Archive for November, 2015

Alignment Solutions Newsletter: The Paradox of Compassion

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

The Paradox of Compassion

Alignment solution: You cannot be truly compassionate toward others unless you first are kind to yourself.

Compassion has two components: a feeling of deep sympathy for others who have undergone misfortune, and a desire to alleviate their suffering. It is compassion that leads many people to join “helping” professions or volunteer for charitable causes. Some organizations that identify core values identify compassion as a quality that defines who they are, as an organization and as individuals. People feel proud that they serve others selflessly and with humility.

Yet most are fooling themselves: they are not fully compassionate.

The paradox of compassion is that you cannot be truly compassionate toward others unless you first are kind to yourself. There’s a reason why flight attendants tell passengers to put their own oxygen masks on first before helping others during an emergency: you can’t be part of the solution if you become part of the problem. Yet too many people fail to make regular self-care a priority. The problem: if donned consistently, the armor of selflessness masks the seeds of self-destruction. You don’t expect that a phone whose battery has run down will work, so why do you expect that you will be able to perform at full capacity and be fully present for, aware of, and caring toward others when you don’t take care of yourself?

The holidays highlight the conflict inherent in the paradox of compassion. During this time of heightened awareness of others’ plights and the sincere desire to mitigate their misfortune, people are particularly likely to put their own needs aside. At the same time that work and family demands may increase, they try to reach out to others in a special way to ease their lives. Their generosity stretches them to their limits and beyond. When something has to give – as it will – they generally cut back on their self-care, leaving themselves feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and perhaps guilty due to their lack of family time.

Here are twelve ways that you can be kind to yourself starting right now:

  1. When you begin to experience signs of stress, take a few minutes to engage in deep breathing or relaxation techniques.
  2. When you mess up, treat yourself the way you would a similarly situated family member or close friend.
  3. Embrace setbacks as learning opportunities, not as occasions to beat yourself up.
  4. Consistently engage in positive self-talk.
  5. Ask yourself what you did WELL in a given situation. Build on those actions or qualities to improve in the future.
  6. Listen to your body and act on its needs in a timely manner.
  7. Take a few minutes out of your day to notice and enjoy the simple things in life.
  8. Write a 60-minute appointment with yourself this week on your calendar. Make that time sacrosanct. Do whatever YOU want to do during that time. Then book another appointment for the following week. Over time, increase the number of self-appointments each week.
  9. Throw yourself a “pity party” as needed to honor negative emotions and release    them. Set a timer for 10 minutes. During that time, feel as sorry for yourself as you possibly can. When the timer goes off, the party is over and it’s time to move on. This technique is effective for releasing any negative emotion.
  10. Laugh often.
  11. Do something fun every day.
  12. Get an accountability partner. Ask each other one question every day: “How were you kind to yourself yesterday?” Answer the question without comments, excuses, or feedback.

What will YOU do to be kind to yourself today?

If you would like more ideas about how to take care of yourself, take a look at our article 31 No-cost Ways to Take Care of Yourself. To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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