Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Art of dealing with Negative Emotions of others -- Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion

Sometimes in life we are all confused as to what emotions to feel when something happens with someone else apart from me. When something happens to us it is very easy to categorically decide what I want to feel and think or do. But when you see a loved one’s of yours going through a certain pain or hurt … you become clueless how to handle and how to console the other person… how best to feel what they feel and yet not be a stress on them.



 The reason being we either touch their feelings so slightly that it doesn’t help them or we dwell so deep that we return exhausted and devoid of our own state of mind. I kept wondering about what attitude we should  have for problems in which we are not directly involved but our loved ones are, I am bothered about this because we are all social beings and not alone in the scene of the world. We cannot have a safe life if we know how to deal with our own feelings but have no clue how to deal with feelings of others. Our attitude and mindset creates a huge impact on our relationship and that goes unsaid.


When I go through some hurt or pain, I have noticed people behave in amazing ways. They fumble, they wonder, they cry, they make others cry etc but yes none is aware of what is my need at that point of time. Watching them amuses me as to how ignorant we are of how to behave with others in a sensitive manner. In today’s world where contact is limited to watching a friend’s icon on your phone, how do you know in what way to create a connection to relief the loved one of their pain?


I have not postulated anything new but have just rephrased a few words we use often with respect to attending feelings of others. These are 3 simple words often over lapped in their understanding and thus leading to confusions.

They are Sympathy, Empathy and Compassion.


Sympathy is to be able to recognize the feeling inside other person. Any person who says “I sympathize with you” is able to see and be aware that you are in pain. The personal zone of feelings is still separate from the one who feels pain but they at least accept the presence of pain.

For example – When you see a beggar on street, you are able to sympathize with his condition.

  • This begins by feeling pity or sorry at the state of other one.

  • It is a bit of depressing state because sympathizers are never able to judge the intensity of pain nor are they able to provide what to do next. 

  • Also they remain as intact in terms of their energy exchange between individuals. Mostly words are sensed but do not cross effective energy to the person in pain.

  • They can provide you with unwanted advice whether you need it or not. Willing or unwilling.


Empathy is to be not just aware of presence of pain but feel the intensity of pain . It is usually generalized by the term “Stepping into someone’s shoes” which means I expand my horizon of feelings into your feelings. There is a sense of urgency in paying attention because the pain bothers the empathizer and the person in pain equally or sometimes more.
For example – If a child falls then a mother feels the pain of a child with as much intensity as the child or sometimes more. 

  • There could be a feeling of sorry state or no sorry state depending on the conditioning of the empathizer. Though most empathizers do feel sorry.
  • The intensity is felt very strongly. Sometimes more than the person hurt, it adds a hint of exaggeration depending on the sense of person involved.
  • The most important point is that empathize invest a lot of energy of their own into feeling the intensity , which eventually drains them out completely and creates a sense of pain within. It happens mostly with those who have gone through with a similar kind of incident and they revisit their complete incident while empathizing. So empathizing involves fatigue. Sometimes empathizers unknowingly invite lot of pain on their side while seeking to comfort another.
  • They too can give you much advice, you might not want to follow up with it but they stress on their experience to let the advice be accepted.


Compassion is a step ahead of empathy. It is to empathize with the person without draining your energy and finding a way out of solving those feelings. Compassionates never sit idle, they move out of pain zone which is build during empathizing and they look for solutions. They assist, support and in turn reinstate faith and power inside the other person.
For example – If you fall while walking with a compassionate person. He will not cringe, not cry nor exaggerate. He will simply put hand out for you to hold and get up.
  • They never go down to sorry state; rather they get into observing state. They observe the pain inside another person and are able to accept that pain is “present-- now”.
  • The intensity is felt strongly but never exaggerated. They can enumerate exact emotions of yours if you ask for but will never undo your own capacity of overcoming them. They’ll always state presence of doing more than presence of feeling.
  • They do not waste their energy while feeling for others. Rather they divert it. They divert it to doing something about it. The event horizon ends as soon as the pain is confronted and the doing horizon beings. They are solution oriented and hence they never feel fatigued no matter how many feelings they have encountered through the day.
  • They do not give advice, they show you the path or give you support and then leave it onto you to accept or reject that support. They increase your faith in your own capacity of doing something for yourself. They do not give you themselves; they give you the tool to work.



