Members of APSE North West regional group met at Chester University in May. Siobhan Horton gave a presentation entitled: “Evolutionary Motivation of Compassion: Holy Inspiration.” We considered this definition of compassion by Professor Paul Gilbert: ‘a recognition of and sensitivity to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try to prevent and relieve it. This takes courage and wisdom.’
Siobhan outlined evolutionary and other factors which influence our ability to express compassion as well as the emotional regulation systems which drive it, according to Gilbert’s model.
Useful distinctions were made between the qualities of Compassion and that of Empathy (defined as the effect of the suffering of others on you).
We reflected in groups on the implications for ourselves as ministers and lay workers seeking to offer a compassionate response whilst avoiding the dangers of getting drawn into an unhelpful ‘loop of empathy.’ The latter means that we risk ‘losing ourselves’ in the pastoral issues of others, instead of being able to take a step back and enable learning through reflection.
There was general acknowledgement that we may be good at offering compassion to another whilst being not so good at receiving it from others. Work done with those who struggle with showing compassion towards self or others has highlighted that they may be better able to relate to the concept of ‘wishing self or others well.’
Quoting Nouwen, Siobhan explained we can help people most ‘from our scars, not our wounds.’ This implies a responsibility to seek and accept healing for our own hurts in order to more effectively serve others.
Siobhan’s presentation was greatly appreciated by members, providing much food for thought, especially in relation to how we can encourage supervisees to practise self-compassion and hold appropriate boundaries.