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Compassion vs. Saving

You have likely heard the phrase, "People have to save themselves. They have to want to change."

You might know this intellectually, but when you are faced with seeing someone you love suffer and you think you know a better way, it's pretty tough not to react.

You might swoop in and try to rescue or you might draw a rigid boundary, by turning away and saying something like, "It's your problem. You have to handle it."

How can you stay in compassion in the face of your loved one's pain and have a healthy boundary?

First, enjoy the "jackal" show. Take a step back and watch the thinking that leaves you feeling angry, resentful, or hopeless.  Your jackal show might sound something like this:

"If she would just listen to me, she would be better off. Why won't she wake up and take my advice?! How can she make choices like?!   She knows better."

Second, give yourself some compassion. Connect with your own feelings and needs. It might sound something like this:

"I feel so sad and frustrated seeing her go through this. I want her to be happy and healthy. It's so confusing seeing her make the choices she does. I wish I could understand her better. I want to help."

Third, remind yourself that this person is always doing the best they can in the moment with the emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental resources they have access to. The biggest gift you can offer is acceptance of where they are in life and faith that they will continue to evolve.

Fourth, connect with them by guessing their feelings and needs, that is, offer empathy. This can be done silently in your own heart or verbally with them.

Here is where it's important to remember a foundational concept in Compassionate Communication.

Needs stand alone. Needs are not linked to any one person, thing, or behavior.

So instead of, "Do you need me to help you? Or Do you need him to be there for you?"

It sounds like, "I'm guessing you could use help and support you can count on?"

Sometimes it's hard to stay with guessing feelings and needs.

For those of you who have a tendency to rescue, your empathy might quickly turn into advice giving, consoling, cheering up, analyzing, explaining, etc.

For those of you who have a tendency to turn away from other's pain, you might be unwilling to give empathy at all. You might think that if you give empathy you are somehow agreeing or taking responsibility.

Most simply defined empathy is an action that says, "I'm listening to your heart and I care."

There is nothing in it that says you will save the day, the other has to change, or something is wrong or right. There is just a simple witnessing with a loving heart.

Right now take a moment and think of someone you care for that you wish you could help. Close your eyes and let your body relax.  Invite the flow of your own emotions; anger, frustration, exasperation, disappointment, . . . grief.  Connect with your own need to see other's thrive, especially those you love dearly.  As you connect with your needs more grief may arise, breath through your heart and let yourself experience the grief.

Feel yourself accepting your own experience. As you relax you can begin to bring your suffering loved one into your consciousness.  See them not just as they are now, but rather as someone on a journey to awakening with all its painful and joyful twists and turns.  Let yourself drop into the knowing that this person is held and taken care of by something much greater than you.

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2 Responses

  1. Jun 22, 2013

    love that part about needs standing alone, very helpful.

  2. Jun 24, 2013

    Thanks for the feedback, it's helpful to know.

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