Most of us fall into the category of empathizers. The reason for being either of the two and not compassionate is our deep sense of attachment to the subject in pain. While empathizers react exactly the same way as the subject in pain does so it gets easy to attract lot of negative energy around the sufferer. Like your friend breaks off with someone , the usual reaction that comes from us is to react and speak ill about the ex of my friend… one thing we do not understand is that the person in hurt is already low on energy and doesn’t really need a heavy environment of negative energy around. How does my bashing of friends’ ex justify my affection for my friend?? In turn I am abusing the choice and the energy invested my friend in that relation. This is how empathizers pull down the sufferer more rather than empowering him.



In turn Compassionate people are solution oriented. They address emotions but with an angle of providing right kind of support. They nudge and push the sufferer to take charge of his/her own life and not spoon feed him/her. They are aware that pain exists and it will only go when replaced with something more positive. Compassion makes you aware of a perfect Inner Self absolutely capable of doing justice to the person once the pain is over.

The expansion of inner I shows you the reason the universal laws of functioning the idea that hurt is only superficial and an effect of what has by gone. You then become the part of the solution and stability than problem and anxiety. Compassionate person is more like a guide providing a tool to you, the person might even provide you with user manual but will never doubt on your capability of using it nor will he ever abuse the pain or the pain giver and create negative energy around you.



Some people may consider this as less sensitive than empathizing or even afar from reality. How can you ignore the pain inside a person?? How can you not blame the situation?? But the truth is your feeling pain for someone else never really reduces pain for anyone, only when the person in pain accepts it as reality then the pain starts dissipating. Blaming the situation inks at reversing the wheel of time which unfortunately is impossible. It only adds to more guilt and shame. So Compassionates stay away from such tactics. Compassion is practical and solution oriented … it is to have feelings without being emotional, to be critical but with a meaning, to have objectivity without being obsessed with object.



I usually suggest you methods of working on an idea, of course I have come up with a working way too but a rather simpler one. The biggest reason I could understand we are not able to be compassionate in true spirit is our feeling of owning. Yes the more we own the more we join ourselves to it (empathize) and the one which we do not own we do not join to it at all (sympathize).


So in my method … you start treating every one as a child…. I mean all your loved one’s but not yours, of someone else and you become a care taker of that child.
For e.g. If you have a child with you of someone else and the child falls down somewhere … do you feel the pain with the same intensity as the mother of the child would have felt ??? No we don’t. But we feel the pain and then help the child as per our responsibility and give him aid.

This is owning while not owning at all.
When you enter the mindset of owning but not owning you know you are not the parent and thus not deeply attached so you feel the pain but less intense more so you make the child smile and help me stand on his own feet without extra baggage of advice. You learn to understand you are not responsible to be the master of destiny for the child and you cannot be, let the onus of problem giving stay with Supreme ... you just plainly be the Care taker nothing more nothing less.


I could have advised considering each other as Souls or brothers and sisters etc but the reason I did not suggest this is because it seems Impossible to replicate that in relations like parents and child, husband and wife or even some friends. But when you say treat all your loved ones as Child and Care Taker. The limitations end.

Every relationship whether parent child – husband wife – friends etc whatever your relation is it can be easily adaptable to a Child and Care taker role. The idea is to divert the mind from pain to support and solutions that only a Care taker will do and Owner will always be in the fear of losing and thus can never become compassionate.



I am personally guilty of empathizing and draining my energy out I am trying to move to the next step and learning. Like I always say I too am a part of process of changing and improving myself. I have been owning my relationships for long in Owner mode and now I am slowly turning into Care Taker mode. So be a part of journey of change with me.

Happy Compassionating.

24 comments:

James said...

Hello again Shreya!

I had just been reading a discussion on speakingtree.in, when I noticed your smiling face on the page, for your piece "TIME- my healer??" and thought to myself "Hm, I wonder if she has something new on her blog?".. and so you do!
Your descriptions of the three types are quite suitable, and the suggested method for training one's mindset to understand and practice compassion seems quite practical and easy to understand.

There are two things that struck me, that I wish to share:

1. While of course suffering is the
primary focus of discussions involving sympathy/empathy/compassion, consider also those feelings which may be quite strong, and engender a desire to share, that are positive- such as an unexpected remarkable success, or finally understanding some idea that had long remained impenetrable to you.. celebration, as well as commiseration, requires communication (although of course there are the private joys and victories of life, but I am not referring to these). Going back to your Child/Caretaker scenario, one may not feel the same delight as a toddler who has just learned to tell time, but one may certainly reinforce the celebratory aspect of it. Anyway, just some thoughts..

