Special to The Journal
Posted May. 31, 2015 at 12:01 AM
Compassion is more than just a feeling; it compels us to reach out and help others. We see outpourings of compassion when a tragic event occurs. Yet ironically, many of us have difficulty when those within our intimate circle anger, betray, disappoint, or hurt us. However, if we can look beyond our immediate negative feelings, we might experience compassion’s relationship to the love hormone, oxytocin.
At the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, some scientists are even mapping “the biological basis of compassion.” Researchers there point out, “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, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people.”
But here is the key question: Do we give and care for others with selfless love or do we expect a return on investment? When an angry situation occurs within our own home or close circle, oftentimes we simply react. However, it is possible to turn around hurtful situations by looking at the role we might have played to create a flare-up. In identifying and owning up to our actions, we can mitigate the situation and work toward a solution.
Just why it is that even those with a loving nature can become enveloped in seething anger is complicated. However, the center’s research on gratitude indicates that people who turn to acts of kindness — even why they do not feel like doing so — can trigger a positive response. In other words, instead of stewing, change the channel. Express gratitude and take action. Send a thank-you note to someone. Make a visit to someone who needs you.
When you are feeling a lack of empathy, consider the Three Day Gratitude Plan:
Day 1: Express thanks for three positive qualities of your partner or friend. No matter what happens, try to ignore all of those little irritating moments or habits that drive you mad.
Day 2: Identify three aspects about yourself that you know annoy others. Be honest, admit your shortcomings. Now forgive yourself and others.
Day 3: For an entire day speak only kind, complimentary words, no matter what petty grievances might annoy you.
After three days, you should feel a sense of relief. In some ways this exercise is like cleaning out closets and drawers, or tossing piles of papers. And you can expect to feel better and sleep better after banishing the emotional clutter. The gratitude plan is essentially a way to sweep away feelings that deprive you from the joy and satisfaction of unconditional love.
Rita Watson is a relationship columnist for The Providence Journal and PsychologyToday.com.