Choosing compassion—for others and for ourselves—is a choice that you can make. It’s the feeling that arises within you when witnessing another’s suffering—and which motivates your subsequent desire to help.
Research suggests that compassion interventions benefit our physical and mental health, our ability to manage our emotions and our relationships.
Consider the following two stories:
- A woman parked in a space reserved for Veterans at her local grocery store. When she came out, she found a note on her car that said, “This parking space is for Veterans lady, learn to read and have some respect.” Later, she informed the letter-writer on social media that she had in fact served eight years in the United States Navy.
- Another woman reported being criticized for parking her minivan in a handicapped space, which particularly angered some people because of her “26.2” and “I Love to Run” stickers. The possibility that she was a marathon-runner with a wheelchair-bound son apparently wasn’t considered.
In both stories, not only were conclusions reached without important evidence, but the conclusions presumed someone had done something wrong. This is common, as our default position is to assume the worst. If something is going well, ignore it; if there’s a hint of a problem, fix it now!
This tendency also affects relationships with our families, friends and ourselves. It leads us to decide our partner is lazy, our friends are irritable, and we’re failing in our personal and professional lives. A friend who forgets to call you once “never calls!” A child who doesn’t do the dishes one night “spends too much time on her phone!” And for many of us, no matter how many times we do something well, it’s that single mistake we think about over and over and over!
Psychologist Kristin Neff studies self-compassion and defines it as having three parts:
- Being mindful, rather than over-identifying with your problems.
- Connecting with others, rather than isolating.
- Adopting an attitude of self-kindness instead of judgement.
During times of crisis or stress, when many of us are struggling personally and professionally, many of us just need compassion.
Have you started eating more processed foods despite your goals of increasing fresh fruit and vegetables? Is your usually cheerful partner a bit more quick-tempered?
When you notice these sorts of issues, try to stop the automatic criticism and offer some compassion in its place. Be mindful and separate the behavior from the person (even what that person is you); try to connect instead of separate; and find a way to offer kindness and support in the middle of a very challenging period.
We encourage you to take 10 minutes today and focus on compassion for yourself, for those around you, and for those in your community. Join Dr. Greg Serpa from the Greater Los Angeles VA for this 10 minute compassionate breathing exercise:
Want to watch and connect with other Veteran’s stories or find information that relates to your experiences? MakeTheConnection.net is an online resource designed to connect Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources and solutions to issues affecting their lives.
Marc Castellani, Ph.D., NBC-HWC, is the Whole Health Clinical Education Coordinator for the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation.