Thanks for returning today. I’m Jeff Schadt, the founder of Revive Family. I hope you had a truly blessed, peaceful, and meaningful Christmas. If you didn’t read or listen to the Meaningful Christmas blog or Podcast series I would recommend it. It deals with the essential building blocks of healthy relationships, which build the platform for compassionate families.
Many of us set New Year’s resolutions; with New Year’s just a few days away, I would recommend that we adopt the goal of having compassionate families in 2020 or Compassion 2020!
It is clear from research as well as what we see happening in society that compassion is on the decline in our country especially among college students and our kids. We are losing our ability to relate to, understand and care about one another’s perspectives and feelings.
While compassion may not be something we talk about in parenting, I believe it’s absolutely essential to having the types of homes and kids that we desire. Before we go further, we need to understand the definition of compassion.
(This series is also available as a podcast click here to listen)
As I looked at the different definitions of compassion out there, it became really apparent that how we see and understand compassion is vital. Some of the definitions indicated it was simply a feeling that one extends for someone who is struggling or suffering. Other definitions took it a step further. The Webster’s definition put it this way, “compassion is a sympathetic awareness of other’s distress with a desire to alleviate it.” Yet even in this definition, both elements are basically a feeling. The second one, a desire to alleviate it.
What is Compassion?
The best definition I found for compassion was in the article, “The Compassionate Mind”, put out by the Association for Psychological Science that defined compassion as an emotional response when perceiving suffering that involves an authentic desire to help.
To this I would ask, if we don’t act on the care and desire to help, is it truly compassion?
I believe that Jesus puts forward a broader and more action oriented example of compassion in Matthew 5. In Matthew, Jesus says this “I look upon the crowds with compassion.” He is looking at everyone in the crowd: some who felt they were doing well, others who were struggling, and some who were just going down the wrong path, making poor decisions. He looks at everyone with compassion, not just those who are struggling. Looking at compassion in this light, we have to admit we all have our struggles.
Do We Handle Struggles with Compassion in Our Family?
Given this, we need to ask the question within our family do we handle each others’ struggles with compassion?
Jesus had indicated that he had compassion on the crowd, “because they’re like sheep without a shepherd.” Meaning they were alone, not protected or cared for by a loving shepherd. Thankfully Jesus did not leave compassion as just feeling. Rather, he went out and acted on his compassion by feeding the 5,000, healing the leper, and protecting the adulterous woman. If we reflect upon our families, we need to ask ourselves these questions. Are the interactions in our family characterized by compassion? Do we feel that sense of care, understanding and assistance that Jesus modeled between our family members?
Compassion Draws People Together
Then ask if compassion dictated our interactions, what would change in our family? The answer to this question may be different for everyone yet it does show all of us why I believe we should make compassion the 2020 New Years resolution for our families.
Compassion draws people together, it helps us feel cared for and understood. This is something that I see breaking down in marriages and families all the time.
Everyone is Born with Compassion!
If you don’t see compassion taking place in your home, does this mean you’re not compassionate people? No, at least not according to the research.
Dr. Rand says, “I think that it would be a faulty conclusion given all the research that exists on compassion today. In fact, the research indicates that compassion is basically hard wired into every individual. Dr. Rand at Harvard university found that adults and children’s first impulse is to help others.” Another author on compassion said this, “It’s not surprising that compassion is a natural tendency since it’s essential for human survival.”
If you’re a parent whose children are approaching or in the midst of adolescence, you might be thinking to yourself, “What happened to the compassion in my kids?” You may not be seeing it at home.
This is the reason I am encouraging you to adopt a Compassion in 2020 resolution for your family. When I look back at my early days of parenting, the one thing I can say is that those days were not characterized by compassion. I was hard on my little girl and a strong disciplinarian who did not have compassion for her feelings and struggles. The outcome was that she became hard, defensive and uncompassionate for her siblings.
Compassion is in There!
The good news is that compassion is in there. We just need to help unearth it. We need to encourage it. We may need to exercise it ourselves and foster it in our kids.
