5 Traits of (Amazingly) Compassionate People
Ever been completely reliant on someone for anything? I have. For me, it brought up fear. Not only was I scared when I was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, I became acutely aware that I was totally dependent on my healthcare providers and friends to pull me through.
It all turned out okay, but I felt powerless. Recently, I had a procedure (again, everything turned out okay), and observed how compassionate people, not just healthcare providers, can leave a positive impact in challenging situations. Each of us has power to show compassion when we see someone at their most vulnerable.
Some have the ability to make us feel supported like your mom was in the room with you.
Over the years, I’ve found that compassionate people have 5 traits in common.
Compassionate people understand:
1. Just because you say it, does’t mean you mean it.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was reeling. Not only did I get the diagnosis, but I got a brand new mission in life: see a bunch of doctors to talk to me about something that scared the crap out of me and let them poke me, prod me and do whatever else they needed to do to me. Like anyone else, I wasn’t given time to process. I did it because that’s what I was told told and because that’s probably the best way to get rid of this thing that scared me so much.
On my first day of these appointments, I checked in with a receptionist for yet another appointment with a doctor I’d never met. I don’t remember the specifics, but something wasn’t going my way like the doctor was late or something. I don’t even remember what I said, but I went full on Linda Blair.
Immediately I realized how rude I was, and I apologized. After I apologized, she said to me, “That’s okay. I understand you’re having a bad day.” There was no excuse for how I spoke to her, and I told her so. She was so understanding, even now I become emotional when I remember this not so small kindness. That’s the power empathy has.
FYI, Linda Blair’s got nothing on me.
2. Rushing is a no-no.
The doctor I saw on that day was the one I least liked of all my doctors. She was a whirlwind.
If you don’t know, going to the doctor can fill you with anxiety. They strip you of your only comfort – the clothes you walk in with – place you in a flimsy gown, then you wait for a person you don’t know to come in and poke at you.
This doctor rushed in, spoke to me in a foreign language (I call it radiationese) and seemed floored that I had so many questions. I took the initiative to stop her to ask questions (I recommend you do this too).
Not all doctors empathize with their patients. They don’t realize what a crazy experience this is.
The best caregivers take the time to make a patient feel at ease.
3. Human touch can comfort.
A week ago I had an MRI biopsy. They saw a small mass that turned out to be benign, but to discover this I underwent more poking and prodding. While the doctor shoved a needle (in a very personal space), a technician was also in the room.
As I teared us, the tech placed her hand on my shoulder. It gave me a feeling of reassurance and warmth. I breathed easier. Literally. She even blew my nose for me! (I should note that I was completely immobilized during this procedure – I usually blow my own nose!)
A simple gesture like a hand on your shoulder during a difficult time creates calm.
4. Words matter.
I love it when doctors or nurses say exactly what they’re doing to me and why they’re doing it. During the biopsy, the doctor explained everything as she was doing it. It made the invasion of space tolerable because I wasn’t freaking out at every touch.
Similarly, when I received a call from a woman from the doctor’s office about the results of my latest biopsy, she was great. They’re instructed not to leave detailed messages on voicemail, but she stressed that her message wasn’t urgent. I was so appreciative. I called of course to hear the words “it’s benign,” but what a relief.
Words matter. We rely on them for cues about how we should feel. They reassure us in situations where we’re powerless.
5. Surroundings matter.
My two surgeries a few years ago were vastly different experiences. After my first surgery, I thought, “that’s not so bad; the drugs were good, and it wasn’t too awkward.” Everyone was laughs and smiles, and I was unconscious before I hit the doorway to the operating room.
My second surgery experience sucked. It was as if they wanted me to be as uncomfortable and scared as possible. Not only did they ignore my request for the same drugs that worked so well last time (read: no pain, no hangover and only giggles), the orderly brought me into the operating room while the nurses were cleaning all the sharp instruments they were going to use to cut me open. I just laid there while people walked around clanging sharp metal together. The anesthesiologist walked in, didn’t prepare me hardly at all, poked me with a needle and pain flooded the area where he injected it. NOT COOL!
Caregivers who understand that surroundings matter do things like make a note in the chart that I like to stay in my clothes during a doctor visit (to minimize that vulnerable feeling) or bring me a warm blanket and tea after a procedure. They realize that these seemingly little things matter.
I’d like to think there are more people who get it than don’t. These kindnesses matter, and when they’re done right, they create spaces where we can feel safe.
Founder & Tea Lover
Sicilian Tea Company
P.S. What’s the most amazing way someone has expressed kindness to you during a tough time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.