Many survivors of complex trauma have great trouble receiving compassion from others and have developed complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Somehow, it feels wrong and a trap to allow someone else to enter their world and show them love and understanding. This is why many survivors live isolated lives, not wanting to be alone but afraid to reach out.
This article will explore giving and receiving compassion, the benefits survivors gain, and some exercises you can try to boost your ability to give and receive the compassion you deserve.
What Does Giving Compassion to Others Mean?
Compassion is feeling another’s pain and taking steps to relieve their suffering. The same is true of you; compassion helps you to recognize the hurt you feel and allows you to find ways to relieve it.
Compassion in Latin means “to suffer together,” an apt and to-the-point description of how compassion works. Compassion is related to empathy and sympathy, but there are differences. For example, empathy refers to our general ability to take another person’s perspective and feel their emotions, but compassion happens when those feelings are joined by a desire to help.
Below are some signs showing how you can feel compassion for others.
- You feel you have much in common, even when you are markedly different
- You feel gratitude when others show compassion to you during hardship
- You act when someone else is suffering
If you are experiencing these signs, then you are showing compassion.
Two types of compassion are relevant to this piece. One, compassion for others is when you experience compassion toward someone else. The second is self-compassion, which involves feeling empathy towards oneself.
The Benefits of Showing Compassion Toward Others
Compassion is critical to human life because there would be no benevolent, selfless, or heroic deeds without it. Research has found that allowing yourself to practice compassion toward others helps your mental health.
“Multilevel modeling provided evidence for the effectiveness of compassionate action in enhancing psychological well-being over time when compared to an inactive condition. Gains in happiness and self-esteem were found over the 6-month project for those in the active exercise group. They also marginally decreased in levels of depression. Over the six months, the compassionate action intervention did not appear to be more effective for individuals with an anxious attachment style. However, one week following the exercise period, those anxiously attached showed a greater reduction in depressive symptoms when in the compassionate action condition.” (Mongrain et al., 2011)
The above quote is from only one research paper; there are many more.
The benefits of showing compassion to others are enormous and include lifting your self-esteem and lessening depression. Here is a short list of some benefits of showing compassion to others.
- Showing compassion promotes social connection and interaction. Social connection helps you to adapt to human functioning and increases your empathy and well-being.
- Compassion toward others is shown to increase your happiness
- Showing compassionate love to someone else is shown to you surviving longer and being happier
- You will feel more satisfied with your life and feel less distressed
- Anxiety is decreased in people who show compassion for others
- You will form longer-lasting and more content relationships by showing others compassion
The Fear of Receiving Compassion
The list could go on and on about how showing compassion can help you feel better about yourself.
For survivors, allowing others to have compassion for them is frightening and thus tricky. As children, survivors were forced to look inward for any sense of love, and now as adults, they remain closed in on themselves and isolated.
Survivors do not trust easily; it can take months or even years to get a person who has lived through complex trauma to consider letting an outsider in. This reluctance to trust often destroys any type of relationship they encounter through self-sabotage.
You understand what we are discussing here if you have overcome childhood trauma. You get into a relationship because you feel desperate to have someone. However, soon you feel trapped. After all, although you don’t mind giving someone compassion when they show you love and affection, you run away because you feel threatened.
Overcoming the Fear of Compassion from Others
While it may seem overwhelming to think of meeting a partner and enjoying a normal, healthy, and compassionate relationship with them, you can, if you wish.
Like many other people in the world, you crave compassion from others but have been deeply affected by severe childhood maltreatment. You may fear getting close to others and this isolation is self-defeating and lonely.
Getting free from a fear of receiving compassion from others requires some mental footwork that only you can do. Here are some suggested exercises for coming to terms with others’ compassion toward you.
Survey and identify your fears. Take a mental survey of your feelings and emotions to identify what there is about receiving compassion from someone else that terrifies you. Is it because they may want something from you? Are you afraid they will abuse you like in your past? Or does compassion shown to you by someone who wants to get close make you feel trapped?
Think about the history of why you are afraid. Reflect on how your terror of closeness to another person developed. Do your fears connect directly to how you were treated as a child? Can you identify how you felt when someone abused or let you down? Were you ashamed for wanting closeness as a child? Do you consciously or subconsciously worry about letting down your guard for fear history will repeat itself?
Validate and acknowledge your fears. You feel afraid of compassion to protect you from harm, just as you did in your childhood. Acknowledge your feelings and be kind to yourself for what you have survived. Recognize that it is understandable that you would be resistant to compassion, but now you can move on and take steps to overcome your fear without becoming overwhelmed.
Take steps to overcome your fear of compassion. You can do several exercises alone or with a therapist that will, in time, help ease your fear of closeness. One such exercise is to imagine a safe place.
Ending Our Time Together
When dealing with others, especially those showing you compassion, you can temporarily escape to a safe place in your mind. It can be a beach, meadow, park, or anywhere you feel safe. Doing this exercise gives you a few moments of peace while you work up your courage to allow someone else to care for you. When you are home and have more time to relax, your safe place offers you the opportunity to examine your fear and reluctance more closely.
Understanding what giving and accepting compassion means can help to alleviate some of the fear you may feel when confronted with it. As the saying goes, no man is an island, and you are no exception.
Learning to allow other people into your inner world serves to help you live longer and healthier, plus the happiness of having someone close cannot be measured.
“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” — Tahereh Mafi
“For me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.” — Neil deGrasse Tyson
Mongrain, M., Chin, J. M., & Shapira, L. B. (2011). Practicing compassion increases happiness and self-esteem. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(6), 963–981.