2. There is the other side also
of compassion in our relations with
others: when we are in that place of the Child, as it were.
This involves several factors, like
*Boundaries- how much is too much, given the listener? What are the conditions of trust/respect/honesty with this other person?
*Self-honesty- do I allow myself to see the reality of my internal state, or do I filter and edit what is there, before even facing it privately?
*Communication- even if there are no issues with boundaries or self-honesty, am I able to express meaningfully and accurately my state- will the listener understand "my language"?

Not only does improving one's "listening" improve one's "speaking"- but the converse is also true ;)

I am sorry for rambling on and on,
but at least you know I do indeed
happily read and ponder the words
of Shreya :)

Shreya said...

Hi James,

Nice to see you here again :)
And thanks for going to Speakingtree.in , do you read it there often. Never saw you there. And yes i smile everywhere not just at Speakingtree.in even here :) don't I smile all the time :) I just like smiling anyway doesn't matter. I am glad you read my post even there.
Thank you.


When i was creating this post I did not consider into my mind the very happy moments or celebrations or even remarkable success of others in my mind. You are right one may want to reinforce the celebratory aspect of it. But what i often find is that when we are successful and overwhelmed with happiness we throng around us anyway, because they know how to behave in case of an happy event ...except a few jealous people ;)... most often what people are unaware is how to handle when there is pain on the other side.

More so in case of happiness and success we have little need or emotional vacuum .. yes we do need listener to share who are not jealous or skeptic about those joys but the vacuum is absent. In short positive energy is more than negative energy around us, so the need of validation reduces. (Correct me if I am wrong -- i replied as per I understood your point , if there is something i skipped PLEASE do let me know.)


The second point that you raised is very relevant. What to do when you are the child and not the care taker.
When you are not the Care taker to anyone convert yourself into Care taker of self. Very often we have heard about counseling self And SELF COMPASSIONATE.

I should have made this a part of my post but i didnt thank you for bringing this to my notice.

The idea that there is no one to take care of us is extremely detrimental. It avoids you to help yourself. And then you keep thinking about the problem and keep pitying yourself. You can see numerous such examples around. So yes we must develop the habit of being Self Compassionate.

In this respect i think 3 points become very important.
a) Be gentle to yourself , accept that there is a suffering that needs your attention.

b) Don't blame yourself , mistakes are part of life .. we all think we are right when we do the work but once it fails we start blaming ourself, getting over is very imp. I explained this in a post of mine. http://simplyshreya.blogspot.in/2011/10/forgive-yourself.html

c) Understand you are the best help to yourself. You are the one who motivates self and can pull out yourself of any tragedy, so never underestimate your capacity of loving self and ability of getting over a situation.

Shreya said...


@james

Now coming to your point-- considering we become self compassionate.

Boundaries -- with Self there is hardly any boundary, no one better than yourself will understand the reason behind what you did and what happened ... no one ever will. So trust respect and honesty is best maintained with self.

Self honesty -- Reality is a perceived view of situation. When we try to become Self compassionate we mold our perception to see that we have tha capability of rising above every situation that then becomes our reality. There is no complete reality except the Supreme Truth. Everything else is already filtered and edited as per our liking. :-)

Communication -- When Self compassion finds a mate within the feelings become the language. Yes a bit of clarity is definitely needed to even explain yourself... so a bit of positive reading and understanding helps but there is no dearth of understanding "the language" from Self by Self.


I could have explained your 2nd point wrt others but there is no point depending on others in times of pain. The more Self compassionate you grow the more Self sufficient you become.

This does not mean you do not share your pain with others but this just means that we are available for ourselves 24x7. Lets give our shoulders to be cried on but never our heads to be bend on them.

Thank you James :) i hope i could answer both your points , if there is still something that i missed or misunderstood do let me know. Glad to discuss it with you here. :)

Also please if you can mail me your id at shreyam_11@rediffmail.com
so that i can add you up at FOLLOW VIA EMAIL, that way you would not have to work hard to find my new posts... they shall be dropped at your Email door step.

:) My pleasure to have readers like you.

Thank you.
Regards
Smiling Shreya :)

gyanban said...

The root cause for all suffering,especially the ones not self inflicted are because of a high need for approval.
People love it when someone else tells them they are good and or get affected when they are told otherwise.

