How to avoid giving an overdose of compassion

Gisa Ellis-Mawer
Gisa Ellis-Mawer
The Founder of Gisa Ellis Consulting

I recently had a conversation with a lovely lady who was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of months ago. Wendy, as I will call her for this blog, went from diagnosis to surgery to chemotherapy in a matter of weeks. Just when she was starting her chemotherapy, life threw her another curve ball. Her brother, living overseas, had a stroke during the night, and as he was on his own, his partner being stuck abroad due to Covid-19, they found him in his bed only the next day. Sadly, he will never be even near his old self again. This was life being a real bitch for both Wendy and her brother!

So how did Wendy cope with it all? Quite frankly, even though she is a strong, independent lady, this was understandably, too much for her. As she was not coping well at all, she decided to make an appointment with a breast cancer counsellor. I met her a couple of days after and according to Wendy the counsellor spent most of the session sympathising with her, continuously reiterating the fact that she was in a very bad situation and she did not know how she could possibly cope with it all?

Wendy decided, there and then, that this was it and that she was not going back. “I know what kind of situation I am in, and I don’t need anybody going on about it for 40 minutes! I want someone to help me to cope, be strong and positive” she told me.

This is not to criticise the counsellor, who probably had the best of intentions. It is difficult to find someone in today’s world who truly shows compassion while one is going through a challenging situation. Done properly, it can ease your pain and can make you feel safe, heard and understood.

Of course, this should always be the basis of any interaction and communication with someone who is not in a good place. There is also the aspect, however, of supporting someone to get out of the pain and feeling blue, even if it is only temporarily or gradually.

This is obviously easier if the person in question has an internal sense of control, meaning she takes responsibility and wants to get out of it, as in Wendy’s case. On the other end of the spectrum there are the people with an external sense of control who tend to lean towards the victim mode.

Once the basis of understanding and compassion is established, instead of pushing someone further down the negative spiral, it might be an idea to try a different approach, for example:

  • getting the person involved in a charitable cause, for example supporting other people who are going through a tough time (maybe even tougher then themselves)
  • establishing what gives them a sense of purpose and planning forward as to how to include this in their daily life
  • helping them in building and maintaining a strong community where they can partake in activities
  • getting them involved in activities supporting animals or children

At the very least, it will distract them from themselves and their woes and give them a sense of achievement, belonging and purpose. If laughter comes into it, even better. After all, it is supposed to be the best medicine!

I would love to hear your views! Gisa xx






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