Another article I found called ‘The Three Insights From the Cutting Edge of Compassion Research‘ explains what happened with our daughter and why her compassion was squashed. The article states this, “feeling safe is a precondition to activating the biological systems that promote compassion. In the face of another person’s struggles or suffering, the biological mechanisms that drive our nurturing and caregiving can only come online if our more habitual self-preservation and vigilance to threat systems are not monopolizing the spotlight.”
In essence, if we’re constantly on guard in our homes, fearful of reactions or discipline, people will go into self protective mode. This trumps the inherent compassionate nature within us.
If there’s a breakdown in communication, patience or emotional connection in our homes there’ll be a breakdown in the psychological safety, destroying a compassionate culture in our homes. Without compassion, relationships erode. Without compassion, the sense of emotional connection fades away and our kids stop feeling close to us and we stop feeling truly close to them. Beyond this, research indicates that a compassionate lifestyle leads to greater psychological well being. Thus a lack of compassion is damaging to our kid’s psychological well being. In fact, research has proven that compassion plays a fairly significant role in beating both depression and anxiety!
It is interesting that we see compassion on the decline among youth while depression and anxiety are at record levels. Why is this the case? In the article entitled ‘The Three Findings From Cutting Edge Compassion Research.’ It says this, “Extending compassion toward others biases the brain to glean more positive information from the world. Something called the carryover effect.”
This echoes what I tell parents in coaching all the time: stop focusing on the right and wrong and start focusing on the emotions that are leading to poor decisions and bad behavior. Making this switch leads to listening and understanding and a desire to help our kids which is compassion. We need to seek to understand our kid’s feelings and struggles with an earnest desire to come alongside and help them overcome it, which is what Influential Parenting is all about. You may want to consider making our Influential parenting program part of your New Year’s resolution to bring compassion to your home in 2020.
Being Hard on Oneself Prevents Compassion
Often I find that kids who have very little compassion for others have even less compassion for themselves, which always surprises their parents. They had no idea their kids were so down on themselves. In fact, the research into self-compassion is relatively recent and really profound. Thankfully, there’s been some research recently into this whole concept of self compassion. If you want to look into it yourself, read the article, ‘The 15 Most Interesting Self-Compassion Research Findings‘ in research done by Kristin Neff.
Three essential elements of self-compassion were identified and these included:
- self-kindness or having the ability to refrain from harsh criticism of oneself
- the ability to recognize your own humanity or the fact that each of us is imperfect and experiences pain
- the ability to maintain a sense of mindfulness or non-bias awareness of experiences even if they’re painful.
While these are all important, the last one is absolutely essential. This is where I’m seeing parents really struggle. We need to be able to self reflect and deal with past pain as opposed to stuffing or compartmentalizing it. The research is showing that if we can’t turn back and face the pain and be compassionate with ourselves, we lose the ability to self reflect. And we stay in self protective mode preventing our compassion from rising to the surface.
According to the research, self-compassion involves directing the same type of kindness, care and compassion towards yourself that you would convey toward a loved one who was suffering. In fact, those that score high in self-compassion treat themselves with kindness and concern when experiencing negative events and don’t get down on themselves, which allows them to self reflect and learn from the experience. This puts them on a positive learning cycle. I’ve found in coaching, when people are really hard on themselves, and when they don’t have compassion towards themselves, they have a hard time self reflecting and they’re often not learning at all. They feel stuck.
Practicing Self Compassion
The research suggests that when we encounter a failure or even a major setback, treating yourself kindly might involve things like this.
- taking time off to give yourself an emotional break
- engaging in mental acts of kindness such as positive self talk
- looking at the successes you’ve had in the past might be an example,
- giving yourself an encouraging word,
- not letting the negative thoughts replay and replay
- camping out on some of the things that you know are positive about yourself
- practicing forgiveness with yourself.
People that possess self-compassion are less likely to be critical with themselves and less likely to be anxious or depressed, which in turn leads to greater life satisfaction. It also is proven to decrease stress and improve health: in fact, practicing compassion actually shows changes in the physical brain under MRI scans.
Compassion is not Weakness
Unfortunately, according to Kristin Neff, there’s a societal misconception when it comes to self kindness or self-compassion. It’s often viewed as self-indulgent or narcissistic, or the individual who’s encountered a setback. Self-compassion or self-kindness is not being selfish, it’s actually mentally healthy. Self-compassion actually promotes self-awareness and learning something that narcissism prevents.
