Shoving your own needs and dignity aside in the name of feeling sorry for someone else, is NOT an act of compassion. In fact, it can be the most uncompassionate stance to take for all parties involved!
Hey! Guess what?
I do not feel sorry for people anymore! And I realize that “feeling sorry for” is NOT a synonym for compassion.
Where is this coming from?
Well … I have been struggling for quite some time now, with a wibbly-wobbly exit from a very unhealthy long-term “friendship” (read “entanglement”). I blogged about it here. Sometimes I feel like I have been caught up in a giant sticky spider web where escape is one heck of a struggle and can only be reached through a series of strategic maneuvers! Yikes!!! Yes … I know this sounds all so very dramatic. But, in my defence, the whole situation has gone on too long.
Anyhow, as I work my way out of this, I have been considering what factors landed me here in the first place. You see, I want to take responsibility for the part I have played. I sense that this accountability is a very important part of healing. Through reflection, I have discovered that a big contributing factor has been my tendency to show compassion through “feeling sorry for”. I now realize how very inappropriate, harmful and destructive this tendency really is.
This is what I have learned.
When I feel sorry for someone, it’s almost like I am saying that there is something lacking in them and their life. It’s like I put myself above them – “Oh, here I am with everything all worked out and an amazing life, and here is this person who just can’t seem to get it together. Poor dear! She just doesn’t have what it takes to get herself out of her own messes. I am wiser. I know her answers.”
You know what? I don’t have everything worked out. My life is as amazing as it is brutal. Just like everyone else in the world. I struggle through my own self-created messes like we all do. Like the person I feel sorry for does. Hey, we all have our own burdens to bear. That’s life. And it’s our own unique responsibility and privilege to work and struggle through difficult issues. After all, it is through the struggles of life that we gain maturity and become the people we were born to be.
So how was it ever appropriate for me to usurp this growth opportunity from My Enfranglement (my new mix-up word for “friend” and “entanglement”)? Never! Her issues were a gift that Beautiful Life offered to her in order to guide her along her own spiritual path.
Now, to be sure, My Enfranglement plays her part well. She is quite adept at drawing people in through sympathy. Somehow others are left feeling a little uneasy and as if they are owing her something. She also chronically uses words like “depression” or “anxiety” to excuse really bad, rude and hurtful behaviour.* This is just how she is. But just because she invited me to the party, does not mean that I needed to attend!
I realize now, that a more compassionate response would have been to be completely honest with her. I could have ended this decades ago. I could have had the courage to confront her with her inappropriate behaviours and unrealistic expectations. I could have told her the truth: I did not enjoy her company. I was discouraged by her constant biting remarks. I was frustrated by how she would ignore my personal boundaries. I disliked the animosity she seemed to create between my family members. I am going to get super real now, okay? The truth is I never particularly liked her. I simply “felt sorry for” her and, subsequently, believed that I had to be her friend. I didn’t like to disappoint. I wanted to be seen as a kind person. I didn’t like to say “no”. I didn’t want to seem mean. Etc., etc., etc. For me, it was a relationship based on my own ego insecurities which were driving me to prove I am a worthwhile person because I am a good and faithful friend. The idea of standing up for myself brought fear that others would not see me as caring. This was not good. This was not compassionate for either of us. And I accept my share of responsibility for the whole crap-show that has ensued as a result.
On a positive note, though, I have been gifted with an important Life Lesson. I now know the truth about Compassion – what it is and what it is not.
Compassion has nothing to do with shoving one’s own rights and feelings under the carpet in order to patronize someone who frankly will never be happy and will never treat me right.
Compassion is brave enough to put the kibosh on inappropriate behaviour before it implants itself in someone’s brain as a way of relating to me.
Of course everyone is responsible for their own behaviour and their own choices. But, if I had have known how to be truly compassionate years ago, I could maybe have influenced My Enfranglement in a more positive direction. Even if that influence came by way of ending the relationship. Even if that influence meant she was displeased with me and took a temper tantrum. Even if that influence resulted in other people not understanding how I could be so “cold”. True, real and responsible compassion would have been difficult and scary. But you know what? It would have saved decades of grief. And the alternative, “feeling sorry for”, has resulted in nothing but hurt for both of us.
So, here we are – back at the beginning. I do not feel sorry for people any more!
I do, however, feel great compassion for others. Should you need:
- a listening ear?
- a hand-up if you trip?
- some tea and a dose of encouragement?
- a hug?
well, I am your girl!
If, however, there’s a pity party happening, I will not be available. I no longer have the heart to do that to either of us.
Wow! I wish I could have realized this 30 years ago!
* (With respect to my use of the words “depression” and “anxiety”, please understand that I am in no way diminishing the importance of understanding and addressing these issues, in their legitimate form. I have suffered from both myself … but that’s another blog entry).