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What is compassion and why is it important?

Compassion is an emotion that helps us to better understand and live with others. However, we must be careful of the pitfalls of compassion.

What is compassion?

Compassion comes from the Latin cum patior, which means "to suffer with".

Compassion is caring about someone who is suffering, without trying to feel what they are feeling themselves, which is what empathy is. Compassion is the emotion we can hold in front of the misery of others. It implies a feeling of benevolence with a willingness to help the person who is suffering.

To be able to be compassionate, we need to be empathetic. We imagine what the sufferer is going through, and that is why we are touched by that suffering.

It is possible to train for compassion, to cultivate it. Neuroscience research has shown that the plasticity of the brain is such that after a certain 3 months of compassion training the grey matter of the social-emotional brain has increased.

The benefits of compassion

Compassion is a moral feeling. It helps us to understand others better and to make them happier.

Compassion also has physical benefits for the person who feels it: studies have shown that people who show compassion have an increased level of endorphins, hormones of well-being and happiness. So being compassionate would make you happier! Other studies have concluded that compassion makes it possible to produce 100% more DHEA, a hormone that counteracts the effects of ageing.

The dangers of compassion

Compassion is essential to life in society but it can also be dangerous. Being too compassionate can prevent us from thinking about ourselves. Furthermore, compassion is manipulable and can be used by those who have things to sell or ideas to put across. Excessive compassion is also a pitfall of compassion. It is the prerogative of people who do not care about the other person's feelings. Rather than imagining what is right for them, they focus on what feels right for themselves.

Compassion can also make people sick. For example, people who are confronted with the suffering of others on a daily basis, such as health professionals or therapists, can suffer from compassion fatigue. Constant contact with the suffering of others leads to a kind of burn-out. Those who suffer from it show various symptoms: feelings of powerlessness, lack of energy, anger, depression, etc.

Compassion: the right balance

Too little compassion is bad. It constitutes a loss of humanity. Too much compassion can also be harmful. So we need to find the right balance.

Caring about how others feel is important. True compassion is about sharing what the other person is feeling, not necessarily about acting. It is just opening up to the feelings that we most often experience spontaneously in the face of another's distress. We are not necessarily able to respond to this suffering.

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