I’d love to tell you about my new pup, Scout, a rescue dog from Mexico. I’ve had her for three weeks now. She’s a cute little girl with a heart of gold, but let’s just say she has some poor manners. She jumps on people, swims in every body of water, from the boulevard trench to puddles on the street, and has a chewing fetish that would put a teething baby to shame. But here’s the thing – even though her behavior can be frustrating at times, I still love the little rascal.
And that, my friends, is what we call finding compassion. It’s the ability to love and care for someone or something even if you don’t necessarily like their behavior. Finding compassion is not always easy when a dog is gnawing through your leather shoes. On the other hand, I know a little bit about what a difficult life Scout must have had surviving on the streets. I know she required vet care when they found her, so she has not always been healthy and strong, and I see her cringe when my friend raises a hand to wave hello, I can imagine that she has experienced some raised hands that were not so friendly. Finding compassion for a pup who has had a hard start to life is easy, often much easier than when I encounter people doing things I don’t understand or agree with.
That, however, is entirely not fair. Just as my puppy has overcome difficult times, people have too. As a coach, I know that even the most outwardly put-together people have had lives that include trauma, health struggles, and heartbreak. And we have all learned to act in certain ways in childhood to be safe, even though these behaviors may not be effective in our adult years.
Like my puppy, for whom a raised hand seems to require a trigger warning, people can have complex triggers that we may not understand. In fact, they may only make sense in the context of experiences the person may not necessarily share with us. So, how can we generate compassion when it’s hard, especially when we don’t understand a person’s triggers and their behavior seems out of place? Well, let me give you some tips:
Avoid judgment: It’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about the person’s behavior. Instead, approach the situation with an open mind and seek to understand the reasons behind their actions.
Ask questions: In the same vein, it may be helpful to ask open-ended questions to gain more information about the person’s perspective and feelings. This can help you better understand why they’re behaving the way they are.
Listen actively: Active listening involves being present and fully engaged. It means paying attention to the person’s words, body language, and emotions and avoiding distractions or interruptions.
Recognize commonalities: Finding common ground or shared experiences with the person can help you relate to their situation and empathize with their feelings. It can also help you build a connection with the person.
Practice empathy: If you understand another person’s situation, you may more easily have empathy for that person. However, you may sometimes be disturbed by behavior and not have permission to ask questions. Empathy is possible even when you don’t fully understand another person’s situation. Imagine yourself feeling the same level of distress, confusion, or anger. In that case, you can empathize with the discomfort of that feeling.
Seek support: If you struggle to understand or empathize with the person’s behavior, seeking support from a trusted friend or mental health professional can be helpful. They can provide guidance and insight to help you better understand the person’s perspective.
Now, you might be thinking, “But why bother finding compassion? What’s in it for me?” Well, there are plenty of personal and social benefits to finding compassion. For one, compassion can improve your relationships with others. When you can empathize with others and understand their experiences, you’re more likely to build strong and meaningful relationships.
Additionally, compassion can improve your mental and physical health. Studies have shown that people who practice compassion experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression and are more likely to have better overall health.
As we bring this article to a close, let’s reflect on the powerful lessons we can learn from Scout, the rescue dog. Despite her past experiences and poor manners, she has come a long way, and her unique personality shines through. She is a beautiful reminder that we can always improve and grow, no matter our challenges. But that has only been possible because I have been able to tap into my own compassion for her and my compassion for myself when she gets to be a bit much!
When we approach others compassionately, we create a foundation for growth, healing, and transformation. We open ourselves up to deeper connections, greater understanding, and a more profound sense of purpose. Practicing compassion also creates a ripple effect of positivity and love that spreads far beyond ourselves. When we choose to be compassionate, we create a more humane world.
Dr. Kirsten Cameron is a psychologist, a certified life and executive coach, and a master hypnotherapist. She has developed and taught many captivating courses and retreats focusing on goal setting, mindfulness, intuition, energy management, and thought-work. She also holds an MBA and is an experienced executive and entrepreneurial coach. Kirsten has worked in private coaching and therapeutic practice for over a decade, both in-person at her office and via video conference with personal and executive clients. She uses her wide range of experience and education to help people create exceptional lives. When she’s not working, you’ll find her meditating in her Zen den, or hiking and kayaking near her San Rafael, CA home.
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