How to cultivate compersion

Compersion is the joy you experience in seeing another’s joy, often used in polyamory to explain the happy feelings you get from seeing a partner experiencing love with their other partners.  Not every polya person feels compersion, but it seems to be a goal many strive for.  It is completely normal for polyamorous, relationship anarchist, and other non-monogamous folks to struggle with jealousy, and feel hard feelings or even indifference at seeing or hearing about their partner’s happiness with other people.  What sets non-mogogamous relationships apart from monogamous ones, is instead of jealousy being seen as a testament to how much you love someone, it is viewed as a normal emotional response, but one you don’t use as an excuse for poor behavior, and one you work through in a hopefully healthy way.  A lot of non-monogamous folks aim to feel compersion, they strive for a goal of not only working through jealousy or any other hard feelings at their partner being with others, but getting a positive rush of feelings instead.  I have learned to absolutely love compersion over the years, it is an amazing heady rush of joy, and feels gratifying knowing you are feeling this wonderful joy simply for another’s happiness with no reward of your own.  In realizing how amazing it feels, I’ve tried to study it and find ways to further cultivate it within myself, and open up to feeling it more frequently.  In doing so, my jealousy has also decreased and become easier to handle each time, so that is an added bonus.

The first step in cultivating compersion is really cultivating joy from things that don’t benefit or directly effect you.  For me, I started practicing mindfulness first, learning to really live in each moment.  Then I directed that outward, I reached out for the feeling of joy in seeing happiness in others.  I would stop and watch my partners do simple things, inhale spices from a pan as they cooked and smile, lovingly arrange his wrestling figures with clear happiness in cherishing each one, get excited over a movie that was coming out that I couldn’t care less about but which clearly thrilled him, light up with a grin after they took a perfect photograph of sunlight playing on tree branches at the park.  I would look for joy in those moments, and taught my body how to respond with happiness when I just saw the people I loved experiencing their individual moments of joy.

Once I had learned to be in touch with and feel happiness when seeing the people in my life happy, compersion began to come more naturally.  When I would see a partner light up with happiness at something to do with one of their other partners, part of my reaction was to have a bodily response of joy at their joy.  At first though, that response was still small, and often overshadowed by jealousy or insecurity.  Those are powerful feelings, and it is easy to have them consume you and cause strong visceral reactions.  I had been teaching myself for years how to not lash out because of those reactions, but that was learning how to control a behavioral response, not quite eliminating the initial emotion entirely.  To handle working through those emotions I needed to really dive into the threads of them and untangle them so they could be processed and I could leave them behind me.

When I would feel jealous, I started really digging into the reasons behind it.  I asked myself what I was afraid of happening, and then what that made me afraid of, and so on, following it down the rabbit hole.  Often times it was insecurity, that someone would be a better partner then me, either sexually, emotionally, in giving advice, etc.  The scary thing was, often it could be true, I’m not super sexual with a lot of my partners, and I’m a much better person emotionally now, but I’m not the best, and when I first started doing this I was working through a lot of issues and was sometimes still kinda shitty.  So I accepted and acknowledged that.  I took into myself the fact that yes, my partners might have other partners who were better then me, in one way, or many ways.  Where did that lead?  I traced that to a fear that they would then leave more for those people.  Dissecting that it was really two fears.  The first was that they would leave me because the other person was better and that person would ask for exclusivity or they would just prefer to be with that person and not want to make time for me. The second was that in being with someone better, they would leave me because they would recognize I was shitty and not good enough for them.

Okay, so the first I couldn’t really fix, if a partner who really seemed to want to be polya then decided to be exclusive with another partner and cut me out, I couldn’t change that.  If they no longer wanted to make time for me, that was their choice.  So I asked myself what would happen then?  Well, I’ve survived some wretched things, I’ve lost a relationship one of the few people I loved the most deeply and was most attached to.  I’ve dealt with abuse and trauma from relationships.  And I’ve survived a lot of non-relationship related trauma.  If I could survive that, I could survive more loss.  Once I confirmed that in myself and recognized those fears, that jealousy mostly dissipated.  When it would come up, I would just have to remind myself that I could survive whatever happened, and I could make it dissipate again.

The second fear source was still there though, what if a partner left because another partner being better just made them realize I wasn’t good enough?  I could have worked through that one the same way, but the insecurity would still have been nagging at me.  So I worked on myself as a person.  I changed anything I was not satisfied with, that made -me- feel not good enough.  I went on a rapid path of self improvement.  So now, if a partner feels I am not good enough for them, I know there is nothing in myself I would want to change because I am good enough for me.  So I can accept that, and again remind myself of my ability to survive without them, and alleviate that fear in the same way.

That path dealt with most of my jealousy, but not quite all.  The rest was born from seeing someone else getting something I wanted.  I still felt jealous at times because a partner would be sharing something of themself with another partner, and I wanted to experience that as well.  That was my last big roadblock that would rise up and drown out my compersion.  That was also probably the hardest one to deal with.  First I would look at what it was I felt I was missing or not getting enough of from them.  Once I identified what I wanted, I asked if it was feasible to get that.  For example, when one of my long distance partners was giving time to another partner, I was jealous because I wanted more time with them.  It was easier for them to give more time to the other partner who lived nearby.  I had to figure out on my own and with them, if there was a way to increase how often we saw each other.  When there was not, I had to let it go.  When that jealousy would crop up, I would remind myself that they would love to give me more of that if they could, but it wasn’t possible, and them not doing so didn’t mean any lessening of their love for me.  Sometimes I realized that my partner just wasn’t aware of or wasn’t focused on my wants, so I could simply ask for them to be met.  If I saw another partner getting a lot of affection and realized I wanted more of that, I could let my partner know I was hoping for cuddles sometime soon and ask if they could provide that.  Often that was enough to solve the issue, and I made sure to center those conversations on my wants, and not as a response to what they shared with someone else, but at an appropriate time where they could focus on what I was asking.

The really hard part came with when they didn’t want to meet those wants.  There have been times where I wanted something like more affection from a partner, saw another of their partners getting that from them, and then asked for more of that, only to be turned down.  I had to learn to accept that.  Mindfulness came back into play here, sitting with my emotions and letting them exist, and then letting them go on their way.  I learned to accept that just because I wanted something from a partner, did not mean they wanted the same with me.  Them wanting that with someone else, did not mean they would want it with me or owe it to me.  Often times it wasn’t because of anything I was doing wrong, it was out of my control, and just something I had to acknowledge, and lower my expectations for.  And again, once that was done, I could redirect myself to compersion.

Now when I see my partners being happy with other partners, it does usually fill me with joy.  I’ve taught my body how to feel happiness in their happiness, and I’ve learned the skills in handling emotions that might come in and disrupt that.  Those other feelings do still interject at times.  I have to process and handle them, especially in new situations, or ones that hit old surprising triggers I’ve forgotten about.  I try and communicate about it and work through it both with my partners and on my own.  And once it has been resolved and I’ve let those feelings go, I can once again focus on that amazing feeling of compersion.  It is a hard but worthwhile process for me, because my life used to only be filled with joy I got from how the world effected me.  Now that I feel joy from the happiness of those I love, I have a hundredfold more happiness in my life and that is an existence worth working towards.

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