I admit this episode of the Happiness Lab podcast is a few months old now, but I was sort of catching up with the series of episodes Dr. Santos released at the start of the pandemic, and something about this episode really struck me as being highly applicable to the child abuse and mental health advocacy work that I try and do here.
You should listen to the whole thing, there’s a lot of interesting tidbits. The thing that stuck with me is the difference between empathy and compassion. I see a lot of people trying to be empathetic in this community, and proclaiming their ability to “feel” others pain. In certain situations that can be a very good thing. When dealing with a global pandemic, it’s too much. It causes burnout. You cannot handle feeling all of the pain and anxiety that we are seeing right now.
I see this a lot in our communities as well. Again, empathy when dealing with an individual child, or supporting a loved one with a mental health struggle is great, but trying to feel the pain of all of the abuse survivors we are likely to come across in the world online, is a sure way to overwhelm yourself and burn out. I’ve seen it over and over again. Much like COVID-19, these issues are global, and huge. Trying to take on that much pain is an impossible task, and isn’t actually going to be helpful. Much better, is to develop compassion. As the guests on the show discuss, compassionate emotions push us to act. That act, helping others, does more good for them, but is also good for us. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, and shutting down, we are taking some small amount of control over the situation, and acting on it in a way to helps. We become the helpers that Mr. Rogers so famously talked about. Being a helper, makes us happier. It sets aside our own anxiety and struggle to do something, which is always a good way to move beyond those things.
Understanding that those two things are not, necessarily, separate things. Helping others, is self-care. It provides us that feeling of doing something that we all need, along with connecting us to others, which is also something we all need more of.
So, yes, take some time for your own needs, but just as importantly, how can you act compassionately towards the other people in your life? And, as Dr. Santos suggests at the end, is doing something like a mindful meditation of loving kindness something that you’ve tried, and has it helped you be more compassionate?