What is compassion?

Compassion entails empathizing with another person’s suffering and wishing to do everything in one’s power to alleviate that suffering. Compassion literally translates as “to suffer with another person.” It is defined by emotion researchers as the emotion that occurs when one is confronted with another’s pain and feels driven to alleviate that suffering.

Despite the fact that the ideas are related, compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism. In contrast to empathy, which refers to our ability to understand and experience the emotions of another person, compassion is defined as when those feelings and ideas are accompanied by a desire to assist that individual. While compassion can be felt without resulting in action, altruism is the kind, selfless activity that is typically triggered by such feelings. However, compassion can be felt without resulting in action, and altruism is not necessarily driven by compassion.

Scientists have begun to trace the biological foundation of compassion, which suggests that it serves a deeper evolutionary purpose than many people realize. Cynics may dismiss compassion as sentimental or irrational. Researchers have discovered that when we feel compassion, our pulse slows down, we release the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and parts of the brain associated with empathy, caregiving, and pleasure light up, which frequently leads in our desire to engage and care for other people.

Types of Compassion

Compassion frequently manifests itself in one of two ways, each of which differs depending on where the feelings are aimed. Compassion for others is a virtue. In order to have compassion for other people, you must first understand their suffering and then work to find a strategy to alleviate that suffering. As a result of these feelings, you are compelled to take action and do everything in your power to improve the situation.

The other is Self-Compassion— Compassion for oneself means treating oneself with the same level of kindness and compassion that one would exhibit to a friend or family member. When you’re not berating yourself for past transgressions, you’re accepting of who you are and your imperfections. 

Compassion Fatigue

Nonetheless, It is possible that continual exposure to the suffering of others will result in what is known as compassion fatigue, which is a severe side effect of compassion. The term “vicarious traumatization” or “secondary traumatization” is also used (Figley, 1995). Working with folks who are suffering from the aftereffects of traumatic experiences can leave an emotional residue or pressure on the individual. It is distinct from burnout, but the two conditions can coexist. Compassion Fatigue can emerge as a result of exposure to a single case or as a result of a “cumulative” level of trauma experienced by a group of people.

Compassion fatigue is that feeling that you have– no more empathy left to give.

When Mother Teresa wrote to her superiors about her plans for the nuns, she made it clear that they were required to take a year off every four or five years so that they might recuperate from the stress of their care-giving responsibilities. She deeply understood the manifestations of Compassion fatigue.

According to F. Oshberg, MD, the first thing you should grasp is that it is a process. Not only do you wake up fatigued and devoid of any physical or emotional energy on one day, but you also wake up exhausted and devoid of any physical or emotional vitality on the next day. Compassion fatigue develops gradually over time, requiring weeks or even years to manifest itself. For most people, it’s an inability to see the good in others, whether you work at home or in an office. Through over-utilization of your compassion skills, your capacity to experience and care for others gradually deteriorates. You might also suffer emotional blunting, which is when you react to things in a way that is different from what you would expect.


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Boyd, D. (2017, January 4). Compassion Fatigue. The American Institute of Stress. https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue.

What Is Compassion?. (2021, November 1). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-compassion-5207366.

Compassion Definition | What Is Compassion. (n.d.). Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition.