A BACKGROUND ABOUT COMPASSION
B COMPASSION AND NATURE
C COMPASSION AND INEQUALITY
D COMPASSION AND LONELINESS
E COMPASSION AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE AND BULLYING
F THE ROAD TO COMPASSION
G CHILDREN AND CONSUMPTION
H WHO ARE WE?
I BASIC EMOTIONS
J DERIVATIVE EMOTIONS
K AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOUR, ANGER AND COMPASSION
M WHAT PROMOTES AND WHAT WEAKENS COMPASSION
O THE ROAD TO COMPASSIONATE PARENTING – DO AT LEAST THIS!
Why this guide?
On the same instance, one could ask why you should be compassionate and answer simultaneously: Because you are human and for that reason you should be on the level of a human, that’s why. I have been studying compassion for over 15 years from several different perspectives. I have had the chance to develop a more compassionate work community, given lectures about compassion, held workshops for children and youth about the topic and written one of the first compassion related books in Finland over 10 years ago in 2010. “Compassion – be present, live together” (Minerva Kustannus 2010) was the base from which I have created several concepts and lectures. I am often asked where to read more about the subject, but I have had to answer that not anywhere, really. Although compassion is something that has been increasingly studied, in Finland as well especially in the 2010’s after my book, it’s possible that all of the levels it is related to have still not been detected. Compassion is really the hardest thing that exists. It is descriptive that I have not really met any compassion researchers who would know how to show compassion.
Compassion is central to humanity, our ability to be human and to be with others. Someone who is compassionate is happier than the ones who don’t practice it. Compassion is the core of all successful encounters. Compassion is also the core of all sensible product development. Compassion is the most important quality of humanity that has enabled us to survive. Compassion is also the only sustainable way to tackle climate change from many different perspectives and routes. Compassion is the ability to give up what’s yours and to find more from within yourself without the unnecessary consumption and giving up your own needs for the good of future generations. In that way, compassion is the only sustainable attitude on matters concerning climate change and nature conservation.
I have been asked many times for a guidebook. However, I have not found an institution in Finland that would see the development of compassion skills in their activities and with others as important. The word compassion was often used in speeches and behind the scenes, but not genuinely internalized to be humbly promoted. I looked for such an institution for 10 years.
Thankfully many individuals have been supporting me and through that I also found a few institutions who did appreciate and see. The Child and Nature Foundation was one of the first ones. We wanted to include a suitable number of things in this guide, not too long or too short, and some of the topics we have described in comic strips. All of the scenes in the comics have happened in 2019-2020 and have been witnessed by me. For this guide, I have also asked experts from different fields to write how compassion appears to them in their work.
I express my warm and deep thanks to the Child and Nature Foundation on the behalf of myself and all of those who have supported me and this guide, as well as all of the many children whose parents have chosen to develop knowledge about compassion, that we have been able to make this guide.
We all hope that many policymakers will also find this path, now that we can still do something. The time is now.
In Helsinki 30.9.2020
A. BACKGROUND ABOUT COMPASSION
The concept of compassion:
Compassion is the recognition of others’ suffering through understanding, without the desire to instil one’s own vision, and generating action to reduce the other’s suffering.
Types of compassion:
- Directed towards people, sentient beings and nature
- Directed towards the nature of phenomena, universal responsibility
- A general attitude in life – spreading a good atmosphere
The winners of the future will be the ones creating compassionate conditions for encountering. Compassion skills include compassion for oneself, other people and sentient beings as well as understanding phenomena.
Compassion means taking part in someone else’s passion and joy as well as the suffering and sorrow. This skill does not come by itself but requires parenting skills. The skill of compassion comes from the example of the parents and educators, in other words compassion is built in the child through education and guidance. For this the parents should be equipped with knowledge, awareness and competence. The first signs of compassion can be seen already in a 3-year-old child, if their development of compassion has been supported.
Compassion is emotion, knowledge and a willingness to act. Compassion is the biological basis of human interaction and trust. It is built on three basic elements:
1) An individual’s ability to perceive another person’s moods
2) An individual’s desire to support the other person
3) Doing good, meaning concrete actions to help the other person
Simply put, compassion is of great importance. Humankind has survived because of it; through the desire to work together, through the need to support each other with goodness, give up their own needs and desires for the good of future generations.
Our age is sometimes called the narcissistic era, which can be seen in e.g. fashion that shows certain pornographic elements, which does not provide an equal encounter. Also, people working in government usually use “I” instead of “we” or “the state” in their speeches, unlike before. Inequality has also increased. In 2016 the wealthiest 61 people in the world matched the wealth of half of the world’s poorest population. In 2018, the world’s 26 wealthiest people owned as much as the poorest half of the world, meaning 3,8 billion people.
So, the inequality in the world in constantly increasing, which leads to experiences of insecurity and injustice.
Compassion is an action and is based on an empathic attitude with which we look at other people, ourselves, nature and animals. This is something you are gradually grown into and is gradually learned from early years of interaction, identifying and naming emotions, conceptual thinking and a choice: I choose to look at the world humanely and graciously, gently. Compassionate people are also able to make selfless choices, letting go of their own desires and needs, for the benefit of future generations and the environment, as decision-makers and citizens.
Compassion gives a person an experience of meaning and joy. Compassion promotes a person’s happiness and well-being and even the length of life expectancy. (Harris, A.h.& Thoresen, C.E.2005)
Compassion has enormous meaning in the society. Compassion is one of the core value trends at the moment, for example two out of three Finns consider it their core value. (Puohiniemi 2006), Charity Index 2014)
Finland could be a pioneer in this area. Although many things are good, many things are still not, which has a negative effect on people’s feeling of justice, trust and the experience of inclusion. Finland came in sixth last in a study about compassion skills from the University of Michigan in 2016, where 63 countries were compared. In 2009, a study from the University of Tampere showed that every third nurse does not feel compassion if a co-worker makes a mistake. Compassion is a key human skill and a key prerequisite for encounters and good service.
The skill of compassion is a learned already as a child. A 3-year-old knows the basics of compassion, if they have been guided into empathy and compassion. We are born with different levels of sensitive qualities, but upbringing and guiding can be used to develop any individual into compassion. A 5-year-old already has social skills. Compassion and social skills do not develop, nor are they kept up, without constant repetition and practice.
Compassion is a central aspect and skill when we think of anything significant in the state of humanity or its actions. Whether we think about the sustenance of nature, treatment of animals, let alone bullying or violence.
It is clear that if we develop compassion, we will solve the misuse and exploitation of natural resources as well as climate change questions very quickly. This may sound idealistic but is in fact realistic. Since there is a lack of skill, the misuse and exploitation is possible for some people. Compassion is also based on good self-knowledge. If we have good self-knowledge, it will prevent over-consumption, especially the harmful kind that destroys our planet and our habitat.
We consume natural resources beyond the earth’s capacity. In 2007 the earth’s over-consumption date was in October, now it is in August 22.8.2020. Finns consume their share already in March-April, so in this aspect we have a lot to do, improve and take responsibility.
To counterbalance the narcissistic era, we need compassion. Without it we won’t survive, we won’t solve the challenges and problems nor can we balance our relationship with nature, other people, and ourselves. As we live beyond the natural resources and mankind spreads to ever larger areas and builds taller cities, it is clear that we are not doing well, that different viruses and epidemics will appear more often and in larger scales. Constantly building bigger cities, expanding habitats and reaching ever higher with buildings and masses, perfectly describes this “nothing is enough” mentality. This age definitely cannot be described as moderate and wise. In many instances we cannot find a sense of proportion in the decisions made by the politicians and officials concerning city planning and the permits they give to build the infrastructure of humankind in this way. Many would like to stop this path immediately and move on to more responsible thinking that focuses on human well-being in a multidisciplinary and harmonious way with nature – that is, living wisely.
This is possible. Compassion is a skill and competence that everyone can develop every day and it happens in our brain. Man is the only animal capable of compassion in its broadest content. Thus, one may think that human did not attain humanity without this knowledge.
Compassion should therefore be raised as a key skill and competence for leaders, politicians and officials, a recruitment criterion and a focal point for education everywhere.
B. COMPASSION AND NATURE
The Earth Overshoot Day was on 22.8.2020 this year, due to the actions of governments and consumers responding to the corona epidemic. Finland’s overshoot day was already earlier in April, since we are using quite a lot of devices, goods and food that are produced outside of Finland.
The good thing is that, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the World Overshoot Day is more than three weeks late this year. According to environmental organization WWF, this is due in particular to lower CO2 emissions and lower consumption of wood products. Unfortunately, we would still need 1,6 globes if we continue to consume at this year’s level. It is also unfortunate that talk about being environmentally friendly is not seen in the city planning or other decisions. For example, new centres for consuming are appearing every year in the Helsinki metropolitan area and the traffic is being diverted through them, and thus the trend in city planning is the complete opposite of environmentally friendly.
However, consumer behaviour can change rapidly if new norms and trends emerge in society with increasing social pressure. We need city planning and an atmosphere where environmentally friendly behaviour is made as easy and cheap as possible.
We should reduce over-consumption. There is an easy way to do this: increasing compassion knowledge, as it connects to our self-knowledge, so that we can control our desires and consciously aim our actions towards being more ecological.
C. COMPASSION AND INEQUALITY
Economic inequality is one factor, others are social and mental inequality. Indifferent environmental policies and lazy measures to reduce climate change increase inequality.
While writing this guide last spring, a new situation concerning the whole globe and all its nations emerged. In the past, humankind has had several viruses that led to a pandemic, but since modern media and communications where now available, we quickly had access to new kinds of information and ways to protect ourselves.
Unfortunately, because compassion is still not very high as a basic skill, even though humanity has enough information about how self-knowledge could be developed, we ended up in a situation where the politicians’, and part of the prime-ministers’, speeches were fuelling discord, panic and confrontation. While finalizing this guide, the communications and decisions about the corona virus became central.
From compassion’s point of view, it was terrifying to see the lack of compassion (meaning understanding), wisdom and common goals, seen in the speeches of officials and the media. In the spring of 2020 at its lowest point, the whole of Finland was disabled, companies were led to the brink of bankruptcy, the elderly were watched, companies were pressured about social responsibility, even though the Finnish government had stopped their livelihood and business areas. Also, the children going to school were claimed to be a virus centrifuge, wasn’t the case in May-June 2020.
Right now, the corona era has only showed how little compassion skills the officials and even the media has. Even at this very moment, the talk of the media and politicians’ lack wisdom and sense of proportion. From compassion’s point of view, the warning light and shock reaction should be on, but the good thing is that there is a growing awareness that this cannot continue and that we need completely different types of leadership skills at the state level, officials, decision makers as well as in companies and us all.
Another good thing is that increasing knowledge about compassion is free and does not require large investments, it is already in all of our heads, in our brains. And at any moment we can turn this era, which can be described as narcissistic, into a new, conscious and compassionate era.
The coronavirus pandemic and the emergency state of the Finnish government did not affect us all in the same way or equally. The most vulnerable children and youth suffered the most. In 190 countries, 6,2 billion children have suffered in one way or another from a pandemic. In Finland as well many children have a decreased quality of daily life and studying. Our guide has become even more relevant.
Distance learning suited some children in Finland, but almost half of the middle schoolers and one third of the primary schoolers felt that they learned less than in school. Those children who were worried about their home also felt the worry about their learning. About 55% of the parents felt despair about the corona situation and 45% felt positive about the situation. Once again, the “average” -mentality is not suitable in our society. The differentiation can be noticed.
D. COMPASSION AND LONELINESS
Finland experiences the most loneliness in Europe. Loneliness has become a major national illness. More than a million Finns suffer from occasional loneliness, and about 500,000 Finns suffer from chronic loneliness. By comparison, 350,000 people are diagnosed with diabetes, which is classified as a major national illness. The national health impact of loneliness is comparable to smoking and being overweight. There are lonely people in all age groups.
