Pain and compassion are being explored at a forthcoming British Pain Society Conference, so I thought that I would comment on a couple of important aspects.
Firstly, as clinicians compassion plays a role in our desire to guide and treat others in pain and most likely coloured our choice to become a health-carer in the first instance. Secondly, I find that the vast majority, if not all those I see are compassionate people to everyone (or most!) except themselves. Here are some brief thoughts.
Compassion is defined as ‘inclining one to help or be merciful’ (Oxford Dictionary). The Dalai Lama describes compassion from a Buddhist viewpoint: ‘Compassion is said to be the empathetic wish that aspires to see the object of compassion, the sentient being, free from suffering’. There must be an object of compassion that is another individual or of course the one that is often forgotten, oneself.
The feeling of compassion is often described as a warmth across the chest; the type of feeling associated with seeing a small, defenceless animal, or perhaps a newborn child. This feeling enhances our empathy, which drives actions of kindness towards that being. As a clinician there are clear benefits of cultivating a compassionate approach towards patients who suffer the consequences of pain, particularly on-going pain. Certainly compassionate listening and actions are skills to be nurtured as they envelope the therapeutic encounter with essential authenticity. Compassion also creates an environment and a context for effective and skilful communication; an openness that encourages the patient to express themselves as themselves, revealing the challenges that can be surmounted with a joint therapeutic effort. The importance of the clinician being kind to himself or herself is akin to that of the patient. Looking at ways to grow and flourish, to be a better clinician requires acknowledgement of the current standing, acceptance and a desire to improve, yet without self-criticism.
Frequently patients will illustrate their harshness towards themselves. This punishment and criticism fosters angst, frustration, anger and other negative emotions that are draining, damaging and ultimately wasteful as energies are put into everything but clear thought and action towards improvement. At any given time, one does his or her best based on their knowledge and skills — everyone makes mistakes, which the wise learn from and see the opportunity in errors, the opportunity to develop. Learning to be kind to oneself, often breaking a habit of some years (many people I see are perfectionists; but in some arenas this trait is very useful and a strength that enables high performance resulting in success; so let us learn how and when to utilise it), is a vital part of learning how to overcome pain, especially persisting pain.
Here are several videos that are useful to that end:
Learning about compassion towards oneself and others is part of the Pain Coach Programme for overcoming and transforming persisting and chronic pain. Call us to book your appointment: 07518 445493 | Clinics in London | Sessions available on Skype on request