By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Compassion can be a very healing experience, both for the person offering it and for the one receiving it. But it’s equally important to ensure your own well-being with self-compassion as it is to be compassionate to others. When someone else’s suffering is expressed in a way that is harming you, it’s essential that you tend to your own pain first. To ignore this ‘rule’ is to ask for trouble.
Too often, people who are in love or just view themselves as caring people are all too willing to put up with being treated poorly. They reason that their partner or friend was overwhelmed with stress or didn’t really mean what he said. They allow for problematic behaviors, such as angry tirades or being treated with contempt. Yes, people make mistakes. They lose their temper at times or inadvertently say hurtful things. And yes, true friends understand each other’s struggles – they are compassionate and cut each other some slack. But it is equally true that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. You deserve to be treated with respect. So, if someone in your life is repeatedly harsh or has a pattern of being hurtful, you need to seriously consider whether it’s time to make a change – to care about yourself and your pain first.
It’s not so much that you need to attack the person who is hurting you; or that you need to stop having compassion for their struggles. Rather, you need to consider changing your focus. Take note of how their problems have become your pain. Consider whether the relationship is in some significant ways leaving you to feel critical of yourself or generally unhappy. If it is, then you are in need of help. Tend to your hurt – find ways to validate your feelings, soothe your hurt, and get support from others. Then you might want to confront your friend or – if you think it’s time – end the relationship.
You might decide that the pain is worth it – perhaps you believe that your friend is going through a particularly difficult time in life and your support can help him to come through it. That’s fine. Just make sure that you are finding support for yourself elsewhere. Also, continue to assess whether being supportive is really helping him – or just serving as a way to bring you down along with him. There’s no use in you both drowning. In fact, if this seems to be happening, then you might suggest other help (perhaps professional help) for your friend.
Whatever your situation, remember to remain compassionate to your own struggles. You matter. Your struggles matter. Be aware if your friend’s actions are effectively saying that you are not that important. Seriously consider whether you are willing to continue supporting this person at your own expense. Seriously consider whether it’s time to put yourself first. And keep in mind, the only way to have a strong, healthy relationship is for both people in that relationship to treat each other with caring.
The Art of Relationship blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.