In fact, the research shows that those that are high in self-compassion actually have a higher motivation to make amends and a desire not to repeat their transgressions. It also shows that they have a greater desire to spend more time studying after an initial failure, so they’ll learn from their mistakes.
That additional research also indicates that people that have self-compassion have a greater preference for upward social comparison after thinking about a personal weakness rather than associating themselves with more negative people to feel better. Finally, the research shows that they have a greater sense of motivation to change their weaknesses, which is why I’m such a huge proponent of changing the fundamental approach we take to parenting.
Compassion and our Kids
When we as parents focus on right and wrong and and use negative consequences with bad behavior, it rubs off on the kids. Often, they’ll become negative about themselves, which then short circuits their ability to have compassion, not just for others but for themselves. This in turn shuts down their ability to self reflect and to learn from their mistakes, which is why my Influential Parenting Program helps families so much. We’ve seen such a huge change in our family culture and such a huge change in our kids. Just the other day, my son came home and said, “man, I have a lot of homework to do tonight.” When I asked why, he shared that he was going around the class helping other kids with their projects because they were struggling.
He was having compassion on them and it got in the way of his own work, but he didn’t come home negative or unhappy. He came home feeling better about himself and motivated to do his homework.
Compassion is Actually Strength
Another researcher, Dr. Gilbert, believes that compassion is one of the most important declarations of strength and courage known to humanity. Compassion is difficult and powerful while also being infectious and influential and it is universally recognized in its ability to motivate and change the world. All you have to do is look at people like Mother Teresa.
Kindling compassion in our kids doesn’t mean we’re raising weak kids. In fact, what it means is that we’re raising emotionally strong kids who can dig into their sources of pain, who can self-reflect and who can learn from it and become better people because of it. It builds strength. It’s not weakness. It’s really important to note that self-compassion is not about self-judgment.
It’s about developing a sense of warmth and compassion in everything we do. When you’re self-compassionate, you recognize your own failures and shortcomings as something that’s inevitable and something you can accept with love and kindness. Basically, this is that unmerited favor, grace that God gives us, that he wants us to give to others and especially our family members and our kids, but that requires that we’re able to give grace to ourselves.
Practices to Increase Our Compassion
Research shows that there are practices we use to increase our compassion. What this research focused on was meditation. I’m going to talk about prayer because there really are so many similarities between them. The great news is that we do not need to manufacture compassion; we can pray for it. In Romans 5:5 it says “the Spirit will pour love into our hearts.” We just need to seek the right source. We can pray for love for ourselves and for others. In caring for and acting upon that care for ourselves and for others we can find true compassion like Jesus.
The research shows that we need to have a morning ritual of meditation to help develop compassion. They suggest that we have a morning meditation on compassion for ourselves and compassion for others that we know are struggling. I would suggest that we have a prayer time for compassion, God’s compassion for us, our compassion for ourselves. Somewhere and someplace where we can recognize our struggles, and pray for those who are struggling around us.
The research also found that we need to practice empathy, and it suggests that we imagine that a loved one is suffering: something terrible has happened to him or her, and now we have to try to imagine the pain they’re going through. I would suggest that we need to do this as parents and we need to see our kids struggles as valid. Their struggles with bullies, their struggles with relationships or breakups, their struggles with stress, and anxiety or depression are enormous for their young lives. Praying for other struggles and our kids’ struggles can help increase our compassion for them.
Another thing the research suggests is practicing acts of kindness as a way to develop compassion. This is something we should just be doing naturally as believers, but it’s something we can definitely put in place within our families to help our kids focus on dealing with others.
The good news is that it’s not very hard to reawaken that compassionate nature that we all have, and that’s why I’m recommending we make the New Year’s resolution as parents for our families to become more compassionate in 2020. It will help our kids draw closer to us and help them learn and grow from their mistakes, and it will help us be more positive about ourselves.
If you would like to join me, my family and a group of others for compassion 2020 please use our contact us form and shoot me the note Compassion 2020 and we will provide some tips reminders and opportunities to discuss how compassion can change our lives in 2020.
I look forward to interacting with you.