At the individual’s level, loneliness is an overwhelming tragedy and simultaneously a huge problem for the society, causing expenses from the side effects. A lonely person has more than a tenfold risk of developing anxiety and depression or being susceptible to various mental health problems. The risk of premature death is 22 percent higher for lonely people. In addition, chronically lonely people are highly exposed to cardiovascular disease, significant decrease in their general immune system and various neurological disorders. THL surveys show that lonely people use social and health services significantly more than their age group in average. In addition to the health effects, the side effects caused by loneliness include unemployment, substance abuse problems and increased debts.
Improving encounter skills is crucial when aiming to prevent loneliness. When people meet, the encounter should be at a level where people really feel like they are being met. The important thing here is compassion on both sides. The ability to be present, listen, care and understand. Essential to compassion is also development of understanding in emotional skills, civilization and history.
Without compassion skills, the encounter can feel meaningless and cause even deeper feelings of loneliness. In our time, experiences of loneliness and anxiety have been identified in people of different ages. Being active and included is important for human well-being, so by working compassionately together we can provide each other with experiences of inclusion and importance.
E. COMPASSION AND PREVENTION OF VIOLENCE AND BULLYING
Compassion skills are not permanent and vary from day to day. Therefore, none of us are ever masters but we remain learners throughout our lives. No matter how familiar we are with compassion and would practice it, we still make mistakes. I haven’t met a compassion researcher or expert who would be particularly compassionate. It is important to recognize this. When we make mistakes in this core of humanity, compassion, it often causes shame and denial – defences. At its best, identifying the mistakes is a healthy kind of guilt, which doesn’t require yourself or anyone to be crushed or thrashed, but take a step back to the path of compassion: I did wrong, but I can now do things differently and learn from this.
Compassion is often confused with constant flexibility, remaining a target. In that case, however, it is not a question of compassion but of subordination, which is emotional abuse. Compassion is ALWAYS based on an equal encounter.
That way, the compassionate one is not left to be insulted and exploited. They say: “No, thank you.”
Compassion is worth pursuing. The key to our own well-being, balance, resilience, and our relationship with others is compassion.
Sometimes people give public interviews where they reflect on their own behaviour and describe things that have been done to them. Less often, they are able to reflect on how they themselves may have behaved towards others. This is difficult, how to recognize when I myself have been jealous?
Compassion is central in the prevention of narcissistic traits and violence. All violence is narcissistic (Gustav Schulman 2009). Research shows that young people who are subjected to abuse from their parents, feel that their own general health is worse and the supervision and guidance they receive from home is 2-3 times worse than that of young people who do not have experiences of abuse. These young people are also more vulnerable to smoking, alcohol and experimenting with drugs, as well as a continued use of substances. In addition, they are 2-3 times more likely to drift into criminal acts than their peers who don’t have any experience of abuse related to the home environment. (Psykologia -magazine, 2002).
Violence creates short- and long-term negative stress, which in turn contributes to the onset of behavioural and mental health disorders, as well as most diseases. Violence transforms the brain, for example the hippocampus for victims of incest.
The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters conducted an online survey in the summer of 2020. It was answered by 290 youths, of whom 75% said that they had experienced abuse from their partner in the relationship. THL on the other hand released a study in March 2019, which showed that almost one in three women over the age of 15 in Finland has been a victim of spousal abuse. The medical Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine published a study in 2011, which found that several perpetrators of spousal abuse used to be school bullies. The International Solidarity Foundation’s research in 2019 showed that every third man in Finland thinks that the violence a woman experiences is sometimes her own fault. In Finland in 2014, the violence by young women in the relationship had increased.
There are also similarities between bullying and abuse. Therefore, it is good to identify what exactly is violence and abuse.
Emotional abuse includes swearing, shouting, name-calling and insulting. In addition to emotional abuse, there is sexual, physical and financial abuse. Many adults are guilty of these, so it’s no wonder our children are part of the same culture. In that sense, the key to preventing violence and bullying is not only in the children’s upbringing, but also intervening in the bad behaviour of adults. For example, rage, name-calling etc. has increased, which indicates the decline of customs. Therefore, these issues should be addressed more vigorously. Also, the use of curse words has increased, which can be seen in the way media, professional journalists and public figures speak. Nonetheless, swearing is a form of emotional abuse. Name-calling and alluding to another’s illnesses, etc, should be addressed and perhaps place more emphasis on the law, rather than allow the culture to become more permissive, as has happened. Defamation is committed if you present false information or hint in such a way that the act causes harm, suffering or disrespect to the person.
There are still too many people in Finland who are victims of violence or suffer from mental health problems. Surprisingly, compassion which prevents violence and self-compassion which lightens the internal burden are important for environmental protection.
Everyone understands that we can’t expect those with traumatic experiences or mental health problems to be able to think about how to recycle, save nature or reduce their carbon footprint when their resources literally go to surviving from day to day. In that sense, developing the culture of the society to be more compassionate is also relevant concerning ecological deeds.
Compassion equals actions and is based on the empathic attitude with which we look at other people, ourselves, the nature and animals. This is something you grow up to and learn little by little starting from the early years of interaction, identification of emotions, naming, conceptual thinking and a choice: I choose to look at the world humanely and mercifully, gently. Compassionate people are also able to make selfless choices, overcoming their wants and needs for the benefit of future generations and the environment as decision-makers and citizens. Thus, everyone understands that compassion is central to all decision-making and the sensible development of the society. Compassion is central to tackling climate change and environmental protection issues.
F. THE ROAD TO COMPASSION
There are many steps on the road to learning compassion, a long road that needs practice on a daily basis. Empathy and compassion are related to one another, but it is good to realize that empathy alone does NOT make a person compassionate. An empathic person can be sadistic. A compassionate person, on the other hand, is never violent. In that sense, a person who ends up doing wrong or is malicious to another person and considers themselves to be a good person and even compassionate, can always ask themselves, what was the pure motive to act like this? Am I really reducing someone else’s worry and burden without forcing my own views? Was I genuinely doing good to someone, in a way that I respect their response? Did I sincerely wish to do good for this person, though I spoke insinuatingly to a third party about them? Or was I jealous after all, did I want for myself and cause something other than sincere good for the other person?
And what about me, who is blamed for everything, is it justified, and have we been equals in this encounter? In compassion and mature encounters, one is not superior to the other. In that sense, we can ask in every encounter, where we both our incomplete selves with our mistakes? As every adult knows, as people we are incomplete and always will be. Each one of us is responsible for the atmosphere and mood.
Compassion is the so-called highest level of moral. The moral precursor, on the other hand, are good manners from which, step by step, we can develop our social skills with the goal of the highest level of moral – compassion.
Good manners haven’t been in style for quite some time, in that sense we have a dangerous and weak foundation in the society when it comes to morals and compassion. Good manners take others into consideration, as though mechanically, but it is the foundation for meeting others and giving room for greater development in social skills.
From the aspect of social psychology, you grow into moral thinking. A small toddler learns good manners from their caretaker, by wording and understanding, reacting and being present. This way the child learns both good manners and the foundations of compassion.
The 5 phases of moral thinking:
1. Phase: obey for the sake of obedience, authority (a child)
2. Phase: satisfying one’s own interests and needs, but taking into account the interests of others (childhood – fairness)
3. Phase: the need to be a good person, taking care of others, maintaining authority that is consistent with good behaviour (adolescence – moral of good relationships)
4. Phase: fulfilling responsibilities and contributing to developing the society (good conscience)
5. Phase: following the rules to ensure the well-being of everyone, a sense of the binding nature of freely concluded agreements in the family, friendships and work
With advanced, good social skills, a person is able to identify themselves, their own motives and the other person’s motives while striving for fairness, compassion.
The first step to developing morals is the ability to comply with rules. If a child has not been brought up to believe positively in authorities, mostly by the people who are raising them (usually biological parents), as youth and adults they end up breaking the rules and laws and going against police. Many times we witness people in biological a
G. CHILDREN AND CONSUMPTION
In the commercial market children are consumers—as a target group actively making choices. Children are decision makers, a target group for marketing, which also affects the family’s consumer decisions. The goal of brands is to create an emotional bond to consumers as early as possible. Even a car advertisement draws a child’s attention, when it features children of the same age. The brand will be remembered, and the happiness of the family is realized through the brand.
Children are vulnerable consumers–not small adults. Therefore, legislations stipulate that children’s level of development must be considered so that they are not directly targeted with inducements to buy. Likewise, advertisers cannot target children with advertisements that go against the common values of the prevalent society. The Data Protection Regulation also specifically controls the use of children’s personal data.
Advertisements may not contain violence, humiliate children or expose them to advertising that is inappropriate for their level of development, such as sexual imagery. But does this mean that marketing should be based on compassion and set it as a model? Legislation contains prohibitions but no obligations for positive activity.
Compassion in marketing and commercial activity could indicate that children are respected as children, not just as targets of advertising. The development of children as human beings and into adulthood would be supported by all parties–with the aim to have adults who make independent, carefully weighed choices. From the point of view of development, it is not irrelevant if advertising creates an image that human worth is achieved through consuming rather than that a child is valuable as such, apart from financial considerations.
Commercial operators are often active in projects that do not directly concern consuming, but may, for example, deal with preventing school bullying, or supporting physical exercise. Such compassionate action is welcomed and necessary—if cooperation with schools and parents follows established guidelines. What should rather be discussed is how compassion is displayed in the core areas of advertisers’ operations.
Digital advertising directed towards children grows rapidly year by year. Social media apps bring advertisements to children through influencers, memes, etc. Ads can suddenly appear in games (so called “advergames”).
Although distinguishing advertising from other content is the basis for assessing the relevance of the messages, it is not always evident, directly and clearly, that an ad is displayed. When the sales promoting purpose is hidden, the viewer’s or participant’s ability to evaluate is not respected, and a child’s viewpoint is not the basis. According to research, a child’s ability to recognize an ad as advertisement to promote sales develops gradually. 5 to 8-year-olds lack that ability. Technology does not speed up the development of children’s cognitive abilities. Children trust adults and do not understand the persuasive nature of advertising.
Compassion in the commercial world means complying with rules and providing guidance to evaluate digital material. Compassion means not to utilize the child only as a target for marketing. Compassion is to respect and support the decision-making authority of the parents. Parents must have the opportunity to make decisions–advertising is not a fast lane.
There are growing signs that the safety of children’s growth environment is being increasingly supported in the digital world as well. In practice it can mean that material meant for children is designed according to their stage of development so that the content and functions agree with the respective age period. There is a lot of talk about customer orientation in marketing. If marketing to children is child-oriented, it does not mean exploiting the specific nature of children. Being genuinely child-oriented means being compassionate towards a growing child, and the humanity and healthy development of a child—also in marketing.
H. WHO ARE WE?
Human is a mammal. Humans have all the basic characteristics of a mammal, such as raising children, caring for a family, stress reactions, basic emotions, alertness, and more. Humans also have exceptional characteristics compared to other mammals, one of which is compassion in its broadest definition.
Inherited genes, temperament and how sensitive we are, are inherited from our parents, but how we evolve and develop also influences us. Upbringing, the environment and how we develop ourselves are an integral part of what we become and are. A person can develop themselves constantly. A person can always increase their self-knowledge and self-esteem.
A good self-esteem is connected to the development of empathy. A healthy self-esteem includes the ability to put yourself in the other’s place and the ability to look at things from the other’s perspective and life situation, especially when you are irritated or stressed. In that way self-esteem is essentially linked to compassion. Someone with a good self-esteem is also able to commit, pay attention to inner speech, learn persistence and resilience and act fairly.
5 social skills that are related to compassion. The meaning of compassion in the classroom community. The classroom teacher’s perspective.
For me the social skills related to compassion are empathy, the ability to encourage, the ability to notice others and their mood, enthusiasm and the ability to spread enthusiasm. Also, I definitely think compassion means actions.”Hey, you did a great job on that art assignment!” A student said to their classmate when they realized their friend needed some encouragement during the art lesson. “Hey, let me help you up, did you get hurt?” A student said during recess when their classmate fell over while playing football. In a classroom community, compassion leads to acceptance, encouragement, safety and a good class spirit. Through these it leads to the ability to learn and that way improves learning results. It also leads to better school satisfaction.
