Excel At Life--Dedicated to the Pursuit of Excellence in Life, Relationships, Sports and Career
CBT Jealousy Depression Relationships Conflict Self-efficacy Happiness Goal-setting Motivation Wellness Sport Psych

Popular Articles

Crazy-Makers: Dealing with Passive-Aggressive People

Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

When You Have Been Betrayed

Struggling to Forgive: An Inability to Grieve

Happy Habits: 50 Suggestions

The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

Depression is Not Sadness

20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem

7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

What to Do When Your Jealousy Threatens to Destroy Your Marriage

Happiness is An Attitude

Guide to How to Set Achieveable Goals

Catastrophe? Or Inconvenience?

Popular Audios

Panic Assistance

Motivational Audios

Mindfulness Training

Rational Thinking

Relaxation for Children

Loving Kindness Meditation

Self-Esteem Exercise

Lies You Were Told

Choosing Happiness

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

All Audio Articles

PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Mindfulness and Relaxation Methods

August 7, 2017       

Compassion: Selflessness With a Selfish Purpose
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

Compassion...allows us to own our emotions and deal with them directly rather than hurting innocent others.

People often misunderstand the concept of compassion. When hurt by others, they believe compassion requires them to love, accept, and understand. They might believe that compassion means turning a blind eye to the painful behavior, forgiving the person, and being kind in return. As such, it seems that compassion means allowing a person to escape the consequences of their behavior.

However, that is not the case. Compassion is about the self, not the other person. In some ways, compassion can be sort of selfish (in a good way). Let me explain further as I sort through this myself. The following is with the knowledge that I probably don't have a full understanding of compassion, but this is my best effort to explain what I do know.

I have a person peripherally in my life (I don't have direct contact with her) who causes harm to people I love. She is hateful, full of venom, and tears down those who are close to her. She tries to make them dependent on her. Then she demands their love and respect. If they don't have the strength to resist, she ensnares them in a trap of fear and despair.

I try to counteract the harm she causes but negative messages always seem to be more powerful than positive messages. A single malicious person can damage so many people. As a result, I feel sad and powerless to change the situation.

How can compassion help?

My description of the Compassion Meditation says “The development of compassion increases awareness of others' suffering and cultivates the desire to alleviate this suffering.“

Can I be compassionate to the person I described? Sure, in an abstract way. I can meditate, be aware of her suffering, imagine removing the cloud of despair and anguish around her, and wish her happiness and good things in life.

As a result, I feel better and she can't harm me directly but it is still frustrating to see the pain she causes others.

Why be compassionate, then?

Frustration is a normal emotion in reaction to a situation we can't change. Compassion allows me to accept the emotions I feel instead of displacing them onto other people.

What I mean is that the practice of compassion allows me to stop the cycle. The power of hurtful people is to create others in their likeness. The psychological concept of displacement is best illustrated by the example of a man coming home after being threatened with the loss of his job and yells at his wife who then is irritable with their son who then kicks the dog. Each person is taking their anger out on an innocent victim.

So, in one way, compassion is selfish because it makes me feel better emotionally. However, compassion is also about others in that it allows us to own our emotions and deal with them directly rather than hurting innocent others.

Even though my description of the Compassion Meditation says that we cultivate the desire to alleviate suffering, it does not say, however, that we must take direct action. Unfortunately, sometimes direct action can make things worse. It also does not say that we must tolerate people who continue to hurt us. Those who are affected directly by this woman, for instance, have the right to protect themselves from further harm. They don't need to include her in their lives which, in effect, is a consequence for her behavior. But they can do so with a compassionate understanding of her behavior.

Questions and Comments

All comments and questions require approval so you may not see your submission immediately.

More PsychNotes
Mindfulness and Relaxation Methods

  • There's a Time for Mind“less”ness, Too
  • When Anxiety is Caused by Mindfulness Practice
  • Shouldn't Mindfulness Be Free?
  • May You Have a Mindful New Year!
  • Persistence, Zest for Life, and Mindfulness
  • Treating Social Anxiety Disorder: Comparing Mindfulness Training and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Does Mindfulness Make You Good? No, but Does It Matter?
  • The Time to Relax is When You Don't Have the Time
  • List of Stress Management Methods
  • Stressed About Managing Stress?
  • Improving Performance by Mindfully Reducing Self-interruptions
  • Mindfulness and "To Do" Lists
  • Mindfulness is Simply Being Without Judgment
  • Mindful Passion
  • Mindfulness: What's in a Name?
  • Mindfulness Practice and Relapse Prevention When Using Anti-depressants
  • The Mindful Journey
  • The Benefits of Mindfully Washing Dishes
  • The Difference Between Mindful Focus and a Mindful Attitude
  • Mindfulness Training Shows Promise for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Mindfulness and Managing Chronic Pain
  • How We Might Stop Bullying: Kindness Curriculum for Preschoolers
  • Practicing Loving-Kindness May Elicit Resentments
  • How Mindfulness Can Reduce Risk for Alzheimer's and Heart Disease
  • Mindful Attention to Unhealthy Foods Improves Food Choices
  • Want an Easy and Uplifting Health Practice? Laughing Qigong
  • Mindful Dating: How Does Mindfulness Affect Satisfaction in Relationships?
  • 10 Everyday Frustrations and a Mindful Attitude
  • What is the Difference Between Mindful Acceptance and Emotional Suppression?
  • Mindful Attention Reduces Anger for Those With Borderline Personality Disorder
  • The Paradox of the Mindful Attitude
  • The Key to Mindful Breathing for Sleep
  • Addiction to Emotions and Mindfulness Practice
  • Mindfulness Practice is Not Focusing, It is Re-Focusing
  • How Much Should You Practice Mindfulness?
  • For Fun--Try Being Mindful About the Weather
  • What Could Be More Mindful Than a Cat Watching Bird Videos?
  • Wisdom Doesn't Come In Sound Bites
  • Qigong Can Reduce Depression
  • Demands vs. Mindfulness for Enhancing Performance
  • Acceptance as the Basis for Wisdom?
  • “I want to feel good NOW!”
  • The 20-Minute a Day Miracle
  • Be the Best You Can Be: On Mindfulness and Performance
  • Being Mindful of Emotions Decreases Intensity
  • Massage: Effects on Anxiety, Depression, and Pain
  • Mindfulness and Flow in the Workplace
  • Mindfulness May Prevent Relapse
  • Is Mindfulness-Based Therapy Effective?
  • Qi Gong Exercise Shown to Improve Mood
  • Mindfulness Skills Can Improve Relationships
  • Kindle Books by
    Dr. Monica Frank

    Recent Articles

    Analyzing Your Moods, Symptoms, and Events with Excel At Life's Mood Log

    Why You Get Anxious When You Don't Want To

    Why People Feel Grief at the Loss of an Abusive Spouse or Parent

    “Are You Depressed?”: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

    15 Coping Statements for Panic and Anxiety

    Beyond Tolerating Emotions: Becoming Comfortable with Discomfort

    Emotion Training: What is it and How Does it Work?

    How You Can Be More Resistant to Workplace Bullying

    Are You Passive Aggressive and Want to Change?

    When Your Loved One Refuses Help

    Newest Audios

    Building Blocks Emotion Training

    Hot Springs Relaxation

    5 Methods to Managing Anger

    Panic Assistance While Driving

    Autogenic Relaxation Training

    Rainbow Sandbox Mindfulness

    Mindfulness Training