Compassion: The Art of Living with Challenging Emotions and Situations - Prof. Dr. Zümra Atalay

Compassion is a response to the painful, distressing, and challenging situations we encounter throughout our lives. While understanding compassion, I would like to point out that the meaning of the word is very interesting to me. The word compassion comes from Latin. It means com- (together) and -pati (to suffer). In other words, compassion is “sharing, understanding and recognizing pain.

Sep 15, 2023 - 21:59
Sep 27, 2023 - 19:40
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Compassion: The Art of Living with Challenging Emotions and Situations - Prof. Dr. Zümra Atalay
Compassion-Prof.Dr. Zümra Atalay

Therapist Paul Gilbert, the founder of compassion-based therapy, sees compassion as a human psychological capacity that can be developed. According to Gilbert (2005), compassion increases the ability to provide care. I think seeing this as something we can improve, is a hopeful approach. By developing this ability to face situations that we cannot approach with compassion, we can gain different perspectives on ourselves and our environment. Over time, we can develop the practice of compassion and apply it to ourselves. We confront situations that we are afraid to face.

According to Atalay (2019), "Compassion means understanding the nature of pain. It is realizing that pain is temporary as much as we accept its existence and inevitableness. Accepting pain means being able to continue with the pain, not despite it." What did we notice in the events we experienced? What were our reactions? Did we blame ourselves or did we take steps towards understanding? Did we escape from the event we experienced and suppress it? Or did we have the courage to confront it and show ourselves kindness and compassion?

According to Gilbert (2005), compassion has three different aspects. These are;

• Compassion transferred from us to others

• Compassion coming to us from others

• Self-compassion, the compassion we feel for ourselves

(Compassion and cruelty, p.9-74).

Compassion transferred from us to others;

This aspect of compassion is something we are familiar with as a society. But what we actually need to notice here is that the meaning of compassion is slightly different from the situation we are familiar with. In other words; Compassion does not mean pitying someone, being soft-hearted, or being weak. On the contrary, it is having the courage and confidence to face challenging emotions and situations. It is being sensitive to the pain of others.

Compassion Coming to Us from Others;

This type of compassion can sometimes mislead us depending on the emotions and situations we are in. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we hesitate to express that we need help. We avoid showing our pain and try to maintain our strong, indestructible image to the outside world. Compassion: “People pity me.” You may perceive it as such and push everyone away from you. Asking for help, sharing your pain with others, and showing people your feelings are not shameful and do not show that you are weak. On the contrary, it shows that you are open to compassion. In other words, it shows that you have the courage to face the painful situations and emotions you are experiencing.

Self-Compassion: The Compassion We Feel for Ourselves;

According to Germer (2009), “The experience of being compassionate means giving up the tendency to resist emotional discomfort. It is accepting a person, pain, or our own reactions to pain” (Germer, The Mindful Path to Self-compassion).

This may be the most difficult thing to experience. Self-compassion is generally perceived as self-reward. That's why people choose not to show compassion to themselves. “What does it mean to be kind to yourself when you make a mistake?” There may be times when you think: Approaching yourself with compassion does not make you spoiled, weak, and selfish. It won't leave you unprotected. It gives you the confidence and courage to admit your mistakes rather than blaming others. It's about taking steps to improve behaviors that harm you. It means accepting that you are human and you can make mistakes like everyone else.

Your friend is experiencing a stressful and challenging situation. That's why he makes mistakes and can't complete his work. He asked for help from you. You also empathized with your friend. You thought about how you would feel if you were in his place. Maybe you understood his emotional state even though it put you in a difficult situation. You offered to help them with their work, you understood their mistakes, you guided them in their work, and you gently explained their mistakes. You, your friend, are experiencing the same situation instead of your friend. You should treat yourself with the same "compassion" as you treat your friend. Atalay (2016) states that showing compassion for ourselves does not mean ignoring our mistakes and seeing ourselves as perfect, nor does it mean criticizing ourselves mercilessly while noticing our mistakes. In fact, we can say that we accept ourselves and our mistakes and improve ourselves by approaching them constructively.

Self-compassion consists of 3 components. These are;

Self Kindness; When you make a mistake, you want to find out which steps you had difficulty in and the factors that caused the error. However, the point we need to pay attention to in this regard is that we do not use accusatory, insulting or judgmental sentences towards ourselves while realizing the mistakes we made. It means not making yourself suffer by punishing yourself.

Sample sentences;

“How could I make such a mistake? You are stupid, stupid! Even a sophomore would do this right.” This is so incriminating and it's a judgmental sentence.

“It was very wrong for me to take this step like this. That's why I made a mistake and things turned out this way. Everyone makes mistakes. “I have to remind myself to pay a little more attention.” With this sentence, you admitted your mistake, found the mistake, and approached it constructively.

Common Sharing; What you are experiencing are human experiences. Every person experiences common emotions and situations with you at different periods of their life. In fact, the events you experience, the emotions you feel, and your thoughts are common with people. Your mother made the same mistake when she was your age. The person you idolize also made mistakes and got to where he is now.

Mindfulness; I gave information about mindfulness in my previous article. To briefly recall, It means accepting what we notice without judgment while paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. It means realizing the stress you are experiencing in a very stressful moment. Instead of pushing the stress away, it means saying, "I see it's here, I accept what I'm experiencing right now." According to Atalay (2016), self-compassion tells you that the pain will change when you are kind to yourself in the middle of the pain, while mindfulness tells you that the pain will change when you are open to the pain with awareness.

We have an existing way of thinking. When we make mistakes, we tend to blame ourselves. With practice, we can change our existing, automatic formulaic sentences. The book contains guided practices to embed compassion into our daily lives. Embedding these practices into life and taking a compassionate approach in challenging emotional situations can take time and in some cases be difficult. For this, we need to remind ourselves to be self-kind and compassionate with conscious awareness.




Atalay, Z. (2019). Şefkat: Zorlayıcı duygu ve durumlarla yaşayabilme sanatı. İstanbul: İnkilap.


Germer, C. (2009). The mindful path to self-compassion: Freeing yourself from destructive thoughts and emotions. Guilford Press.


Gilbert, P. (2005). Compassion and cruelty. Compassion: Conceptualisations, research and use in psychotherapy, 9-74.


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Beyza Sıla Keskin Ben Beyza Sıla Keskin. ODTÜ Psikolojik Danışmanlık ve Rehberlik mezunuyum. Alanımda kendimi geliştirmek ve geliştirirken deneyim kazanmak benim için çok önemli. Hayata psikoloji penceresinden bakmak bana çok şey kazandırıyor.