Sunday, February 18, 2018

Increasing Compassion

Melissa’s Mindful Moments

Increasing Compassion

 Melissa Roush, MS, LPC-Intern

Supervised by Katrena Hart, LPC-S


Last month I wrote about increasing awareness through the practice of mindfulness.  Certainly, there are many positive rewards to increasing awareness.  Ultimately, the awareness of our ability to be aware is empowering and liberating at the same time.  Because we are aware that we are not bound by outgrown or negative thoughts that precipitate escalating emotionality or anxiety, we are free to change our thoughts and respond to stressors in life rather than react to them. 

In addition to increased personal empowerment, mindfulness practice increases compassion for self and others.  Interestingly, when we are able to be compassionate with ourselves first, we naturally become more compassionate with others.  However, this concept can be confusing for those of us who were taught to put others before ourselves. 

In my personal and professional life, I have met many people who struggle with the notion of loving themselves or having compassion for themselves.  Often, the fears are of being unkind, selfish or narcissistic, and the “blocks” are negative judgments of themselves based on old messages from childhood which have developed into shame.  I believe it is these fears and judgments about ourselves that prevent us from being able to be truly compassionate with others. Why?  Because that which we do not accept in ourselves we will project onto (and reject in), others.   Until we are able to accept ourselves, love ourselves, have compassion for ourselves- fully, authentically and completely- warts and all- we cannot possibly have authentic compassion for others. 

So how do we increase compassion for ourselves?

Let’s look at the origins of the word “compassion.” My dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic feeling: PITY, MERCY.”  More specifically, “compassion” comes from the French by way of Latin- “com” [with] and “pati” [to suffer].  Therefore, compassion means to “suffer with.”  When we “suffer with” someone, we are in active participation with the one who suffers.  We do not dismiss, rise above, look down upon, judge, negate, deny, or deflect. Neither do we apply the “rainbows and butterflies” remedy or create busy-ness to avoid suffering.  

When we choose to “suffer with,” we acknowledge the pain and the emotions that come with suffering.  As practitioners of mindfulness, we are aware and observe; we accept and do not judge the present moment experience.  However, we also begin to observe the factors that increase suffering in the present.  We recognize that we have histories filled with voices, images, emotions and sensations that have created thoughts about who we are (or are not).  If those histories (or her-stories) have created fears, blocks, defenses and masks we need to be compassionate with ourselves in order to reduce our suffering. 

One way to do this is to work with one’s “inner child”.  As an adult, we may begin to look more closely and objectively at the experiences and messages we received as children.  As adults practicing mindfulness, we can acknowledge the hurt, pain, fears and defenses we developed when we were operating from a place of helplessness and dependency on others to meet our needs.  As adults practicing mindfulness, we can “suffer with” our inner child and say, “It makes sense that you would feel_____________ because you thought________________.”  As an adult, you can then begin to challenge the thoughts and messages to which your inner child still reacts, while learning to be with- “suffer with”,  the emotions in the present moment.

When we are able to offer our inner child compassion, we are also free to offer our adult self compassion.  The adult self has now created a space between a trigger and a reaction to a stressor or pain.  The adult self can ask “What is this about for me?”  The adult self can acknowledge the inner child, while recognizing that the adult self can challenge old paradigms and respond in a new way.  The adult recognizes and has compassion around the process of relearning- which takes time and is sometimes very difficult.  This ability empowers us to drop defenses, masks, and controlling and/or avoiding behaviors because we learn to accept our wounding for what it is. 

As we increase compassion for ourselves, we begin to recognize the hurt child in others.  We learn to respond to our inner child first, empower our adult self, and then respond to others from a space that is less reactive, less judgmental, more compassionate and more authentic. 

This month take time to be with your inner child. You may wish to do this work with your therapist.   Pull out an old picture of yourself as a child and reflect on the carefree, creative and  playful nature of your little self as well as on your wounding.  Explore the thoughts and messages you received as a child.  Where do these old wounds show up in your present life?  How do the old messages creep into your world creating the need for control or avoidance?  Do the old wounds block your creative playful spirit crying to get out?  Do you have the relationships you need to support you?  Does your adult self have a compassionate, loving  relationship with your inner child?  Your inner child is alive within you.  By practicing mindful awareness of this part of you, you can increase compassion, love, and presence within and for yourself and then offer that gift back to those you love.  As we approach the season of peace, joy and gratitude, I can think of no better gift.


Bridging Harts Institute & Psychotherapy
203 S. Alma St. Suite #300
Allen, TX 75013
T: (972) 562 5002
Email: info@bridgingharts.com


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