Getting rid of this emotion,will enable someone to look at things objectively,which is an easier way to deal with things rather than an irrational emotional point of view.

Cheers
GB

Shreya said...

@Gyanban

Absolutely ... i think the main reason of such approval is we have always learned that approval is the only way of evaluating self.
I mean we have always created an image of ourselves depending on what others think about us. Most people use this as a tool to blackmail us to make us feel guilty and we use it too in a similar way.

You have given me a good thought to think over i shall now work on this a very important point to remember.

Thank you very much for your comment. Just been to your blog very inspiring shall read more of it soon.
Keep visiting.

Regards
Shreya

Anonymous said...

As always, lot of thought has gone into this beautiful article.

Fully agree with you shreya. Compassion transcends both sympathy and empathy because it converts feelings into action.

But it is very difficult to get out of “empathizing” mode. We get so pulled into others’ problems that we lose ourselves in them. We even go to the extent of being self judgmental or critical about ourselves or we are always in problem solving mode that we fail to realize our self-inflicted pain in return.

“Be compassionate to others” is what we have been taught but never have we been taught to have compassion for ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, after a certain point, we lose balance.

Though most of us know that we should not be hard on ourselves and should be self-compassionate, we fail to do this for the fear of being selfish!

Child and caretaker

Here also, don’t you think sometimes we might over react and marshmallow the child passing the message inadvertently that the child is helpless?
The child starts clinging to you particularly if it is of a dependant type.
How and where do we draw the boundaries?

“owning and yet not owning” having a sense of detached attachment might go a long way in saving ourselves from the hurt, especially if you are in a helping profession.

May be you can write about self compassion in your next post

Being an emotional anchor is very challenging shreya.

OMG, I don’t know what all I have written.

Anonymous said...

Oops..it is not anonymous! it is Nirmala :)

Shreya said...

Hii Nirmala,

It is always so nice to see you here :)

Thanks for your comment first :)

2 points that i could understand from your comment was
a) Being Self compassionate -- because true we have never been taught to be loving towards our own self. Even today when men cry they think its cowardice i mean i never understood why such an essential emotion is called cowardice but still yes we have never been taught to love ourselves.
I did mention a bit of it in the above comments with James but if you insist i shall write a post on it.

But not actually on Self compassionate but on Self reliance because in my opinion our self reliance is limited to only physical entities like financial and physical freedom but emotional reliance .... we never think of it. So yes thanks for bringing this up i shall be putting up an article soon on it.

b) Important point: What if the child is clinging?

What do we do if the child is clinging to you physically ?

Some of us hit the child to remove him.

Some of us just remove him physically and use a commanding approach.

Which one do you think would work better as a compassionate ?

I think the 2nd one. From what i have observed is when you are compassionate you are trying to make the child Independent without any dependency on anybody.

In that real process .. you tend you choose paths in which the child himself needs you for a very little time till he senses a sense of power that is associated with Independence.

Like a child who is learning to walk , the child needs you till the fear of falling is there... after that the child just keeps walking.

Yes it is a challenge to be an anchor and compassionate. But that is the whole creativity Nirmala :). We are all creative human beings.
Do we really want to just stay connected with people via mobile , internet and meets ?? and not connect through hearts?

If what i have felt is right then when you actually try be compassionate then to those who you have helped create a sense of gratitude for you for a life time. Your presence and absence does not matter then and a beautiful relationship is established for a lifetime.

But yes it is difficult but not impossible.

Let me know if you have more query dear.
And sorry for delayed posting of answer i was a bit busy.

Keep smiling and thanks again :)

Love
Shreya

SATHYA PRAKASH said...

DEAR SHREYA JI,

IN VIEW OF THE YEAR END BUSY SCHEDULE, I COULD NOT RESPOND IMMEDIATELY.

WE SEE MANY PEOPLE AFFLICTED BY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS/DIFFICULTIES/TURMOILS ETC. PEOPLE SYMPATHISE OR EMPATHISE OR COMPASSIONATE DEPENDING UP ON THE LEVEL OF ATTACHMENT WITH THE PERSON OR ANIMAL OR ANYTHING ELSE.

YOU HAVE CLEARLY DEFINED THE DIFFERENCE IN THE BEHAVIOUR BY GIVING MEANING TO THE WORDS. EXACTLY IT HAPPENS LIKE THE WAY YOU HAVE NARRATED.

