One day while being enlightened in Buddhist class, the topic of ‘compassion’ came up. I was all ears when the teacher shared how in the Buddhist culture compassion for all living beings comes from a wish that all are well, very much like love. But after listening for a while, I felt frustration bubbling up inside of me, and I was compelled to put up my hand to make what I thought was going to be an excellent point!…My poor sister-in-law pretty much counts down the minutes every time we go until I make my so-called ‘excellent point’. Some things never change… Sorry Mandy 😉 I announced that I agree that the idea of compassion sounds wonderful, but, too much compassion made me sick! Being a paramedic involves compassion to some extent every day! And after 12 years of compassion, I developed post traumatic stress disorder…so how is compassion good for anything? Bam! I thought I had delivered a zinger! But then, like the calm beautiful woman she is, the teacher gently replied, “Compassion never made you sick. Attachment did“. WOW! Put your hand down Natalie!…
What a compelling statement! I had NEVER thought of it that way! But it made complete sense! Compassion is what made me a paramedic…I have no doubt about that! Witnessing my mom being cared for by smiling compassionate paramedics back when she had seizures on a regular basis is what inspired me to become a paramedic myself. But over the years, my attachment to even the potential of the successful outcome of a call, made me sick when I was not able to achieve the happy ending I seemed to always looked for. Even though I was very much aware of the limitations of any skill or directive I possessed, my goal going in to a call was to ‘win’ every time…and realistically, those ‘wins’ can be rare.
So this brings me to another thought. How can I be sure that I am not attached to the outcome of advice I give through this blog? When does it get to the point that I too get pulled under when I am trying to save someone who’s drowning in the dark sea of mental illness? I think I found my answer today while once again chatting with my sister-in-law…drum-roll!…I’ve gone too far when I feel co-dependency has occurred.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with what co-dependency is, in short, it’s an excessive reliance on other people’s help which eventually enables the person’s illness, inevitably discouraging recovery. For example, the adult child who still lives at home and has his or her parent(s) provide everything they need to survive lives in a co-dependent relationship. The excessive help these parents give, actually discourages their child’s recovery from extreme dependence. The problem with the development of co-dependency is that it’s usually not a quick double-drowning! It’s more like a slow safe rescue in your rescue boat, but when you’re not looking, during your hopeful journey to shore, the person you rescued is adding a cup of water to the boat, and over time, you unexpectedly both sink! Sigh!…
Yes, the purpose of my blog is to help others, and to deliver compassion; I hope that goes without saying! It’s to help me, and it’s to help you. But what I need to remember is that my help doesn’t give me the right to champion other people’s success. Furthermore, beyond my ability to give you good directions, I have no right to map out your journey…because it’s just that…YOUR JOURNEY. I will never stop cheering you on, and I will wait for you at the finish-line. But by only being your coach, the medal at the end of the race belongs to only you.
Looking back on my years as a paramedic, I WISH I had viewed the outcome of my calls in this much healthier, less attached way. I can hold the wish that my patients are well when I leave the call, be they in life or death, but when I pack up my bags and drive to the next call, I can’t be attached to the outcome. When we’ve done all we can do, compassion should only bring us peace, it should never hurt.
I like to believe that as I drive my rescue boat around looking for people to help, that I have at least started a ripple in the water which will spread for years and years. But when my boat is full, I may have to limit my help to a shout of encouragement over the dark sea. And if my boat starts to sink, I will need to detach in a healthy way, and hope that I taught you to swim. And when you finish your journey and reach the shore, let me know, and we can guide the rescue boat together…Heck, I’ll even get you your own! 😉
December 19, 2016 at 7:31 AM
Sounds like you had an epiphany!
May I also add to your well stated thoughts the difference between compassion and empathy – they are not the same. We are taught in various profession to “get onto the persons lived experience” to be present and authentic. In fact, there are nursing theorists who have an entire body of knowledge on the subject. I respectfully disagree in part, that empathy is a razor we walk oalong and should not be used as a listening tool. Knives are sharp. We can become the victim when empathic conversations in a well intentioned practitioner, becomes a weapon and hurts us. Compassion is safe and provides the boundaries the practitioner as well as the other person needs to maintain a healthy relationship. Not always a popular boundary but a necessary one.
Natalie, I’m so grateful you found this newest light bulb moment. While I was reading it I was cheering for you!
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December 19, 2016 at 2:27 PM
Excellent point 🙂 And thank you so much for your comment and for cheering me on. Big hug!!
December 19, 2016 at 7:34 AM
Into not onto
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