Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Compassion

Long-term self-compassion and compassion for others are intertwined.

Posted Feb 26, 2014

Compassion, which literally means, "to suffer with," is sympathy for the hurt or hardship of others, with a motivation to help. Self-compassion is sympathy for one’s own hardship or suffering, with a motivation to heal, improve, repair.

Both self-compassion and compassion for others require sensitivity to the suffering that lurks beneath the symptoms and defenses that often mask it. The most common masks of suffering are resentment, anger, addictions, and compulsions.

People low in self-compassion tend to get irritated or defensive at the mere mention of compassion for others and are often offended when others show compassion to them. When they think they are being compassionate, they come off as manipulative (trying to get something in return) or morally superior, both of which elicit negative response. They get confused because compassion and self-compassion are really intertwined. You cannot sustain compassion for others without self-compassion nor can you have self-compassion, when cut off from basic humane values. Without self-compassion, compassion for others can seem boundless and overwhelming. Without compassion for others, self-compassion turns to self-obsession.

Based on the interconnectedness of the two forms of compassion, I suggest the following do’s and don’ts.

 Respect for self and others

  • do treat yourself and everyone else with respect
  • don’t ridicule yourself or anyone
  • do listen to your heart and choose behaviors in your short and long term best interests
  • don’t ignore the best interests of those affected by your behavior
  • do appreciate the uniqueness of yourself and others
  • don’t compare people
  • do appreciate deeper commonalties with all people
  • don’t look to exclude yourself or others from essential humanity
  • do listen to others
  • don’t model behavior you don't want from others
  • do reflect
  • don’t react
  • do talk
  • don’t yell, scream, or lecture

 Regulation of impulses, emotions

  • do consider the consequences of acting on impulse
  • don’t punish yourself about possible consequences
  • do hold other people’s perspectives alongside your own
  • don’t get locked in the solitary confinement of your own perspective
  • do express deeper feelings
  • don’t express symptoms and defenses
  • do be flexible
  • don’t be rigid or wishy washy
  • do empower the self and others
  • don’t engage in power struggles
  • do describe your experience and problems accurately
  • don’t exaggerate or minimize
  • do show interest in others
  • don't diagnose them (makes you feel superior, not humane)
  • do appreciate specific effort or behavior
  • don’t praise the self or others in general
  • do teach yourself how to do better
  • don’t shame or humiliate yourself or others for mistakes
  • do consider how you can prevent mistakes in the future
  • don’t punish past mistakes
  • do enhance your strengths
  • don’t focus on your weaknesses

 Solution finding

  • do stay focused on solutions
  • don’t blame self or others
  • do consider alternative solutions
  • don’t suppose there is only one right way to solve problems
  • do brainstorm possible solutions
  • don’t dismiss ideas out of hand

The milk of human kindness and wisdom 

  • do maintain core value (ability to create value and meaning in life)
  • don’t limp over core hurts
  • do continually strive to heal core hurts
  • don’t punish yourself or others for having them
  • do accept yourself and others, even though there are things you want to change
  • don’t reject yourself or others because of the things you want to change