The Gifts of Imperfection

Insights from Compassion and Boundaries and Compassion

“In The Places That Scare You, Pema Choron writes, ‘Compassion sharing is daring. It involves learning to relax and allow ourselves to move gently toward what scares us.’”

How true! It takes great humility to have compassion. You often have to surrender a part of yourself that has been deeply wounded and scarred.

“ Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity. Pema Choron

Our third daughter suffered from seizures from the time she was 6 months old until she was 18. I personally knew and understood the pain and fear a parent experiences when they watch their child go through a seizure. On one horrible occasion, our daughter had to be hospitalized and we almost lost her. Because of going through these experiences while working in healthcare for over twenty years, I could easily relate to frightened parents or family members.

 Compassion is a wonderful gift when used to bring comfort and support to others, but  a compassionate person should still be conscious of their own limitations.

Dr. Brown writes, “Here’s what I learned: The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”

How do you and when should you hold people accountable?

“Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming. But it’s also much more effective. Shaming and blaming without accountability is toxic to couples, families, organizations, and communities. First, when we shame and blame, it moves the focus from the original behavior in question to our own behavior. By the time this boss is finished shaming and humiliating his employees in front of their colleagues, the only behavior in question is his. Additionally, if we don’t follow through with appropriate consequences, people learn to dismiss our requests—even if they sound like threats or ultimatums. If we ask our kids to keep their clothes off the floor and they know that the only consequence of not doing it is a few minutes of yelling, it’s fair for them to believe that it’s really not that important to us. It’s hard for us to understand that we can be compassionate and accepting while we hold people accountable for their behaviors. We can, and, in fact, it’s the best way to do it. We can confront someone about their behavior, or fire someone, or fail a student, or discipline a child without berating them or putting them down. The key is to separate people from their behaviors—to address what they’re doing, not who they are. (I’ll talk more about this in the next chapter.) It’s also important that we can lean into the discomfort that comes with straddling compassion and boundaries. We have to stay away from convincing ourselves that we hate someone or that they deserve to feel bad so that we can feel better about holding them accountable. That’s where we get into trouble. When we talk ourselves into disliking someone so we’re more comfortable holding them accountable, we’re priming ourselves for the shame and blame game. When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice. For our own sake, we need to understand that it’s dangerous to our relationships and our well-being to get mired in shame and blame, or to be full of self-righteous anger. It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.”

Do you agree with Dr. Brown?

After I retired from healthcare I worked part-time with special needs children at a local school. I was able to witness first hand the failure of shame and blames tactics. The tactics I must admit I as a young mother used myself. They were used on me and I used what I knew. Today through education, age, experience and great authors like Dr. Brene’ Brown & Pema Choron I’ve learned new ways of establishing boundaries.

What boundaries do you need to set?

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