A friend recently asked me this and it took me a while to figure out what she meant by that.
Basically, it means you extend yourself so much to others, you are so compassionate at work, in your daily interactions and with the people around you that when you get home you have no compassion left for yourself – and the people that matter most in your life, your family and friends.
You might think: well, this is not really how compassion works. You can’t run out of it. And yet, the feeling might be very familiar.
You burn out of looking after the needs of others if you neglect your own needs. How often are you patient, forgiving and forbearing with others; and very critical, strict and unforgiving with yourself?
I know I’m so much better at negotiating for others than I am at negotiating on my own behalf. Asking for what I know I am worth. It’s so much easier to see the brilliance and genius in others than knowing and acting on it for myself. Empowering others to set healthy boundaries, standing their ground and not accepting any infractions is easier than saying “no” myself.
Compassion means you feel with another person. You feel their pain, sufferings and struggles AND have the desire to relieve that suffering. It literally means “to suffer together”.
In recent years scientists have studied the function of compassion mapping its deep evolutionary purpose. Their research shows that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up. Our instinct to help others is a reflex that has helped humanity to evolve.
But what if you are surrounded by suffering and distress all the time? What if that’s part of your daily job because you are a caregiver, healer or therapist in one form or another? What if you are so attuned to the suffering of others that acting on all of it becomes overwhelming?
You need to learn how to extend the compassion and empathy that you so freely and easily offer to others towards yourself and show self-compassion – recognizing the suffering in yourself and act to alleviate that suffering too. Self-care is not the same as self-pity when you see the suffering in yourself but don’t do anything about it. You just feel sorry for yourself.
We need to take care of ourselves first to be able to show up powerfully in the world. We might have been taught that it’s selfish to say no or set boundaries. Or that it’s an in-built part of our job to self-sacrifice. However, we are not serving the world by always putting our needs last.
We all need to examine our own life and learn to clearly communicate what we need or becoming aware of WHAT we need int he first place. This is the act of not suffering alone but “be in compassion”. So we don’t run out of the most precious gift we have to give.