What is Compassion Seeking Behaviour?

Dr. Shane Sinclair

June 20, 2021

Compassion seeking behaviour- An emotive response to unresolved suffering that attempts, consciously or unconsciously, to elicit compassion from others.  

Challenging people? Difficult clients? Non-compliant Patients?

These descriptors, while not shared openly, are common in the confines of nursing report rooms, collegial hallway conversations, and the recesses of our minds. But what if these challenging behaviours were just the outward expression of a much deeper issue—unresolved personal suffering that is desperately seeking compassion from individuals in order to resolve it?

Patients, family members, and healthcare providers in our studies have been insistent that true compassion is often provided under the least favourable conditions with the most challenging personalities.  While, providing compassion does not equate with healthcare providers being treated like doormats, in its essence it is non-conditional and resilient-- it is neither chronic caring or cherry-picking care provision—it faces challenges but never barriers.

It wasn’t however until our recent study of kids, teens, parents, and healthcare providers that we first coined the term ‘compassion seeking behaviour’ to describe how compassion is able to surmount the most challenging circumstances and people.

As our study participants told us:

"Compassion is helping them in their worst moments" (Healthcare Provider Jaishree)

 "Alex [the patient] can certainly put up an angry, mean, horrible front on days when she doesn’t want, she never wants to be here… And they get that, and you know, they still welcome her back with open arms the next day. Despite how she’s been feeling or how nice she’s been or not been" (Parent Amy).

Perhaps what has traditionally been referred to as inappropriate behaviours, difficult patients, resistant clients or challenging individuals are simply individuals exhibiting immediate or long-standing suffering caused by others, structural or systemic issues, or themselves—individuals who want and need compassion the most.

To learn more about compassion seeking behaviour and other lessons that kids, teens, parents and healthcare providers can teach us about compassion check out our free open access research article published in Psycho-Oncology.

You can learn more about the Pediatric Compassion Model and each of the components of compassion through the Compassion Research Lab's interactive, illustrated KT Videos.

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