Five kinds of compassion, according to Gabor Maté

Something to chew on from The Myth of Normal.

I’ve been reading (listening to) The Myth of Normal, by Gabor Maté. It’s a fascinating look at the role of trauma in our selves, but also in our collective selves. Our culture, according to Maté, can only be understood if we examine how trauma shapes us.

It’s a fascinating read. And challenging. I don’t necessarily agree with, or understand, Maté on a host of issues. But there’s some valuable stuff in there about healing.

In chapter 26, “Four A’s and Five Compassions: Some Healing Principles,” Maté dives into the value and power of attending to our own healing. Perhaps unsurprisingly (he tends toward Buddhism!), compassion is an integral guide to healing. And I find it interesting that Maté has a taxonomy of compassion. I love a good taxonomy.

Here’s his five kinds of compassion!

1. Ordinary human compassion

This “entry level” compassion is essentially empathy and the common ability to connect with another’s suffering. This is the variety that can be diminished if you suffer from compassion fatigue. It’s not pity.

2. The compassion of curiosity and understanding

This sounds to me more like a kind of intellectual variety of compassion. This is the kind of understanding that understands power relations and context. It’s the kind of compassion that seeks a systemic or policy level “why?”. This power prevents us from leaping to an answer or a solution to a given problem. This capacity enables us to immerse ourselves in the problem and stay present there. It is in other words, a way to commune with complicated contexts.

3. The compassion of recognition

This variety of compassion is a kind of self-awareness or acceptance. It’s the wisdom that allows us to appreciate the way we are all human, all fallible. It’s the wisdom that prevents us from judging others for their actions. This ability to see others in ourselves is also an antidote to shame.

4. The compassion of truth

We avoid pain, and we avoid healing because of its close proximity to pain. But the compassion of truth is realizing that pain is natural and healthy; “pain is not the enemy.” Healing is about becoming tender and soft and open to pain.

5. The compassion of possibility

This kind of compassion allows us to remain open to awe and uncertainty and mystery. Staying open to possibility is not simply an intellectual statistical analysis. It’s felt. It’s a “door that we keep open, so we can see victory coming.” It’s an aliveness to wholeness both in ourselves and others.