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What does Compassion mean?

The term compassion refers to the feeling of motivation in people to go out of their paths to alleviate the physical, emotional, or mental pain of others. Often considered as being sensitive, compassion is an extension of feelings such as justice, fairness, morality, and interdependence. Compassion is deemed to be practical in nature and is another name for being sympathetic to the emotions and the suffering of others.

The word compassion and its etymology is rooted in its Middle-English origins. Derived via Old French and ecclesiastical Latin, compassion comes from compati (‘‘suffer with’'). This feeling for another is considered to be a precursor to empathy. While empathy can be denoted as the need to feel like another and thus, feel their suffering, compassion is a person’s desire to relieve this suffering. This feeling involves one being moved by the experiences of another, which motivates them to do anything they can to prevent this pain. The qualities of a compassionate person are patience and wisdom, kindness and perseverance, warmth and resolve. A person’s act of compassion can be judged by this act’s degree of helpfulness.

If understood in the social context, the expression of compassion is subject to be inherently hierarchical, paternalistic, and controlling in nature. The major differentiation one can calculate between compassion and sympathy is that while the former induces a response of sorrow and concern for the person in question, the latter guarantees a reply of warmth and care. According to an article by Clinical Psychology Review, “compassion consists of three facets: noticing, feeling, and responding.” This symbolizes that compassion is a verb.

Compassion as a noun comes from Latin. This word means to suffer together. Thus, in origin, form, and meaning, Compassion is attached to the English noun patient, which refers to a person who is suffering. Compassion is ranked among the greatest virtues in numerous philosophical texts and religious conventions.

Some factors that influence the feeling of compassion towards another are – likability, competence, deservedness, empathic capacity, and self-focused competitiveness.

Psychology behind Compassion

Compassion as a feeling has been researched in association with positive psychology and social psychology. This process of identifying with another person’s pain can lead to a motivation to relieve this pain in a compassionate person. This feeling is a developed function that has evolved from the harmony of three internal systems – the contentment-and-peace system, the threat-and-safety system, and the goals-and-drives system.

In his “taxonomy of compassion,” Paul Ekman has described the critical versions of compassion as – emotional recognition ( to know how another person feels), emotional resonance (to feel emotions another person feels), familial connection (the care-giver-offspring), global compassion (to extend kindness to everyone in the world), sentient compassion ( to develop an understanding for other species), and heroic compassion (the compassion that comes with a risk).

Additionally, another two kinds of compassion to exist in the social structure of today’s world are – proximal compassion and distant compassion. While proximal compassion exists at the moment, distant compassion predicts the future. For instance, proximal compassion is the one that arises when someone is hurting, where helping them is the desired course of action. On the other hand, distal compassion asks one to prevent harm before it has happened. Distal compassion requires skills such as social forecasting and anticipation.

Psychologically speaking, compassion as a virtue has been known to increase mindfulness and emotional regulation in its bearer.

Compassion Fatigue

Individuals who have been said to be more compassionate than others or have a higher capacity or responsibility to empathize with others are prone to “compassion fatigue” or stress. Professionals who have spent considerable time with compassion in practice are known to experience this problem. Some antidotes to such fatigue are indulging in exercises such as self-care daily. These self-care acts improve consciousness, alleviate sorrow and help people recognize the impact that past events have caused in their lives.

Once people learn from past situations, they can recognize the cause of their compassion fatigue and eliminate it. Research has suggested that non-judgmental compassion can decrease the chances of exhaustion and burnout.

Other ways in which this compassion fatigue can be avoided are by indulging in physical activity, eating healthy food with every meal, creating good relations with others, enjoying interacting with others in the community, writing a journal frequently, and sleeping enough every day.

Compassion in Practice

A practicing medical service professional needs to have compassion in his life. Physicians generally understand their chief duties as putting their patient’s interests above their own, constituting the duty not to harm, deliver proper care, and maintain confidentiality. Compassion can be seen as one of these duties because it includes the recognition of a patient’s suffering and its treatment. Mental therapy also requires a focus on compassion to be present.

Only the physicians who utilize compassion in their practice can understand the effects of sickness and suffering on a person. This relationship between physicians/caregivers and patients evidences the fact that compassion is a social emotion. Compassion between individuals is a crucial attribute in medical practice with its very close relation to closeness and cooperation.

Self - Compassion

A process of kindness towards the self, self-compassion is a way of accepting suffering as a human quality. It is a way of comprehending how one can never escape suffering, so it is only acceptable to make peace with it and not suffer oneself for it. Self-compassion has a plethora of positive effects on a person’s psyche, such as subjective happiness, optimism, wisdom, curiosity, agreeableness, and extroversion.

Some activities that counter self-compassion are self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption. Any of these attributes in an individual can contribute to them hindering their equation with self-compassion. Parenting practices have been found to contribute a lot towards developing self-compassion in children.

The availability of maternal support, secure attachment, and harmonious family functioning in one’s life contribute to creating an environment where self-compassion can develop in a person. While on the other hand, other factors such as the absence of love, a dysfunctional family, or such can hinder self-compassion in children.

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