Pauliina Kemppainen, classroom teacher
I. BASIC EMOTIONS
As mammals we have all the basic emotions. The basic emotions are joy, fear, anger, surprise, (disgust) and sadness. Emotions are felt in the body. Emotions are part of neurobiology. Emotions are regulated by the limbic system, which consists of the oldest parts of the cerebrum, the thalamus, the hypothalamus, the hippocampus and the amygdala. The limbic system regulates the emotion activation, produces the effects of pleasure and displeasure, and regulates behaviour according to the situation.
The hypothalamus works as a moderator between cognitive functions (perception, attention, problem solving, memory, thinking) and the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system. The amygdala interprets sensory influences from an emotional perspective. The amygdala analyses emotions and preserves emotional memories. Behavioural patterns from different situations are also stored there. For example, the amygdala is responsible for fear response and the negative stress reaction “fight-or-flight”.
Humans also experience the changes in the body as emotions. Emotional experiences are the result of the activity of the autonomic nervous system and hormones. The pulse accelerates, breathing speeds up, sweating increases, hands tremble. Fear and other strong emotions activate the internal organs such as the heart, stomach and breathing and tense up the muscles. This is when the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic system, starts to work. Emotions and brain chemistry are connected.
Emotions can be affected by changing the chemistry of the brain. For example, the hormone oxytocin is known to have a significant effect on feeling love and behaviour related to it. Endorphins (sports), serotonin (sunlight, good relationships, happiness), oxytocin (the warmth of the sun, safe hugging, gratitude, etc.) and dopamine (positive curiosity, success, beauty, etc.) are the happiness hormones. The happiness hormones have many affects, for example serotonin is linked to good sleep. On the other hand, the increase in cortisol hormone produced by negative stress reduces the effect of serotonin. If there is too little serotonin available, the mood drops, and it becomes easier to feel fear, anger and sadness.
Emotions can also be located as physical feelings, for example anger can be seen on the neck and by grinding teeth. Grief weighs the heart, fear can cause stomach symptoms, joy can feel like tingling in the head, etc. All of these, on the long run, can put a strain on the body. Humans need calm phases, where not much happens.
In the summer of 2018, Assistant Professor Lauri Nummenmaa published a study that examined and compared subjective emotions with the body’s physical feelings. In this study, the subjects (more than 1,000 Finns) indicated where in the body each of the 100 sensations felt, what it felt like and how strong. The connection between body and mind was clear and they were grouped into five different groups: positive, negative emotions, cognitive or thinking functions, homeostatic or bodily functions and feelings of illness.
Information corner about emotions:
- Feeling aka emotion
- Emotion or feeling is a short-lived mechanism that arises in a certain situation. Mood is a long-lasting, positively or negatively toned emotional experience (depression for example).
- Emotions have a physical, mental and social dimension.
- Emotions help to act in different situations. → They create the ability to act adequately.
- Emotions can lie.
J. DERIVATIVE EMOTIONS
Expressing basic feelings in words is important for self-identification. Basic emotions can accumulate under derivative feelings, which, if not understood, can make it more difficult to figure out what the feelings are actually about. It is usually easier to figure out what scares you (basic feeling) than what makes you anxious (derivative feeling). Here are some of the most common derivative emotions:
Jealousy is about social comparison. A jealous person feels that someone has something that they are missing or has denied from themselves. There can be both useful and harmful jealousy. Useful jealousy inspires. Harmful jealousy, on the other hand, seeks to take away this imaginary “good”, and behaves destructively towards their target and seeks to exclude them, for example by gossiping maliciously about the target person, trying to socially humiliate them, and this way leaving them out of the group. The jealous one experiences anger, fear, and sadness as basic emotions – emotions that have not been dealt with. Off course, the object of jealousy is not responsible for this, but the jealous one should take responsibility of their own emotions.
Shame or guilt? In shame a person is ashamed of themselves, in guilt they experience guilt for their actions. The flip side of shame is shamelessness. Narcissistic features include shame. A strongly narcissistic person avoids processing shame, they may even try to shame others and become shameless. Shame is socially necessary; it acts as a compass showing what is “the wrong direction”. The one who has been shamed, on the other hand, might have to carry the shame of the one who caused it, even though it obviously does not belong to them. Shame is an important momentary emotion and guide, but not as a lasting emotion.
Anxiety has become a new national illness. Especially young people are anxious, and the media talks about climate anxiety. What are the basic feelings behind anxiety, is there fear in anxiety? Anxiety can be short-lived, in which case it is a common reaction to situations and experiences that threaten us in some way. Anxiety takes away mental resources. It is felt in the body and manifests as negative feelings and thoughts.
We get temperament traits as genetic inheritance, which are already visible in the baby and clearly in a toddler. None of us are stuck with their so-called temperament but can develop certain traits in ourselves. Thus, an adult with deep self-knowledge is able to move within their temperament axis very extensively. We can change our behaviour to suit the situation. If a child is guided away from his or her basic temperament traits too quickly, the child may drift away from their core being, act differently than they feel, or even become extremely anxious.
- Sensitivity (high-low)
- Activeness (high-low)
- Adaptability (high-low)
- Resilience (high-low)
- Disruptivity (high-low)
- Rhythmicity or predictability (high-low)
- Approach and retreat (high-low)
- Intensity (high-low)
- (Mood: positive high-low)
NOTE! Social skills are not related to temperament
K. AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOUR, ANGER AND COMPASSION
What is aggressive behaviour? It is an attempt to express the feeling of anger and the fear behind it. What is anger? It is both power and one of our basic feelings on the same time. Its purpose is to protect and defend us, keep us safe, so that we can experience relief, gratitude, joy and freedom – love. What does fear have to do with aggressive behaviour and anger? Fear is also one of our basic emotions, and its purpose is to alert us of danger when we feel that our connection to experience love is in danger. And when fear alerts us of danger, anger is activated in order to protect and defend us.
