Mindful and Reflexive Compassion

Today, I’m thinking about how many people need/expect their friends to reflexively express emotional support when they experience hardships. How often and cheaply our friends will lob insults at the perceived wrongdoers (never present) in a story we recount. How ready and fake the ego-reinforcing mantras are, when reflexively served up after we concede our shortcomings or failures to win external validation.

I could never do that: I was the silent one off to the side, wishing we could talk about action steps, about structuring a response for our despondent friend to effect, or about talking about what our emotions really are telling us – surely we feel something more nuanced when we break it down to it’s nuts and bolts.

Kassie and I talked about the lost opportunity in my approach, which is also so common among my friends. I viewed it as cheap, as fake, and as degrading of the person we are trying to cheer up. We are treating them like a one dimensional object, a leaf being blown around in a wind of emotion. We offer them nothing substantive to reflect on or learn from. We neuter their drive to improve themselves and exert agency over the situation.

But that is not the only story, and many people do require that reflexive compassion to reestablish their emotional footing.

It’s a matter of communication style, and I would frankly be doing my friends wrong to impose my style – seeking to dig in during the rawest feeling of emotion – onto other people. Understanding their style and meeting them with what they need to heal -/ that is compassion, and it is attainable.

Creating a habit of supporting certain friends in this way – with my own flavor of reflexive compassion that is meant to be genuine — can coexist with a mindset that looks for improvement opportunities, for agency, and for exploring the emotions granulay and honestly.

Two solutions:

  • Ask my friend, “hey, I see things are not going to plan, and you’re having a hard time but also preparing yourself to deal with it.” This leads us to meet the style that’s right in the moment, and to have an open conversation about emotions (centering on them).
  • Consider “wise compassion,” the sort of helpful scrutiny most people expect from a therapist, in appropriate dose and at appropriate times. Offer “reflexive compassion” as a rule, and “wise compassion” as an act of lovingkindness for my friends.

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