Nov 23, 2020

How to Exercise Compassionate Distance

                                                     Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Compassionate WHAT?? 

I first heard this term over a decade ago, and it has stuck with me. I was in my early twenties, and a nurse who volunteered to teach a "self esteem" class mentioned it. I don't know if she coined the term, or if she got it from a book, but it has helped in my healing.

Here is something that I want you all to try practicing," she said to the class, "compassionate distance." 

What is Compassionate Distance? 

We looked at each other, waiting for the first person to ask what we all wanted to know. You know something? Even after she had explained it to us, I was still dumbfounded. 

For years. I'm sure there is a psychological reason why  I was unable to comprehend the term. But, then, finally it came... an "Aha" moment.

Compassionate distance is best defined as "detaching with love."

It's a way to...

Protect yourself from continuing to be victimized, while still exercising healthy boundaries, which are often blurred with adult children of alcoholics. 

Heal without constant contact with the person who harmed you, while not wishing any further harm towards them.

To take it further, compassionate distance is a place of rest. 

It's detachment without resentment, so that the victim can finally feel free.

Tian Dayton in her ACOA devotionals book One Foot in Front of the Other calls this a "phantom limb:" being haunted by what's missing, rather than just letting it go.

Simple, right? You know what they say about simple... Simple ain't easy. 

To break it down further, or at least how I understood it, compassionate distance is similar to going "non-contact" for abuse victims leaving their abusers. 

That means that you stay away for a time, cease having any physical contact so  that you can adjust and recalibrate. 

Consider this from Dr. Amy Louis Bear who describes the term as "Compassionate detachment":

So how do you protect yourself from someone who is demanding, deceitful, and blaming? What do you do with someone who has no regard for your feelings? How can you put a healthy distance between you and family members who leave you exhausted from their criticism, negativity, or constant need for attention?

The answer is to detach yourself in a way that’s compassionate, but helps to protect you from further harm. Compassionate detachment means claiming your right to defend yourself from controlling, manipulative, or abusive loved ones. It means treating them with love and respect, but not taking responsibility for their emotional immaturity and poor choices.

She goes on to say that people with empty emotional buckets cannot be filled by us and that we can stop making choices according to how others might react. 

We can be ourselves, and still love, while exercising healthy boundaries. Compassionate distance, or compassionate detachment--whatever you wish to call it--is just that, a (healthy) boundary. 

Have you had experience practicing compassionate distance? How do you think compassionate distance is a faster way to emotional freedom / sobriety instead of choosing to resent the person who hurt you?

Sending you strength, love and JOY on the journey, 



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