”Offense is the only and best defence,” an aggressive child believes. They are so afraid, that they believe they can be saved from their fear with their own strength and force by using violence or vandalism. Why do some children behave aggressively, and some don’t? Because that’s how children learn the best way to survive the fear of rejection, the loss of love. Some children learn to hide their feelings and needs and turn them invisible, when they realize that being an easy child is the best way to the get the adult’s attention. Some children learn to express their feelings and needs in a drastic way, when they realize being a difficult child the best way to get the adult’s attention. Most children learn different coping mechanisms between these two extremes depending on which way of coping works best in the given situation.
Why is the parent’s attention important for the child? Because it is only through attention from outside that the child feels that he or she exists. That is why the parents’ attention is of the utmost importance, whether that attention given to the child is positive or negative.
Compassionate parenting means parenting with love, based on the understanding that every child needs an experience of love and security. Providing love and security, or loving security, to a child is the chore of compassionate parenting.
Therefore, an aggressively behaving child needs gentle, but strong parenting for security. This means parental security, which ensures that the child cannot hurt themselves or others. For this to be possible, the parent must feel safe both with their own feelings and regarding the child’s behavioural symptoms. Compassionate parenting requires sufficient internal and external resources in order to work.
In order for internal resources to be adequate, the parent has to feel that they are safe with their own feelings and needs, for example that they don’t lose their temper with the child and can be a safe adult for the child. The external resources on the other hand are built on the experience that the parent has the right tools when the child is behaving aggressively. When the external resources are adequate, the parent also has the space to hear the child and do necessary changes, in order for the child’s feelings and needs to be heard without them having the need to resort to aggressive behaviour.
When a child realizes through their experience that they are unable to seize power through their aggressive behaviour, there is no reason for them to continue that harmful means of survival. When a child realizes through their experience that nothing bad will happen to them or anyone else, even if they give up the aggressive behaviour, their fear of being rejected decreases. And when a child realizes through an experience that are heard, seen, and respected without having to resort to aggressive behaviour, they can give up this means of coping because they have learned through experience that it has become both unnecessary and futile.
At the same time, through this experience, the child learns to respect their sense of fear. Respecting fear helps to understand the feeling of fear as a vitally important servant and listening to it will help them to recognize what is safe and what isn’t. The more the child respects the feeling of fear, the more constructively they will learn to protect and defend themselves, that is, to express their feeling of anger.
Since the feeling of anger often causes fear even as a mere word, due to the unpleasant and even scary experiences we have from this powerful feeling, I will finish with telling what expressing a constructive, compassionate and loving kind of anger results in. It results in a feeling of security, serenity, peace, relief, gratitude and joy – in other words all that is good.
supervisor, community educator
anger educator and coach
Resilience, inner motivation and compassion in recreational hobbies and activities. How to teach resilience and endeavour with compassion?
We are living in an era strongly characterized by “fast food culture”. Everything should happen by swiping or scrolling – “I want everything. Now.” In the past week, there were two articles in the local morning paper about burnout and boreout experienced by 30-year-old and even younger adults.
I’ve felt the need to ponder this phenomenon against the background of my life of nearly 60 years and coaching experience of nearly 30 years. I have seen close up as my grandmother looked after a household of six children and ten cows in Northern Karelia in the 60’s and 70’s. My grandmother worked seven days a week, twelve hours a day for nearly four decades. I never saw my grandmother in a bad mood or complain about the workload, let alone have a burnout or boreout. What has happened to us in a few decades? Were our grandparents somehow tougher than us, more committed and motivated?
A few weeks ago, I listened to Holle Holopainen’s interview about the same subject on the Yle Puhe radio channel, where he told about his own childhood and how in the 50’s and 60’s people went through more trouble to achieve things. He explained how his parents had saved up money for a long time from their sparse income to buy a vacuum cleaner. The remarkable thing is how the whole family rejoiced when the day arrived that the vacuum cleaner could be bought. What happens in today’s families when the latest iPhone hits the market, for example? Suddenly the old phone breaks, disappears or something else happens to it. What do the parents do? Well, they immediately buy a new iPhone, so their child doesn’t have to feel bad or deal with the disappointment of not getting one right away.
I have also had the chance to work with Finnish professional athletes. Without exception, the athletes who have been successful on their own athletic path are all driven a by strong inner passion and inner motivation. Usually the driving force for the work is a very strong mental image or vision of where they are going or what they will become. The vision or image is usually important for the individual, and it contains a strong charge of emotions and values.
Usually it is the strong emotional charge found in a meaningful and valuable work or occupation which gives these people the energy to clear the road to the finish line. If the set goal is in line with a person’s passion and deepest values, this kind of person begins to make almost all choices in life to achieve the goal. Successful people usually have certain key characteristics in common. They understand that the goal cannot be achieved the next day; they are committed to working hard and relentlessly; often they are also aided by curiosity. Curiosity is a characteristic which helps to explore and sort out different options – how could I become even more skilled and better than someone else? The old saying “seek and ye shall find” strongly applies here.
As a mental coach, I deal with a lot of emotional aspects. One of the key areas is the fear of failure, from which follows experiences of inferiority, inadequacy or shame, frustration or hatred, and guilt. Those who succeed are willing to do their homework in this area as well. The successful ones are willing to work on improving their own self-esteem and through that learn to accept that failures are an important part of the learning experience on the way to success. Behind all triumphs there are countless attempts, failures and disappointments. People who can deal with their own incompleteness and imperfection with compassion, mercy, gentleness and healthy love for themselves can be recognized from the fact that it is easy to be around and live with them.
In a nutshell, I think what we adults should really be teaching and passing on to future generations is the ability to accept oneself and others as the amazing individuals that they are, all of whom have incredible potential and opportunities. We need to support the formation of a healthy self-esteem, which provides strong mental and psychological resources that help in the journey of life, whatever the goal may be. Gentleness, mercifulness, resilience, commitment, determination, joy, curiosity, passion and being aware of, recognizing and working with difficult emotions are in my opinion the building blocks of a meaningful life, as long as it is meaningful and valuable to the person themselves.
