Compassion is Vital

Compassion is Vital

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Contributors:

Yvette Gagnon

We all expect compassion when we are at our most vulnerable, but do we know how to give compassion to others and to ourselves? Do we understand the importance of this in our day-to-day lives, and do we truly understand how crucial it is to our wellbeing?

Compassion is defined as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This is much different from sympathy, which focuses on the understanding of others pain — not necessarily the act of wanting to alleviate it.

For some people, the ability to be compassionate comes easily. Think of those who have chosen a line of work where they are being of service to others at critical times. We would all agree that we absolutely need them to be compassionate and care for our emotional wellbeing as much as they are caring for our physical state. For others, being compassionate is more difficult. They may be too focused on the task and timeline at hand, which is understandable as people are asked to do more with less. They may also feel the need to look away, pass judgement unconsciously on someone else’s choices. They may not always fully understand what others need. We can also get caught up in our own lives, our own challenges with family, finances, or health, and it can become easy to feel that our struggle is the most important thing at that moment in time. The truth is that for all of us, no matter what the struggle, we all need compassion at different times in our life. We all need someone to see us, to hear us, and to validate our feelings, helping us to feel understood and cared for in that moment. It’s what makes us human.

Dementia care is very much the same. It requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of others — to help us try and figure out what those living with dementia need at that moment in time, since they cannot always tell us. Then, we find a way to support them while still allowing them to be who they are at that moment. It requires a great deal of compassion, understanding and patience to help them navigate in the moment. It happens with listening, a kind word, a gentle approach, and a deep respect for the person. It also requires an awareness that they are doing the very best they can, at that moment in time — but then, aren’t we all?

Compassion is like a muscle; we can strengthen it, or it can deteriorate. You can decide when and where to offer it in your life. Some is always better than none. Decide what kind of person you want to be and let that guide your actions. Just remember to be as compassionate with yourself as you are with others, because we can often be hardest on ourselves. It’s also important to know that if you provide care personally or professionally, you are more at risk for burnout if you are too focused on others. Get your rest, practice good nutrition and exercise. Most importantly, remember compassion is a choice. It happens in an instant with a willingness to change that moment in time for that person — because you cared.


Yvette Gagnon is a Certified Dementia Care Practitioner and a Positive Approach to Care Trainer. She owns Comforting Companions, a service dedicated to the social and emotional wellbeing of others by providing companion care and dementia education.

comfortingcompanions.ca

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