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Mercy, Compassion, Empathy, and Self-Differentiation

June 26, 2009

While getting my haircut last week in Denver, I ended up in this store-wide discussion with the three stylists on duty.  It was pretty funny actually, mainly ‘cuz I’m not the kind of guy to be that gregarious.  Oh sure, about 20 years ago, as a raging drunk, I can remember dominating the conversation in a crowded bar, but not recently do I remember being this animated and talkative.

These three women kept trying to talk me into a complimentary MVP treatment.  Shampoo, head massage, hot towel wrap, and haircut.  Unfortunately I only had time for the haircut.  At one point, one of the ladies said, “We’re just trying to guilt you into it.”

And I laughed.  “I’ve been guilted and manipulated by some of the best,” I replied.

Another of the stylists said she was going to intimidate me into taking the complimentary package.

“Ha!” I said, “Unless you’re over six-foot-two and 200 pounds, it’s going to be difficult to intimidate me into anything!”

One of the ladies, well over 200 pounds, but well short of six-two, said she had me beat if she stood on a stool.  Again I laughed.  “Unless you’ve worked the streets for 20 years (like I did as a paramedic), it’s still going to be difficult to intimidate me!”  We all laughed.

My mother-in-law remains amazed that I could work as a life coach, yet not have compassion and mercy. We’ve had this ongoing discussion for years.  She just doesn’t understand how I can be so disinterested in the cares of others, yet do the job I’ve been called to do.  I’ve always just shrugged – I don’t know either.

It’s true though, I’ve been manipulated and intimidated by some of the best.  I’ve had guns pointed at me, had my life threatened, and some have even attempted suicide to get me to acquiesce.  Sometimes I’ve bent, but as I’ve gotten older and wiser, I tend to just walk away.  In fact, I just lost my job because I failed to be intimidated away from the values I know in my heart to be right.

While processing the events of the recent past; conversations with the hair stylists, a relative, and others, I suddenly came to a realization.  I am compassionate and I do have mercy – but not with everyone.  In fact, when I pre-warn people that I don’t have compassion and mercy, what I’m really saying is that they shouldn’t expect it from me.  Expectations just lead to pre-meditated resentments.

I believe I am well differentiated.  I hadn’t really thought of this until I began reading the book, Failure of Nerve.  The author really opened my eyes to this personality/temperament trait.  It is this trait that makes people think I don’t have compassion and mercy, but it doesn’t mean I don’t.  I just don’t offer it to everyone, blindly.

I don’t suffer fools, enablers, prideful and arrogant people, and manipulators. If someone falls, I’m willing to offer assistance.  I have a natural empathy to those caught in situations outside of their control.  However, if they continue to repeat behaviors that lead to the same failures, I will show tough love – not enabling.  If people are proud and arrogant and refuse to recognize their mistakes or character flaws, well, there isn’t much my compassion will do for them.  People who are constantly enabling users and abusers, yet complain about others using and abusing them, well, they need a dose of reality.  And those who try to control life through physical, emotional, financial, or even spiritual manipulation – well, I rarely give them the time of day.

Yes, I do have empathy, compassion, and mercy – but not for fools, enablers, manipulators, or the prideful.  This was a great revelation for me.  Not only do I understand why others get angry at me – they expect me to offer mercy and compassion to everyone, even when it is harmful.  In addition, those who are craving attention and tears for the lack of fairness in their lives, often are unwilling to make the changes necessary for their own happiness and survival.

If anything, this was an unexpected benefit of becoming an alcoholic and going through the 12 Steps.  I learned to be self-differentiated.  I love all unconditionally, but sometimes that love causes me to be tough.  I love enough to not enable you to continue to harm yourself, others, or me.

What about you?  Is your love for others strong enough to withstand others attempts to manipulate you? How do you treat the fools you encounter?  What about the less differentiated in your life, how do you react towards them?  Are you an enabler?  Do you enable enablers?  Do you enable manipulators, abusers, and users?  What about those who are too proud to realize their own mistakes?  Can you love these folks, but still be true to yourself?

How far would you be willing to go in order to be true to your values? Do you see any value in thinking this through ahead of time?  Are you healthy enough to stand up to your children, grandchildren, clients, staff, supervisors, in-laws, parents, etc?

Some people are addicted to their depression and problems. Some are so comfortable in their issues and the drama that surrounds them, they have no desire to change.  Others are so addicted to solving others’ problems that they have no desire to stand firm.  This is called co-dependency.  Are you willing to break the cycle of codependency and broken relationships?  How far are you willing to take this?

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4 Comments
  1. June 26, 2009 7:22 pm

    I know where you’re coming from. It’s easy to say someone doesn’t deserve compassion because they caused their own problems, or they’re manipulating you, or whatever. The trouble is, I find I’m not a good judge of circumstances or character. For example, would Britney Spears deserve compassion or not? Pre-breakdown or post? By your standards, I don’t know. Do you?

    • June 26, 2009 8:22 pm

      Interesting question. I believe everyone gets an opportunity, however, after 20 years n the streets, I’m a little more cynical than the average Joe. For me, it’s an intuitive thing. When I feel that my boundaries are being crossed, that’s when I begin to retract.

      When Britney first had her breakdown, I was moved to compassion – child star, manipulative systems, etc – but when she went back into the lifestyle, my compassion turned to tough love. The compassion is still there, it’s just manifested differently.

  2. KTijunait permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:02 pm

    Interesting points you bring up…I will have to read that book. I have been accused of the same thing….not having much mercy or compassion but I have come to the conclusion over the past few years that I just show it in a different way. I don’t run to everyones beck and call in time of need or want….(the other personality types usually beat me to it anyway) but I am praying for them and when all resources have run out and others are gone and the person is still in need I am usually there. Also what is interesting is the type of commpassion I show is often forgotten quickly or goes mostly unnoticed because it is “smaller” or not as “showy”. Also I have had hurtful situations where I have shown compassion in very practical ways to famiy members and it was not viewed as compassion at all but was viewed as something “expected”. That is were you do have to look at the enabling thing. God can read the heart and can show us when and how to be compassionate. I like your statement about blind compassion…I have often thought that if God is working with someone on an issue I don’t want to get in the way by doing or offering something that would hinder that growth or healing. We still love that person and pray for them and ask the God if we should step in or not.

  3. danceswithklingons permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:15 pm

    This is what No More Christan Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin points out. You are not a passive man, Gary, thank God for that.
    Jesus was never manipulated either.

    KTijunait: You are wise about praying on if we should step in.
    You may not be the part of Christ that needs to do the work in that person’s life.
    More people are in need of having their hearts changed from stone to flesh, I know because I used to have a heart of stone, unmoving, but just recently the Holy Spirit really came into my life and I see that same Spirit in Gary

    Though Gary and I have only communicated with internet social networks, I have been praying for him and I know that our Father has more work to do through him. The “religious” keepers do not know God and will have problems with those who know Him.

    We are meant to be inter-dependent. not co-dependent. When we work WITH each other in the Spirit, the Kingdom is there. When you need someone to affirm your identity as an individual, then you are NOT in the Kingdom or Spirit.

    I’m reminded of what Jesus said to do if you are not received in a town, kick off the dust and leave without making a scene. You did the right thing Gary. I don’t think that you don’t have compassion for those that need it. The arrogant will be “left behind” and God will deal with them.

    Good post, Gary.
    You are Blessed.

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