You feel distressed. Who do you approach for compassion and support? Intuitively, you search for someone who has experienced something similar to you; surely they will be more understanding, empathetic, supportive, and compassionate than someone who has not gone through a similar struggle.
Surprisingly, a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found just the opposite.
Researchers used examples of five distressing events (e.g., enduring a polar plunge by swimming through icy water, or managing the emotional challenges of unemployment) to explore how people who had previously endured an emotionally distressing event evaluated others who had just gone through a similar experience. They found that people who had previously experienced similar situations were not always as supportive and compassionate as one might hope.
People who had already experienced similar hardship tended to be compassionate primarily when the person seeking their support seemed to have already endured the emotionally challenging experience. In contrast, those who had struggled with the challenging experience—people who could not complete the polar plunge, for example—were actually judged more harshly by people who had been through the same experience themselves.
Why would a person who had been through a challenging emotional event be more negative and judgmental toward those who struggled with the same experience?
There are a couple of reasons:
What to Consider When Seeking Compassion from Others
Given these findings, when you are going through an emotionally challenging event—divorce, illness, loss, rejection, failure, or any other type of hardship—make sure to consider the following:
Copyright 2015 Guy Winch