The Most Ingredient Component of Compassion

In 2010, I started talking about my mental illness and path in life with other people. I have conversed with many people struggling with a number of different problems. I’ve spoken with several friends, family, and loved ones of mentally ill people who want to be compassionate and understanding to our challenges. The people who do well at it with least amount of emotional turmoil because of it share one important ingredient. Self-love.

The idea of selflessness is one that is heavily promoted and romanticized in our society because it is a beautiful ideal. You can look at anything from religious figures and icons, to movies featuring heroes and heroines willing to lay their life on the line for the cause, to questionable hero worship of people. Everyone who deigns to undertake some action of sacrifice is doing so for some reason in their own mind and soul.

“I felt like it was the right thing to do.” “I felt it was my duty.” “I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in the world.” “This is my calling…” “I believe in my heart…” All of these things have to do with the emotions and beliefs of the person expressing them. All of them. And I have crossed paths with so many people who think that by emotionally martyring themselves, they can somehow save another person. It doesn’t work that way. You can only assist someone in saving themselves.

I don’t believe that the romanticized version of selflessness that so many people seem to think is a good solution actually exists. And that’s why self-love is so important. Self-love allows you to see a situation more clearly. It helps you set boundaries that will keep you well and healthy. It helps you know when it is time to walk away from a situation, no matter how much you want to help. Self-love can also help you recognize relationships and friendships that you should not be in.

“I don’t care! I care about X more than myself!”

And that’s a problem. You just can’t do that and expect to come out of it unscathed. That’s not a mentality that will bear a healthy relationship with respected boundaries. Furthermore, someone that genuinely loved and cared about you wouldn’t want you destroying yourself for them. That all gets into much trickier territory when you’re talking about parental love or mental unwellness that is so severe that it’s really twisted the person’s perspective inside out.

Even in those situations, there does a come a time when one has to say enough is enough to ensure they can survive the situation intact. Love is not an infinite resource for many people. It’s something that has to be fed and nurtured to keep it healthy and strong. And that’s something that you need to do with yourself, just as much with the people you care about.

Parental love is different. I’ve met several parents who would sacrifice anything and everything to help their child – and quite a few that have. That includes wealth, property, and their own physical and mental health. But, again, you can’t save someone from themselves. Burning your own life and health to the ground will not help an adult child who refuses to help themselves.

And if you can’t see that for yourself or feel that your well-being is just as important as the object of your affection – that is something you should speak to a certified mental health counselor about. It may point to something in your own mind that needs to be sorted out so you can find more peace and happiness with yourself in addition to weathering whatever storm you are facing in your life.


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4 Responses to The Most Ingredient Component of Compassion

  1. Victoria1 says:

    This is so true. I have tried saving a loved one before and it nearly cost me my own life. I had to really take a step back and evaluate my own state of mind.

    I didn’t like how my life was or where it was going. One thing though is that I love helping people. I want to see them smile and be happy…..but at what cost? I gave so much of myself that I lost who I was. It was detrimental to me. Growing up in an environment where I received nothing but negativity would start me on a downward spiral to very deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
    I turned to sports to run from the past but it always catches up to you. So I decided to seek help for myself from a therapist which is highly forbidden in my home. Of course I have not disclosed this to my parents because I want to heal. It’s like you have to get to a point in your life where you say enough is enough and you want change.
    Like the former boyfriend that I had and experienced the Bipolar Cycle he was in was something totally new to me because I’ve never seen it before. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way I can help him but to encourage him to get help. I do not want to succumb to the roller coaster of Highs and Lows of emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil that I would have if I allowed him back in my life.

    Thank you for allowing us to know your story because it truly helps people to heal, find closure, and know it’s not our fault.


    • Dennis says:

      Thank you for taking the time to share a bit of your story. What you’re describing about your path and your own struggle to help someone you care about is a very, very common one. And again, that’s why it’s so important to have solid boundaries and enforce them well. I’m glad you were able to get help from a therapist, despite what was going on at home. A lot of people carry negative opinions about therapy, but it can be such a helpful tool.

      I’m glad you found some peace with your situation. That’s a perfectly reasonable and fair view point.

      And you’re welcome.

  2. Unknown says:

    That was beautiful. My partner is bipolor and it’s so stressful thier taking the meds but sometimes some of the hurtful things they say is just awful. But I stuck in there I tell them that I am going to leave them if they continue to do mentally abusing things to me and then they want to apologize when the damage is done I understand they are sick but even when taking their meds they still say awful things but I am ciming to the result that I love me and I just hate to walk away but I am close to it smh living someone with this is hard work

    • Dennis says:

      It certainly is. All you can really do is the best you can. Everyone has their limits, and there is nothing wrong with that.

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