our needs, practicing self-compassion—when we ignore our body or do not have the awareness to know what we need, trouble arises, and it usually seems like it comes out of nowhere.  Yet the trouble has been brewing in the unconscious for some time—its lack of awareness that makes it seem explosive and new.  When we practice self-awareness, we become more conscious of what is brewing in the depths of our being. 

Self-awareness Questions:  Can you be with uncomfortable ideas or processes long enough to allow an unfolding to happen?  Do you tend to be a pleaser or a person who is not usually willing to be uncomfortable to help others?  Can you think of a time when you were the recipient of someone’s pity or is there a time where you felt pity towards another?  Can you think of a time when it was too uncomfortable to stay with a friend’s pain and it was easier to change or fix?

These ideas can be a little tricky because it’s not black and white—there is not one right answer.  If you have additional input or clarifying experiences, please start a conversation in the comment section below.

Sending all good things.

About the Author:

Dr. Rinaldi has spent the last 8 years researching compassion and self-awareness as well as the effects of meditation on the psyche. Trained in archetypal psychology her teachings incorporate the skill of compassion as a key to humanity's next evolutionary process towards a more peaceful way of living. Living more peacefully directly affects how we are able to relate in our personal and professional relationships. As we become more effective and psychologically whole, we become more equipped to handle challenging situations with more equanimity.

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