As a licensed psychologist, certified professional counselor, student affairs professional, friend, and decent human being, I’ve had a lot of experience giving sympathy, empathy, and compassion to others. I thought I understood the sentiments intellectually and emotionally. However, being on the receiving end of these generous expressions of caring and love has caused me to think about these sentiments from another perspective.
While I have been powerfully impressed by the transcendent experience of selflessness and generosity born out of the deepest sorrow and despair, I’ve felt less than competent in demonstrating the fullness of my appreciation and gratefulness. I’ve addressed my discomfiture in this realization by grabbing onto the idea of “paying it forward.”
I appreciate the many expressions of sympathy for my losses; I am more than grateful for those whose empathy put them at risk of being in pain with me. And, for those who gave to me with passion, I owe the best of my life.
I want to think that being empathetic and compassionate don’t have to be selfless gifts that can contribute to what some label compassion fatigue. Instead, sharing empathy and compassion might be a symbiotic relationship that thrives when the recipient is the other part of the equation in a more active way.
Building on the fact that many givers of care say they get joy and good feeling from helping others, I have a deep desire to understand how to help myself and others make the relationship symbiotic and mutual so that the supporter gets a gift in-kind. One could say that I’m searching for the essence and wholeness of sympathy, empathy, and compassion.