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Most people describe it as ‘putting oneself in someone else’s shoes.’ It is an action and emotion that brings humans closer to one another and makes people feel less alone in their suffering, no matter the cause.


What is Compassion?

compassion explainedThe word compassion comes directly from Latin and translates to “to suffer together.” This defines compassion as feeling someone’s negative emotions and others' suffering. Then, with this feeling, compassion includes acting to help relieve another’s suffering.

Many people need clarification on compassion versus similar concepts like sympathy, empathy, and altruism. Sympathy and empathy are similar to compassion; they are the ability of an individual to feel and understand the emotions of others. What sets compassionate behavior apart from these is the desire and ability to act to help someone.

Many are also familiar with altruism; this is the selfless act of relieving someone else’s suffering, often motivated by compassion. Although often motivated by compassion, other factors can sometimes motivate it.

Human beings are inherently compassionate; watching someone suffer often brings up this emotion. Science has confirmed that compassion is an evolutionary necessity. When feelings of compassion arise, a person’s heart rate slows, bonding hormones like oxytocin are released, and brain regions show empathy, care, and pleasure. All of this results in wanting to help those suffering to relieve their pain.


Types of Compassion

Compassion often presents itself in two main categories: compassion for others and self-compassion. The main difference between these types is whom the compassion is directed towards.


Compassion Towards Others

Compassion towards others is self-explanatory. It is the action of feeling someone’s pain and suffering, having the desire to relieve this and taking action to do so. Compassion towards others is seen daily in every big and little action; making charitable donations to charity, volunteering at a local homeless shelter, or even allowing a friend to vent about a difficult situation.

Humans are inclined to relieve others' stress because they know how unpleasant some feelings can be. Although compassion comes more naturally to some than others, practicing is the best way to gain more compassion for others.



Self-compassion is less recognized and more difficult to incorporate into everyday life, especially with many experiencing compassion fatigue. As humans, it is often difficult to remember that we also require compassion. It can be challenging to feel emotions simultaneously and have compassion for oneself.

To define this concept, self-compassion is the idea of treating oneself like one would a friend or a loved one going through a tough time. It commonly comprises three underlying factors; self-kindness, humanity and mindfulness.

Self-compassionate people have been known to be happier, achieve greater life satisfaction and motivation, cultivate better relationships, and have better physical health and less anxiety and depression.

Having self-compassion and practicing this when going through tough times is a great way to build resilience. Resilience will, in turn, help a person persevere more smoothly through challenges that may arise in life, like divorce, financial struggles, career changes, etc.


How to Practice Compassion

how to practice compassionPracticing true compassion may seem taboo and difficult. One may ask, “How do I practice a feeling?”. It is quite easy to do these, and the good news is that the more compassion is practiced, the easier it becomes. Some people are known to feel compassion easier than others. One may think some people are just “born with it,” but compassion is cultivated through repetitive practice.

First, finding greater compassion is easier when looking around and identifying all those who have had compassion for you. Showing compassion to others can be difficult due to its vulnerable nature. Starting with little actions can be the best way to get one foot in the door. Speaking with kindness, apologizing sincerely, listening carefully and without judgement as well as encouraging others are many ways to implement compassion.

On the other hand, research suggests that humans have a harder time showing compassion to themselves. Human behavior is a lot more difficult when it is meant to be directed inwards. Humans may sometimes forget that they are living beings capable of an emotional experience and an emotional response.

To have compassion towards oneself is to recognize that one is capable of suffering and experiencing emotions just like others. Writing a letter to yourself is a good way to begin practicing this and strengthen this skill. Writing can be healing when you feel inadequate or are struggling.

Activities such as practicing gratitude, being mindful of the people who have supported one in the past, and continuing to support can shift one’s perspective and cultivate more compassion. Like practicing gratitude and mindfulness, meditation is another great way to cultivate self-compassion. Specifically, compassion meditation is cultivating compassion towards oneself, a loved one or a neutral person.

A last strategy to practice and cultivate compassion is to elicit altruism, a similar concept. Altruism means committing selfless acts for the well-being of others. Ways to elicit this are to create reminders of connectedness. Reading, watching and observing moments of connection can make you more compassionate, as this is a reminder of the human connection.


Benefits of Compassion

The scientific research on the benefits of compassion is fairly new and still being discovered. Here’s what researchers know at this point.

Being compassionate, although very common for humans, can improve overall health, well-being, and personal relationships. Feeling someone else's feelings and suffering can bring you closer to them, increase self-esteem and help with identifying positive character traits.

Being compassionate towards others or even ourselves has been known to induce a feel-good mood. Completing good deeds, like donating to charity or volunteering in the city, has strengthened the pleasure-reward cycle in the brain and can increase self-happiness in the long run.

Mental health is tightly tied to compassion. It increases self-happiness in the long run, but practicing frequent compassion meditation and compassion can improve emotional life, positive thinking, relationships and empathy.

We know that compassion is inherent to almost every human being, but it also plays a large role in developing caring, nurturing people. Practicing compassion has been shown to develop a more nurturing and loving caregiver or parent. It also improves relationships with friends and family; the more you care and desire to relieve their suffering, the closer you become to these people.

Regarding physical health, compassion for others and oneself can reduce stress and the risk of developing heart disease. As mentioned, compassion lowers heart rate through the vagus nerve, relieving long-term stress on the cardiovascular system.

On the topic of stress, research has shown through compassion training that practicing this frequently can reduce overall stress levels. It has been shown to reduce stress hormones, strengthening the immune response. This makes for a happier and healthier body.

Scientists have even found that compassion is one of the driving factors behind human survival and evolution. It plays a large role in developing a caring and compassionate society. With compassionate society members, the most vulnerable members are better-taken care of; this assures the development and evolution of strong, loving societies.


The Difference Between Compassion and Empathy

compassion vs empathyCompassion and empathy come from the same human desire; to relate to and understand a person’s feelings and experiences. Recognizing the difference between these closely related terms is a great way to start practicing them properly and, in turn, increasing mental health and self-awareness.

As mentioned previously, compassion is the action of feeling someone else’s emotions and recognizing the distress they may be experiencing, with the desire to act aid to them. These acts of kindness are done without any self-interest and are completely selfless.

On the other hand, empathy refers to the feeling of awareness towards someone else’s feelings in an attempt and desire to understand how they feel. This goes without necessarily acting on it. Often, compassion stems from empathy.


Frequently Asked Questions


What does it mean to be a compassionate person?

Being more compassionate means relating to others’ feelings and experiences and taking steps to improve these. It is to feel deeply for someone as they experience hardships throughout life and to act to support them in any way. Most importantly, to be compassionate is to do these things selflessly.


How to be a more compassionate person?

Being a more compassionate person comes with practice. It is important to recognize that suffering exists for everyone. Things like speaking with kindness to others and oneself, apologizing for mistakes, listening without judgment, and offering help to those in need are great small steps to take to be more compassionate.


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