The High Price of Suppressing Compassion

The High Price of Suppressing Compassion


By Hwaa Irfan


For far too long, we have been entrained by the products of capitalism that we are our own gods, and that we can own and control whatever we choose as long as it remains within the shifting sands of acceptable legality. Many of us can swear to that high price now, having learnt that we are not programmable as much as The Establishment would lead us to believe. In other words we cannot just switich on and off our feelings, and our true selves just becuase it is inconvenient. After all, thoughts and feelings are but forms of energy, and as the truths of the Laws of Nature keep resurfacing, we are frequently reminded  that all forms of energy either transforms, stagnates or remains in a state of potential until a stimuli triggers the potential energy into action

To prove that point, a recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have indeed proven that there is a high price to be paid for the suppression of compassion.

In the study, participants were shown a slideshow of 15 images from homeless people, crying babies and victims of war and famine. As in the case of growing boys who are entrained to not cry and be men, the participants were:

  • Told not to feel sympathy
  • Told not to feel distress
  • Told to feel whatever  emotions that arose

Those who were told not to feel an emotion were told the precise emotion they were not to feel, and to cast it aside.

After viewing the slideshow they were tested on whether moral rules should be followed all the time, and to what degree they cared about being moral.

The result was that those who were instructed to suppress their emotions had shifted in their world view. There was a tendency to care less about the idea of morality or to be flexible towards the application of moral rules. One of the authors of the study, Daryl Cameron that the suppression sets up a pattern of cognitive dissonance as opposed to resonance, as now those affected have to rearrange their attitudes and beliefs towards morality. This reality has become far too common in everyday life, to the extent that it may account for the lack of compassion, the sense of separateness, and even the increasing levels of mental ill-health in society at large all in all mushrooming the many social ills in society today that have become an unsustainable economic burden on many developed countries.

“In past work, we’ve shown that people suppress their compassion when faced with mass suffering in natural disasters and genocide. To the degree that suppressing compassion changes how people care about or think about morality, it may put them more at risk for acting immorally,” Cameron commented in the published study in Psychological Science.

This is the very issue that led to the collective outcry by the Egyptian youth of the January 25 Revolution, an outry that has been suppressed publicly, but not privately as more and more people around the world begin to wake up from the sleep that we have all fallen into. It reflects badly on the socio-economic nature of societies, and the politics behind it all, but what the Establishment and its supporters have yet to realize is that we cannot simply be programmed to forget what is enslaving our emotional, physical and social beingness!


C. D. Cameron, B. K. Payne. The Cost of Callousness: Regulating Compassion Influences the Moral Self-Concept. Psychological Science, 2012; 23 (3): 225 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611430334

Related Topics:

Where Did Compassion Go?

To Stand With Pride and Compassion

The Importance of Self-Compassion