“Ease is overrated, fast learning does not produce deep skills.” (Brené Brown, Dare to lead)
I participated in the 2015 golf European Youth Championships U18 in Pickala as a mental coach. I did 3 weeks of intensive work with the team. The young men where aged 16-17 at the time. The team included 6 players. All the players stated as their goal to become golf professionals. Today, five of them are playing professional golf and the last one is going from amateur to professional this autumn. One of the players has ended up among the top professionals playing for big money. Four of these six are still working hard to move forward. One of the players chose a different route. He completed high school, after which he headed to college in the USA to play golf and study. A four-year study trip of self-discovery and independent life far from home has been the right choice for this young person. He has a university degree now, which will be useful if the golf career does not provide a living. One of the guiding values of the team in 2015 was perseverance.
My own love of ice hockey and sports came from my first contact with ice skating. I remember that day crystal clear from more than 50 years ago. That first love has carried and directed my own life till this day. Toni Virtanen from Apulanta told on the tv-show ‘Vain elämää’, how the moment he saw a punk band on TV when he was still under school age, he decided to become a rocker.
Perhaps the role of parents in finding an inner passion and motivation is quite simple: to create and provide different opportunities to fall in love with anything that the person finds meaningful, whether it be a doctor, singer, musician or athlete. I believe the parents’ most important job is to care for finances, transportation and encouragement. Parenting for me means being a safety net and a bedrock when things don’t go easy, or there are disappointments and failures. It is the job of the adults to teach children how to endure setbacks and have coping skills. Presence, compassion and curiosity are the tools that help both children and adults forward on life’s path. The best question is, “How are you?”, and stopping to really listen every day. We all need the experience of being seen and heard to grow every single day.
Mental coach, workplace mediator, a person available, therapist
M. WHAT SUPPORTS AND WHAT WEAKENS COMPASSION
Well-being supports the development of compassion skills and the maintenance of empathy. Well-being consists of many factors and is linked to health, daily well-being and inner balance. It is clear that if a person hasn’t slept enough or eaten well, it is difficult to be compassionate. It’s clear that if you are visually overwhelmed, it is difficult to be compassionate. It’s clear that if you’re overwhelmed from noise, it’s difficult to be compassionate.
Compassion is enabled by good self-esteem, good physical health, a sensory-friendly environment, a sense of security, a balanced daily pattern, humour and good social networks. On the other hand, compassion is difficult under negative stress, low self-esteem, traumas and shock, illness and physical needs such as hunger, thirst, fatigue and stressful external environment (noise, large amounts of sensory stimuli, etc.).
A person who feels good and genuinely satisfied with themselves, does not bully or use violence. A bully wants power and to be cared for. Jealousy also feeds bullying. What is the inner sense of security for someone who is jealous? Thus, noticing your state of being, recognizing yourself, how it’s going, and how you could balance your state of being without burdening other people is important. The fact is that as long as the parents and the adults bully each other or don’t recognize their jealousy or hunger for power, the children won’t have tools against bullying either.
Humans are social animals and part of the self-esteem, even as an adult, is built on the relationship with others. The most significant relationship and foundation is made in childhood, by the people who raise us, usually our biological parents.
The Attachment theory introduced by John Bowlby in 1969, is based on the idea that it is necessary for a person to attach themselves to someone else and seek security from the object of attachment. According to the theory, a baby quickly learns what kind of behaviour makes the caregiver come close and what drives them away. The learned model reflects on the self-image, personal relationships and how safe the person perceives the world to be. In the best case scenario, the baby has a happy, warm and relaxed mother who is available and responds to the baby’s needs, looks lovingly, acts calmly, reassures and expresses emotions with words, does not lose her temper and is logical with these actions.
Parenting is a skill. Many may experience shame and guilt at this point: “There are so many ways to be a good parent!” – but is there, really? Shame is an important social message, shamelessness is the other side of shame, but it does not remove shame. Guilt is necessary, in order to know that you did something wrong, so it can be fixed. That’s handled. With good self-esteem, you can say, ”Oh no, I did something wrong, I am guilty, ashamed, but I will figure it out and do better in the future – nothing to worry about!”
A mother might have other problems and difficulties, coming from outside, that interfere with motherhood. Therefore, through the attachment theory, we have people with different attachment relationships. Shortly about the attachment relationships:
The ones with secure attachment are daring, rejoice in themselves, are able to trust
The ones with avoidant attachment: trust reasoning, avoid talking about feelings. They couldn’t trust as a child, so they had to survive alone
People with a contradictory attachment relationship fluctuate and flutter, sometimes clinging and sometimes rejecting. This attachment type may be the result of an alcoholic family background and problems with self-esteem and valuing others.
Someone with disorganized attachment has experienced neglect and trauma as a child, perhaps they had parents with mental health problems, and has not found an effective way to communicate.
Self-esteem, consisting of self-knowledge, the experience of competence and self-confidence, varies from day to day and is dependent on many things. The better the self-esteem, the stronger the resilience of an adult and gradually growing child.
Stress can be negative, positive or neutral. Negative stress is known to cause health problems, even positive stress on the long run puts a strain on the body, neutral stress is a more calm state. Sudden negative stress means that we must manage through difficulties. The first reaction to negative stress is fight-or-flight. Those with road rage or who answer with aggression have chosen to fight, sometimes even attack. Those who retreat are afraid, evading, so what’s left might be one-time success with aggression.
On the long run, the aggressive one will of course keep the level of negative stress hormone elevated in the body, which in turn affects their health and they are left alone in their relationships: aggression doesn’t appeal to anyone. If the experience of negative stress is prolonged, the person freezes and eventually submits, making it difficult to be an equal in society. This can happen, for example, to a victim who experiences violence, school bullying or inequality in society.
Stress comes from external, physical and digital environments, and internal stressors. External stressors are caused by typical excessive amounts of stimuli, long-term stimuli.
We have an increase in noise and light pollution. It affects us and the nature and animals. Therefore, when we think about our own well-being, we should also pay attention to the external and internal stressors and how to manage with them. Negative stress should be systematically reduced, since it comes anyway. There is always something in life that causes sorrow, fear or anger. Externally the environment brings noise, faceless masses of people, tall buildings, bright lights and an excessive flood of stimuli, usually without warning.