WE CAN ADD ONE MORE CATEGORY WHO JUST EXHIBIT FEELINGS BUT DO NOT FEEL THEM OR DO ANYTHING ABOUT OTHERS PROBLEMS.

AS YOU SAID MANY A TIMES WE DO FALL IN TO EMPATHISERS GROUP WITHOUT OUR KNOWLEDGE. IN THE PROCESS OF EMPATHY WE LOOSE SIGHT OF SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE. EMPATHY IS MORE DANGEROUS BECAUSE WE ALSO SUFFER BY WHICH WE ADD TO THE AGONY OF THE PERSON ALREADY SUFFERING. AT THE TIME OF EMOTIONAL LOW, ONE NEEDS SUPPORT NOT BECAUSE HE CAN NOT SUPPORT HIMSELF BUT BECAUSE OF THE CLOUD BUILT BY EMOTIONS, THE PERSON IS NOT ABLE TO FIND THE SOLUTION.

YOUR SOLUTION TO FALL IN TO 'CARETAKER MODE' IS VERY APT. THIS IS BECAUSE WE SHOULD FIND SOLUTIONS TO OTHER PERSON'S PROBLEMS WHICH CAN BE DONE ONLY WHEN WE ARE IN 'OBSERVATION STATE'. WE SHOULD HAVE STRONG COMMITMENT TO SOLVE OTHER'S PROBLEMS. THIS COMMITMENT IS BOOSTED BY OWNING THE OTHER PERSON AS 'CHILD'. YES, I AM REPEATING WHAT IS TOLD BY YOU. YOU MAY BE BORED WITH THIS.

SHREYA JI, A NICE ANALYSIS OF BEHAVIOURS DONE BY YOU. BEST PART OF YOUR ARTICLES IS THAT THEY EMNATE FROM EXPERIENCE. WRITING OF THIS STANDARD CAN COME FROM A PERSON WHO HAS SUFFERED AND HAS SEEN BEHAVIOUR OF PEOPLE WHO CAME TO YOU AT THAT TIME.

I DO NOT GET EXHAUSTED APPRECIATING YOU FOR THIS.

REGARDS

SATHYA PRAKASH

Shreya said...

Sathya ji , Thank you so much for appreciating my post. Honestly even i never get tired reading comments and even repetition of what i have written on the post. The reason being what i write is a part of my learning too, so as many times as i read it i unlearn and learn something new again.
And that never stops for me :)

So i thank you deeply for appreciating and echoing my thoughts again.

You added a good point of those people who do not fall into any category , probably feel no emotions at all.
I guess you cannot force anyone who doesn't feel things to feel and resolve anything.

If anyone has feelings low you cannot pull and stretch it to anywhere it is no skill that can be learned. It is will that has to be initiated.

I agree with the empathizer point because yes i have faced it .. i do all the time it is an honest confession ... i feel too much and step into other's shoes too often then drain out my energy.

For this i am trying another thing which is to understand duty towards self. It is a concept where I am trying to understand how much and by what limits should we separate ourselves from emotions of others and be first important to ourselves and our emotions. Seems a bit selfish but it is just priority.

That is a long concept .. but I am so drowned in work that i havent been able to experiment with it properly.
Please pardon me for late reply too and i shall be putting up a new post soon. Where in I shall answer lot more.

Thank you again :) and keep smiling

Adios
Shreya

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Shreya said...

Thank you Chris for inviting me. Added your blog and following you.

Regards
Shreya

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Irmãos de luz said...

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regards
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Shreya said...

@Shruti Thank you for inviting me , shall visit soon.

@Dinesh Sahay .. Your book and blog are wonderful as well. Hope to be enriched with its benefits soon. Thank you very much for linking my blog and keeping your comment here. :)


@Irmãos de luz ... Thank you for visiting and placing your comment. Appreciate your gesture.


Regards
Shreya

JLTan said...

Thanks for the explanation.

I agree - I am more of an empathiser moat of the time, like most people. Jesus is compassionate though.

Adhi Das said...

an Interesting Read..GOD<3U

Shreya said...

@JLTan ... Honestly we are all in the practice mode , we keep shifting from sympathizing mode to empathizing mode. Compassion is perfectness so obv God is compassionate always. But being his children we are definitely capable of achieving it someday.

Thank you for your comment :)

Shreya said...

@Adhi Das ... Thank you for reading this piece. Keep visiting :)

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