Themes of compassion and nonjudgmental love can be found in many traditions and faiths. And in recent years, compassion and nonjudgmental attitude have received particular attention in therapeutic approaches to trauma. Although traumatic experiences of abuse and neglect may differ among individuals, families, and communities, a commonly shared aspect from such experiences is that of pain and loss, and in some cases an insecure outlook about one’s safety and the goodness of other people (Foa, Ehlers, Clark, Tolin, & Orsillo, 1999; McCann & Pearlman, 1990). Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region appreciates that the situations from which each woman and child come are challenging and traumatic. We make every effort to compassionately address each need without judgement, helping our clients as they heal and grow along their journey forward, beyond violence.
Compassion is often seen as grounded in mindfulness, which is the capacity to sustain moment-by-moment focused awareness of and openness to one’s internal experience and immediate environment, without judgement and with acceptance (Briere, 2012). Over the past year, WCSWR has made a conscious effort to bring compassionate attention and mindfulness into our daily interactions and programs with women and children, resulting in improvements in overall affect and behaviours. The implementation of compassion and mindfulness into weekly programs has also been well received. For example, during Storytime last summer, inspired by “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud and “Guardians of Being” by Eckhart Tolle, children started taking the initiative to actively ask other people throughout the shelter “what fills your bucket?” Mindful moments during Meditation became a regular occurrence with groups of women and children benefiting from a relaxing atmosphere with soothing music and tea. During guided meditations, women were able to let go of the past and not worry about the future. Children were also observed to experience moments of pensive benevolence, with one child asking during a post-mediation conversation, “What is more difficult – being a woman or being a mom?” as he pondered his mom’s efforts to help their family move forward. The skills gained during meditation would also carry over into bedtime routines as moms would play the soothing music for their children. Along similar lines, the addition of Louise Hay’s positive affirmation cards has proven to be of great benefit to women attending Understanding Me – a group with components of psycho-education and therapeutic support. In addition to providing women with an opportunity to select positive messages for their own life, actively sharing these messages with others sets a calming tone for the group and provides the women with reassurance that their journey forward is a shared one.
Other benefits have stemmed from our efforts to bring compassion and mindfulness into our daily work and into our programs and special events. With an increased capacity for emotional and cognitive processing, an attitude of gratitude has opened up opportunities among families in shelter. Even during times of overwhelming stress such as the recent holiday season, women graciously accepted gifts donated from the community for their children. Engaging in this relational state of compassionate and mindful interaction is beneficial for staff as well (Gilbert, 2009; Siegel, 2010; Briere, 2012); increasing well being in a way that reciprocally helps us become better helpers. The anecdotal evidence over the past year suggests that compassionate attention and nonjudgmental attitude have positive effects for everyone, not only survivors of domestic violence but also the professionals working with survivors. The Dalai Lama said it best: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”