Our first instinct, when hurt or scared, is to reach out to another human. Not to run away, not to fight, and not to withdraw – instead, we seek comfort from another.
We see this instinct very clearly in babies and small children. As soon as a child begins to cry, their little arms extend from their body asking to be held. The child yearns for connection: they want to know they are not alone. They desire to feel secure and intuitively move toward another.
This need does not change as we grow older.
All of us seek connection. We want to know someone cares and is interested in our wellbeing. When we receive a compassionate response, we learn that not only do our needs matter – we learn that we matter – that we have value.
There is no greater need for a compassionate response than when faced with pain or fear. When someone is hurting, the best way to help is to indicate, by both word and deed, that you care. Often a compassionate response requires two things: listening to understand and suspending judgment.
Sometimes we don’t know someone is hurting or scared because they appear angry or irritable. I know this reaction is typical for me. I like to skip right over my pain and fear and go directly to anger. (In counseling, the anger response is symptomatic of the flight or fight response.) I get defensive and am not in a good place to listen or to care. When I am angry because I am hurt, I need time to walk away and calm down. Only then I am able to move toward compassion.
Sometimes we don’t know why we are feeling out of sorts. Whether we are defensive or fearful or numb/apathetic, we do not have a “reason” for our mood or behavior. Usually, this out-of-the-blue response is based on an implicit memory and we are not conscious of what is motivating us. In counseling, we call an implicit memory response a “trigger.”
Implicit memories begin in childhood and reflect our understanding of the world. In other words, based on what happened to us and how we were treated, we developed expectations or made assumptions for how the world works. As you may well imagine, our implicit memories combined with familial and cultural messages shape our perspective and cause us to make judgments and assumptions about ourselves and others.
What does all this mean?
It means many things.
- It is natural, a basic human need, to belong and to feel connected with others.
- Compassionate responses support belonging.
- Pain and fear can cause us to put up barriers to belonging.
- Pain and fear also can cause judgments and assumptions.
- Sometimes we are not aware and do not have control over what triggers our reactions.
- Recognizing our triggers and addressing their origins allows us to respond rather than to react.
- When we are free to respond, then we can choose to suspend judgment so we can listen for understanding.
- When we understand, we can connect.
If we want justice, if we seek compassion, if we want to create inclusive, diverse and equitable communities, then we need to dedicate resources and to commit to understanding our triggers and one another.
We need to heal.
Kim Bushore-Maki is a soul-driven entrepreneur who understands the undeniable urge to create a business and a life filled with meaning and purpose. Her vision of opening a center where women could heal and grow led her to open Shakti in the Mountains in Johnson City, Tennessee: a place where the creative, feminine energy is nurtured and valued.
Five years later, Kim is still in the flow of supporting and building a healthy, vibrant community and now guides retreats, teaches yoga, and provides one-on-one services for women who want an immersion experience into the life-affirming, Shakti energy.
Kim’s training as a therapist and yoga teacher allows her to safely and compassionately guide women on a heart-centered journey to Self, where women re-connect with their beautiful, authentic spirit.