I’ve always relied on the compassion of others. However recently, in particular throughout this year, I’ve noticed the compassion of others waning.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I sense a rapidly increasing lack of compassion within society.
Just this afternoon when I was traveling on a train through London a young lady got on to the carriage in tears. The gentleman beside me turned to his friend opposite and said:
“What an attention seeker.”
I reacted immediately and angrily:
“You’ve got no idea what she’s going through. Have a heart.”
Needless to say, his response was not particularly pleasant. I got off at the next stop to change carriage, brimming with rage.
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident of the lack of compassion I earlier mentioned, but sadly it is not. It’s something I’ve become accustomed to, especially working within the field I do it seems.
Whether visiting a hospital, prison or mental health service itself, I never leave without hearing personal testimonies about the lack of compassion, empathy and understanding faced by people with mental health issues. Of course I react strongly to it and try to stand up for those affected when I can, such as during the incident on the train.
But it only leaves me feeling compassion-less, both toward others, and to myself.
What a vicious compassion-less cycle!!
Turning in on myself
And no matter the lack of compassion I may have for someone else, it does not even begin to compare to the lack of compassion I have for myself.
This has always been a problem for me since I was young, but increasingly so within my twenties.
At the age of 20 I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. What followed was a hospitalisation, suicide attempt and sectioning. It was an incredibly challenging early part of my twenties to say the least.
Fortunately, the severity of symptoms I was experiencing has now reduced, and at the age of 29 I am managing my mental health to a fair degree, as well as being able to function relatively ok.
However, one prevailing and dominating factor throughout these last nine years has been a (literally) overwhelming lack of self esteem and compassion toward myself.
I have absolutely loathed myself at times. More than I’ve ever hated anyone or anything before. I still feel this way about myself at times, but I am trying to put self compassion into practice at present.
Finding what works
For the last few months I’ve embarked on a course of Compassion Focussed Therapy, otherwise known as CFT. I’ve had several courses of therapy throughout these past nine years, from counselling to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
CBT has been effective at times. But it tends to be short-term, both in terms of treatment period and its after-effect, at least for me personally.
CFT however has been extremely in-depth and insightful so far. In fact, I’ve learnt more about myself in these past few months through Compassion Focussed Therapy than I have during years of other forms of therapy.
But CFT is less about intellect and more about feeling and emotion. Unsurprisingly, compassion is what we aim to connect to during our sessions the most. What has been surprising though is the level of compassion, both for myself and for others, that I have touched whilst in therapy.
I’ve shocked myself at times when speaking out loud as my ‘compassionate self’ after accessing self compassion through something like a meditation sequence with my therapist.
Before I started CFT I believed compassion within myself was non existent and not possible. Now I realise that self compassion has always been there but that it was simply inaccessible during the years of battling my mental health.
However, acceptance and forgiveness for my mind and the way it works has helped to unlock the key to the reservoir of self compassion that is finally seeping through gradually.
What’s probably been the greatest source to accessing my own self compassion has, as mentioned at the beginning, been the compassion shown by other people, and namely my CFT therapist Charlie who I see weekly in his clinic near central London.
I’ve been treated by countless mental health clinicians, but none has shown me greater empathy and understanding than Charlie has.
Speaking one’s innermost thoughts and feelings out loud is not easy, especially when expressing them to someone else in the room.
I’ll never forget one psychiatrist who grew impatient and rushed me as I struggled to talk to him about the suicidal ideation I was having some years ago. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me at that moment. I felt both helpless and hopeless through the rest of our time together.
The Power of Patience
Charlie, however, has showed a patience, and kindness, that I have never experienced in therapy before. As a result I’ve been able to share things with him I’ve never felt brave enough to share with any previous therapists.
I know that whatever I say to my therapist in CFT I will never be judged and that is a truly liberating feeling. It really has allowed me to visit and express my deepest pain and anguish, and whatsmore attempt to bring some compassion to it; something that i’ve also found extremely liberating!
I wish all of those who struggle with their mental health received the level of warmth and compassion that I’ve experienced in recent months. I really think it could reduce the suffering endured by so many.
A recent study by the charity Time To Change revealed that 90% of those with a mental illness have faced stigma and discrimination.
It is a dreadfully high figure and one I believe we can tackle through increased education, which will in turn lead to greater compassion.
Towards a Compassionate World
Society seems to be at a turning point after the turbulent past few months. The increase in hate crimes, both here in the UK after Brexit, and across in the US after Trump’s shocking Presidential win, illustrate the worrying levels of intolerance which will keep on rising rapidly unless it is challenged.
Compassion is key to moving us onward and upward. In the words of Gandhi:
“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”
I believe this extends to befriending ones own mind, often our greatest enemy.
My journey to achieve this is going to be incredibly long and arduous. Perhaps it will be a lifetimes work. I’ve spent years many years torturing myself.
But finally it is time to lay down the stick I constantly beat myself up with.
Once I am able to do that, perhaps then I can at last rely on the compassion I have within myself for myself, instead of solely on the compassion shown to myself by others.
Jonny Benjamin is an award-winning mental health campaigner, film producer, public speaker, writer and vlogger. Very limited spaces left to hear Jonny speak in Cardiff on November 18th.
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