Hello everybody, welcome to episode 192 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on the collapse of compassion.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
In today’s episode, folks, we’re going to be hearing a question from a man who, in essence, is wondering why he can’t be more sympathetic or compassionate than he’d like to be. His history has made it difficult for him to express these feelings towards those that are suffering, and he’s not feeling at ease about this, understandably. Heads up in advance that this episode will pair very, very well with episode 46 of OLA – going way back. Both address the nuances of compassion, how we lose it and how we can gain it back. But for now, we’re going to look at this question and see if we can help this listener out. Here it is…
QUESTION: “I’ve been around a lot of suffering. Of course there are people that have it worse (something I try to keep in mind) but there hasn’t been more than a year or two my whole life that something drastic hasn’t happened to me or somebody I care about. I’m writing to you because I think I’ve gotten a little too good at dealing, and that scares me in a new way. Especially since COVID, it’s harder and harder to mourn and sympathize. Can someone be broken like this? It’s hard to think that I shouldn’t feel worse than I do.“
You Are Not Broken
Very good question. Thank you, sir, for sending it in. And my condolences for what you’ve described to be ongoing trouble for you not only now, but up to this point as well. The good news is, though, that you are not broken.
You’re not stuck like this. You’re not an outsider.
What you perceive as an inability to feel or sympathize is more unnerving to you than it would be to most because you’ve had more opportunities to mourn than most of us and can better grasp the true nature of loss. But what you’re experiencing is totally normal. It’s an odd theory in how it works, but it’s normal. This is what has been coined as Collapse of Compassion.
Collapse of Compassion
Collapse of Compassion is basically a psychological theory stating that the more suffering humans hear about or are exposed to, the less they care. I’m not sure if there’s a specific turning point (it’d probably be an impossible thing to calculate), but the idea is that after being exposed to a certain amount, numbness increases and thus sympathy decreases for each person. If one person that you care about dies this week, it will consume you.
But if next week twenty others die, you’ll be thrown into a fog, a numbness. You’ll be sad, but incapable of feeling the same amount of sympathy twenty times over that you did the previous week when the first person died. Does that make sense?
It’s no surprise that these feelings have really become concerning to you during the pandemic. The numbers are just unfathomably high. Is it devastating? Of course. But the rise in cases becomes normal and is far too high to truly conceptualize.
And Collapse of Compassion exists in many forms.
It’s the impatience we have for a teenager who’s tired after a 20 hour workweek after we’ve been working full-time for years. It’s the college freshman writing 15 page papers that laughs at their friend in high school who can barely write a 5 page paper.
It all stems from our ability to accommodate to things and then, in many people’s cases, the shaming of others who haven’t had the experiences or don’t have the tools to accommodate to the same degree.
But I like to think everyone has compassion languages the same way they have love languages. We all know that many people have a hard time expressing their love to others because they’ve had a troubled history with love and affection.
Or perhaps they grew up in a culture in which outward, jovial expressions of love didn’t happen. The same goes for those who have had a lifetime of having to dole out an atypical amount of compassion.
The result is that your expression of compassion will be different or challenging, because the history behind it has been different or challenging. Given what you’ve endured, your trouble to summon compassion the way you maybe did in the past is normal. And again, it’s being particularly challenged right now with all these outrageous statistics in the air that reflect numbers simply too large to grasp.
Right now, you want to be more compassionate, but have a hard time doing so. It’s important for you to realize that that in itself is compassion, even if it’s not the typical tears and hugs. So let that be the case. You’re still making an effort. You’re still stepping into the shoes of others and wanting to support them as much as you can. That’s just your version of compassion at this moment, and it’s not wrong.
Foundation for Compassion
I encourage you to really believe in that foundation, because it’s real. And I think you can use it to rebuild one block at a time. You seem to be thinking of compassion on a very worldly scale, as if being compassionate, by definition, requires mass quantities of compassion to be sent from you unto everyone who is suffering.
Instead of bringing compassion into the world like this, as if you’re some kind of symbol of compassion, maybe it’s time to focus instead on being a world of compassion for one person at a time.
I suggest you try some volunteer work or generally making an effort to build relationships with specific people and stick with them. And your efforts alone will speak volumes to them, even if you’re not breaking down in tears and being as gushy as some others might. You can still express compassion in your own way.
You’ll have an outlet for it, you’ll change the world for a select few, and you’ll be able to directly bask in the results.
The other noise will always be there, but it’ll be deafened by the differences you’ll be absolutely sure that you’re making.
You’ll be able to put all of the compassion in you and your wishes to release it into a much more realistic vehicle – setting the example and making changes within your community rather than trying to save the world, giving yourself something to do with all this tension you’ve built up rather than sit and ruminate with it.
Thank you again to the man who sent this question in. Really important stuff today, and something for all of us to keep in mind.
Like I said, Collapse of Compassion exists all over the place. So if you can see the ways in which it infiltrates your life, you can feel less guilty about the areas in which you can be a bit insensitive. You can also use that as a springboard to encourage you to show that sensitivity a bit more often towards those who haven’t thickened their skin in the same areas of life that you have.
It’s very important practice for everyone. Very important.
We are done for now though, everyone. I’m out of here and I appreciate you being here today for a really enjoyable episode for me about an important topic. I’ll be back with you all in 193, so be sure not to miss out.
See you there, and take care of yourselves.