Balancing Toughness with Compassion to Become Stronger
I am writing this short post to share a few thoughts about the relationship between inner strength/toughness and compassion. I have this great client who came to me some time back mainly because he was having relational difficulties. He was an unembarrassed supporter of people on the far right and had positive thoughts toward people like Hitler. Most of my clients come from the other side of the spectrum so it tested my kills of being non-judgemental to not just kick him out and tell him I couldn’t help him. The great thing that I learned when I did my NLP training some years ago was to be curious and to put any judgment to the side when helping a person through what they are facing. It turns out that he had a really tough time growing up in his family and was bullied in school. He found that the key to his survival was to be really tough and then work really hard. It made him very successful in many aspects of his life except the long term relational aspect. I could see right away that the virtue he needed was compassion, but when he tried to go to that kind of energy, he just felt disgusted. His thinking was that compassion equals weakness and it gets you nowhere, that people who are compassionate are whiners.
Growing up in America in the 50s and being a white male in household that believed only in toughness and discipline, there is a large part of me that goes along with him. But, then on the other hand, I have also done years of working with people to deal with the worst kinds of abuse imaginable, so I have first hand experience in the value of being non-judgmental and compassionate.
What my practice has taught me is that having both energies working together harmoniously is a big key to solving the kinds of issues that the world is facing. What is so interesting is that while you would expect religious groups such as Christians and Muslims to side on the virtue of compassion because of the teachings of Jesus and Muhammad, large numbers of those religions (not all) have emphasized toughness as the main virtue. They do not seem to be able to do both.
Why, for instance, do the Evangelicals tend to side with politics that do not support universal health care? You would think that a religion whose central teaching is love and compassion would make that their first priority, but the message you get from them is one of being tough.
So if a woman has had to fight her way through a masculine dominated system and she gets sexually abused along the way, why does the tough side get so upset when she talks openly about her experience. She had to be a lot tougher than any man, but those who believe only in toughness are disgusted and call the women weak for bringing it out. It is so interesting. Why did it take the Catholic Church so long to even begin to admit that it had a problem with blatant sexual abuse when they knew what was going on for years? Why did the leaders of the Church have no compassion? Why did they tell the people to just be quiet and take it? Why did they make them just tough it out? Where was the compassion of Jesus?
What I think, and I may be wrong, is that when a person is faced with seeing abuse, it calls up their own feelings of having been severely mistreated or abandoned inside. For an instant they feel the feeling, but because it is so hurtful and automatically weakening, then they run from it by trying to be tough. For the longest time in sport we made people tough out there injuries to the point of humiliating them if they quit in the middle of a match. When I first started playing tackle football in the U.S., I had severe back pain, but I kept playing for a long time because I thought I was just supposed to tough it out. Finally my coach saw that I could barely move, and then I went to the doctor.
What most people do not realize is that compassion is the virtue that helps you look at the abuse/pain, see where it is affecting your life, and then begin to take steps internally and externally to make you a stronger and better individual. Without having compassion, the amount of inner strength that one can use is limited.
Balancing compassion and toughness is what is needed, and the key to compassion with yourself is the ability to realize that in order to move forward in your life, you can greatly benefit and use the negative and hurtful experiences that have happened to you. It is not about examining what happened and giving into feeling sorry for yourself and then being depressed. It is examining the hurt and pain and then going to a much higher level of functioning than you could ever examine.