Idiot Compassion



“Many people, especially those of us who’ve had a little bit of therapy, fall into an emotional trap Buddhists call “idiot compassion.” At first glance, this looks like empathy, but it’s actually projection. It encourages us to condone harmful behavior by assuming that the perpetrator is acting out of pain and helplessness.”

                                 -Martha Beck



Who’d have ever imagined Buddhists using a word like “idiot”, but when you finally figure out the difference between true, healthy compassion and something we all do at some point in our lives called enabling, you can feel like an idiot.


Don’t beat yourself up. It can be a fine line between healthy compassion and enabling. Here’s how you can tell the difference…


If you are in a relationship with someone who behaves in such a way you often feel hurt, it is easier to rationalize their bad behavior sometimes than to face the possibility of being alone. So you begin to try and “understand” them, excusing their behavior in the name of “compassion”. The healthy response is called setting a boundary that tells them their behavior is not acceptable. This is easier said than done because of your greatest fear…you might be alone. Setting boundaries might or might not end a relationship.  and if so, that’s the time when real compassion will appear…compassion for your wise and wonderful self.  


Remember, it’s impossible to feel sorry for someone and set a boundary at the same time. The choice is always difficult but the choice to enable unacceptable behavior is not compassionate for either person.







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