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How to Have More Compassion for People, According to Mental Health Professionals
The Real Housewives of Potomac's Gizelle Bryant realized that she needs to have more compassion for the people in her life after a spat with Robyn Dixon.
Here’s something they don’t teach you in school: compassion. Sure, you learn key life skills like sharing, listening, and not stealing food off other people’s lunch trays, but they hardly teach you about why and how you should show unconditional kindness for others, even when it’s not that convenient for you to do so.
It’s a huge, yet totally relatable, wake up call for The Real Housewives of Potomac’s Gizelle Bryant, who realized she needs to have more compassion for people in her life after Robyn Dixon practically tossed in the towel on their friendship. (ICYMI, Robyn is fed up with Gizelle’s selfish behavior — watch more in the clip above.)
So, how does a person change? Where do you even go to learn how to be a more compassionate person? Here’s some advice from our experts.
1. Have It for Yourself First
If you really want to be less selfish and be there for people, no matter what, first you need to have compassion for yourself.
So, how do you do this? Dr. Melissa Green, a licensed psychologist in practice at Resilience and Psychological Fitness Center, says the best step forward is to stop judging or criticizing yourself too harshly when you make a mistake or do something that you wish you had not done.
Good practice also comes in the form of looking back at times when people might have been there for you.
“In order to have compassion, it is helpful to think of times you have been in the other person’s position," says Aaron Sternlicht, a licensed mental health counselor. “This is a way of being empathetic by relating and identifying with what the other person is experiencing by your own real life experiences."
One of the biggest reasons to do this, Sternlicht says, is to help you offer comfort to the other individual by letting them know you have been in their position in the past, and it also allows you to offer real-life solutions for what worked for you in the past.
2. Listen to Other People
When people are opening up to you, try not to spend the whole time thinking about yourself.
“Make a habit when listening to others to label and identify their feelings. This makes an opportunity for their feelings to be identified and they will feel emotionally understood or help you understand better what they are feeling,” says Stephanie Wijkstrom, a certified counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh. “This also encourages the speaker to cue in on their own emotions during conversation. It is easy for us to feel compassion when we focus on the emotions rather than the language or factual layer of what is said.”
3. Drop the Defense
It might be easy to default to getting frustrated or defensive when another person is airing their issues to you. Wijkstrom suggests instead approaching the conversation with questions to gain more insight rather than defensive statements that shut the other person down.
‘For instance, if our partner is saying that they feel really lonely, instead of responding, ‘How can you feel lonely we were just out for a walk together?' Instead say, 'I want to understand that more, when are you most lonely, how can I help you feel less alone?' This kind of compassionate response will be a sigh of relief for your relationship and it signals compassion and openness to care,” says Wijkstrom.
4. Assume Good Intentions
Assuming good intent means that we try to assume the best of other people instead of the worst.
“For example, if someone is cutting you off in traffic, instead of becoming angry and cursing the individual, try to assume that maybe they have an emergency such as someone sick in a hospital,” says Sternlicht. “This will allow you to express compassion rather than negative feelings such as anger or frustration.”