So, when talking about stress, we must talk about external sensory stimuli and the brain. The brain and its senses are involved in all human activities. The brain needs activity and stimulation, but also rest. The brain continues to shape throughout your whole life. The brain’s information processing creates the basis for intellectual functions. Sensory stimuli affect our so-called limbic or emotional system.
The quantity, nature, characteristics and duration of the sensory stimuli determine the alertness, emotional state, attentiveness, working memory function, observation. That way also the well-being and atmosphere. Some of the sensory stimuli are negative stressors. Negative stress stalls usable memory and weakens our health. Prolonged positive stress ages our cells.
Social media has brought a tight rhythm and a fast pace. In the digital world, news changes quickly, with the touch of your palm you can rewind many things in a matter of seconds. We are tweeting and commenting. There is really no place for a human in that world. In the real world, humans are quite slow, thoughtful, pondering, walking. In this contradiction of rhythm and tempo, many forget that the real world is slow.
We are being sold the 5G and many other things with speed. However, speed is not a basic human trait. The digital world creates a bubble, utopia, where humans are fast, but they are not. If, as adults, we do not notice this contradiction: what is the life tempo of utopia, what is the real world, then we might become emotionally locked demanders. We raise our own negative stress and end up with road rage, for example: “Those others are SO slow!!!”
For our well-being, in addition to our internal abilities, we need a well-built external environment and interiors. If the stress coming from the external world is too big and long-lasting, it affects our health and contributes to the onset of mental health problems and activates disorderly conduct.
A poorly planned city or municipality, with heavy urbanism, meaning dense, monotonous and high-rise construction, is detrimental to our well-being from many perspectives. It is not suitable for our brains and senses. The human habitat and well-being are associated with NATURE, which is important to mammals. Nature, natural forests and large park areas are essential to our well-being. There are countless reasons, here I summarize recent research from the perspective of e.g. children’s brains, which every adult, who is a parent or decision-maker, should always consider and act accordingly. The demographic that is allowed to move in their residential area with nature, have less experiences of loneliness – in a green environment we think more gently. Nature provides a suitable amount of rest and stimuli for a child’s brain. The more our residential area has nature to walk in, the stronger the nerve pathways of the brain become. In that sense, nature and forest should be within reach of our residential area. Since the city is already providing negative stress in the form of faceless masses of people, it is important to design the buildings according to human scale and to be pleasant, beautiful. The residential forests lower blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones – alleviating negative stress. The forest, where you hear sounds of nature and is inhabited by a diverse variety of plants and animals, is better than artificial parks with green areas, though even those are better than no nature at all.
In their study, Hanski et al. (2012) found a link between biodiversity, the microbial community living on human skin and the incidence of atopic diseases. According to the study, living in and interacting with a diverse natural environment promotes the presence of beneficial microbes in the human body and thereby reduces the risk of allergies, asthma and other hypersensitivity diseases. Nature, the nearby forest, therefore, has implications for brain development, cognitive processes, allergies, and our health and mental health in general. In addition, they are interesting places and, for example, reduce small particles. So, everyone has a reason to preserve the nearby forest and value it in the choice of residential area, as an ecological and public health act
O. WELL-BEING, THE BRAIN AND COMPASSION
Humans’ brain development reaches the adult stage at the age of 24-25, if the development has been favourable: the child has received the necessary support, nutrition and guidance that they need. As humans, we go through 5 significant stages of the brain. The first begins already in the foetal stage, in the mother’s womb. The experience of compassion can also be seen in the brain.
The well-being of the mother influences the well-being of the baby and the child. The mother’s depression during pregnancy can increase the risk of the child becoming depressed. In families with severe, psychotic mental disorders in the immediate family, the mother’s depression during pregnancy increased the child’s risk of developing schizophrenia by threefold. (15.10.2009 American Journal of Psychiatry).
Indifference or non-response from the one raising the child is reflected in the child’s brain in the same pathways as physical violence. Indifference can be subtle in families, not meant to cause harm, when we don’t listen or aren’t present.
The use of digital devices has even increased the feeling of loneliness in our society. We are in the same room, but no one reacts to the child when they flip through the digital device and, in the worst-case scenario, the family has several days in a row when no one is present for one another. In that sense, the role of our digital devices in our family should be widely recognized. Are we absent-mindedly online and on the entertainment services, or are we really present with our child?
The use of digital devices is also an ecological issue, digital devices consume electricity and the devices require natural resources. Therefore, the use and acquisition of devices should always be considered from an ecological perspective as well.
Well-being is affected by commonly identifiable aspects: sleep, good nutrition, healthy lifestyles, exercise, good social relationships and good self-knowledge.
THE ROAD TO COMPASSIONAL PARENTING – DO AT LEAST THIS!
- Be present, silence your own thoughts, turn off the digital devices, and be present for your child. Find out who they are on this particular day, what they think and what kind of feelings they have – put it into words!
- Understand and internalize that as a parent you are invaluable to your child, at work you can be substituted.
- Recognize what is the difference between desire and need, do I want or need? When I desire something, I might not really need it. When I need something, the act is more thought out. Even when needing something, you may think if meeting your needs is good for other people and reasonable for the environment?
- Recognize your inner speech: whether it’s for yourself, “I should do this and I should do that or that I haven’t had time for that either.” And what do you think about others? Do you wonder, “Who do they think they are, could they really have done all that? Definitely lying. Why haven’t they done this or that?” This demanding, harsh internal speech puts a strain on your health internally, but also weakens your social skills.
- Try to sleep enough and eat well.
- Do good deeds for others, praise them behind their back, notice the beauty around you, be grateful for it and mention it!
- When there is a difficult situation, ask for help if you can. If you can’t, try to calm your mind with inner speech and trying to make everyday life as normal as possible, even a little and, for example, move around in nature – gather your strength to find and ask for support.
- Choose a residential area with a forest near your home that you can go to effortlessly every day. Cherish the nearby forest – it is important for your family’s well-being.