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May 8, 2015       

“I've Been There” Doesn't Always Mean “I Support You”
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

How often do you reach out for support during a difficult time only to find that people respond with criticism? Have you noticed that sometimes it is those who have successfully managed the same problem who are most critical of your struggle or failure?

If you have experienced this, it is not about you! Researchers Ruttan and colleagues (2015) have shown that when people have overcome a similar struggle they may be less compassionate for others' distress and failure. “You just have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what I did.”

Perhaps this may be due to the tendency for people to not remember painful events as well as successful outcomes. If that is the case, reminding them of the struggle itself may trigger more compassion, “But what was it like when you were going through it? Were you overwhelmed and distressed at times? Did it seem insurmountable? Were you afraid you might fail?”

Ruttan, R.L., McDonnell, M. and Nordgren, L.F. (2015). Having “Been There” Doesn’t Mean I Care: When Prior Experience Reduces Compassion for Emotional Distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108, 610–622. DOI:10.1037/pspi0000012

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