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What does compassion mean?
While there is no single all-encompassing definition of compassion, it is generally understood to be a response to the suffering of another person.
The kind of suffering we're responding to could be a variety of things ranging from physical, emotional or mental pain brought on by anything from disease to injury to a general dissatisfaction with life. The cause of the discomfort may come form external or interpersonal events, real or imagined. In any case, it is our care or concern for the person suffering that is considered compassion.
What are the different types of compassion?
As mentioned, there are many interpretations of compassion, focusing on different aspects of our response to suffering. One way to categorize different types of compassion is by the varying focus of our response, including our feelings, actions, concerns, and intentions:
- empathic compassion: focusing on feeling the emotions experienced by the person who is suffering
- action compassion: focusing on actions that attempt to relieve physical and emotional pain
- concerned compassion: concern for the person who is suffering, emphasizing the compassionate person’s motivation (a desire, urge, or feeling) to alleviate suffering
- aspirational compassion: Buddhists describe something somewhat different, a compassion that is more cognitive than emotional, an aspiration or intention.
Is compassion an emotion?
Why compassionate actions feel good
What are the benefits of compassion?
Whether or not an action may be considered truly compassionate if it is also in some way self-serving, Dr. Ekman takes the stand that it is helpful to hold a perspective of enlightened self-interest, in which we consider the ways that helping others can also help ourselves. In that light, Dr. Ekman outlines three benefits of compassion:
- It generates an intrinsically good feeling (compassion joy)
- It can increase our self-regard; it supports a positive view of oneself, as well as a sense of well-being and purpose
- It can elicit the approval of others: when other people learn about the compassionate action, accidentally or by design, their regard for the compassionate person may be increased. In turn this acknowledgment and approval may elicit further enjoyment in the compassionate actor.
What is Global Compassion?
How to learn compassion
Learn to recognize and respond to the emotional expressions of others with our online micro expressions training tools to increase your ability to detect deception and catch subtle emotional cues.
Expand your knowledge of emotional skills and competencies with in-person workshops offered through Paul Ekman International.
Build your emotional vocabulary with the Atlas of Emotions, a free, interactive learning tool created by Drs. Paul and Eve Ekman at the request of the Dalai Lama.