Special needs parents elicit two reactions from most people and they are judgment and pity. Sometimes both at the same time which is highly offensive and grating. And it is quite rare that they encounter someone who is quite compassionate. You may be scratching your head right now and wondering why I just said that pity was one of the responses that special needs parents get from others, but not enough compassion. Aren’t pity and compassion the same thing? No. Absolutely not.
In that case, it is time to learn something that can really help change someone’s life, whether they are a special needs parent, a parent to a child that is ill, or someone who is just dealing with a horrific circumstance. Pity and compassion are not the same things.
What Is Pity?
When you express pity to someone’s unfortunate circumstance, you are only acknowledging that their life is tough and horrible. You simply feel sorry for them. But have no intention to help them. And if that is not bad enough in any way, you also look down upon them and think to yourself thank goodness my life is so much better than theirs.
I recall one time seeing a comment on an article about special needs parenting that was circulated on a page, and someone actually said that they were thankful not to have a special needs child and felt sorry for the moms that had any. I can tell you right now that this commenter was slammed quite badly for that, rightfully so. That is an example of pity. And special needs parents do not want or need your pity.
However, what they do want and need is your compassion.
What Is Compassion?
While you were going through something difficult and stressful, have you ever bumped into a friend while you were out and ended up spilling everything that has been going on in your life? And then your friend not only acknowledged how difficult the thing you were going through but listened to every word you said and cared what you said at the same time? Then the friend offered to help you out by finding resources to help you get through your predicament or something else that you would find helpful? What your friend has offered you is compassion.
Compassion is not just acknowledging that you are going through something difficult but is expressed by showing empathy. Additionally, someone showing compassion would also look to find solutions or relief of any kind to help you with your situation.
That means if a special needs parent went to a friend who really cares for them to talk about their day to day struggles, their friend would truly offer an ear and a helping hand in any way possible. The friend would either help find you resources for help with a particular situation or make some suggestions that do not contain any harmful platitudes that may or may not be helpful (it is the intention that counts) or would just be there for you no matter what.
That means the only thing in common that pity and compassion have is acknowledging that someone is in a very difficult and unfortunate situation. But the difference is, being compassionate includes being empathetic and helpful, and pity only serves the ego of someone expressing it.
In other words, those who express compassion see the suffering as someone who is on the same level as them. Those who express pity see the suffering as those who are beneath them, which unfortunately is a common thing for special needs parents.