The subject of compassion has come up in just about every coaching conversation I had this week, so I figured it was worth talking about here today.
I often come back to a passage by Thich Nhat Hanh in “You Are Here”. He says,
“If you feel irritation or depression or despair, recognize their presence and practice this mantra: “Dear one, I am here for you.” You should talk to your depression or your anger just as you would to a child. You embrace it tenderly with the energy of mindfulness…just as you would with your crying baby.”
This idea was such a game changer for me. As someone with perfectionist tendencies, I can get critical about myself and my actions. I easily rush towards “it’s all my fault” and the resulting blame or judgment that can come with it.
What Thich Nhat Hanh asks us to do instead is to show compassion for the challenging parts of ourselves instead of criticizing or blaming. As I’ve slowly learned how to do this, I’ve found it easier to shift my perspective and to approach difficult situations and emotions with an open heart.
I find that many of my clients struggle with this too. When emotions get heated and difficulties arise, how do we show compassion for ourselves and for others?
How to find compassion in difficult situations
Step number 1 is to simply search for it. So today, I wanted to share some scenarios and explore how compassion can lessen the tension and pain of the situation.
Situation 1: You’re ending a multi-year relationship. As you look at the dysfunction and distress of that relationship, you wonder: how the heck did I even get here?
Situation 2: You have a new baby and can’t understand why their rhythms are so unpredictable. You think you’re doing thing’s right, but the baby still seems fussy and unhappy.
Situation 3: Your clients are getting more and more difficult to work with. They’re indecisive and often rude with unrealistic expectations.
If you haven’t had these exact situations, maybe you’ve experienced a time that you questioned a past decision, got frustrated at someone not doing what you wanted, or felt hurt by someone’s unkind words.
How we usually react to difficult situations
Very often our reactions to these situations increase the energy and charge to the situation. We blame or criticize our past selves for making “bad” decisions. We question ourselves, or we shut off emotionally. We create adversarial situations and relationships.
So we start with step 1. Can you find compassion for self and others in these situations?
If you’re struggling to do so, here’s an important bit of information: anger is a secondary emotion – it isn’t directly triggered but rather derives from other emotions like sadness and fear. That means that underneath the anger and frustration is a soft, wounded heart.
As you know from last week, we need to get to the root cause of negative emotions in order to transform them. So look beyond the tight and tense emotions to find the softness and compassion underneath.
Finding compassion instead of anger
There’s compassion for the past you that was doing the best they could at the time. You made decisions with the best information you had available at the time.
There’s compassion for your baby who is new to this world and figuring out the rules. They’re trying to regulate their temperature and blood sugar and all of these other things that they never had to do before.
There’s compassion for the client who is so overwhelmed by the uncertainty and difficulties of COVID that they’ve lost some of their tact. As hard as they’re being on you, they’re being 10x harder on themselves.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t leave the relationship, or that you shouldn’t set boundaries with your clients. Rather, I’m saying that when we turn on the compassion for ALL parties, we get closer to discovering what is actually creating distress and can explore how to resolve it.
Give It a Try
Think of a recent situation when you felt angry or had difficulty with someone in your life. Can you see a reason to find compassion for yourself and how you acted in that situation? Can you see a reason to find compassion for the other person in the situation? Look into your and the other person’s actions, and then ask if fear, sadness, hurt, or ignorance could have played a part in how the situation was handled.
You might just find as you bring compassion into the situation that the tightness and tension begins to soften. You might just find that you have a new perspective. And you might just find that the next steps are suddenly clear.
Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day,