By Lori Russell-Siemer – LCSW, Emmily Weldon, LPCC, LMHC

How To Be Compassionate Without Being Taken Advantage Of

“Compassion is not a virtue — it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have — it’s something we choose to practice.”

~ Brené Brown

If you want others to be happy practice compassion Dalai Lama Quote
Lori Russell-Siemer

The spirit of the holiday season is in full swing. Many of us can feel the joy and from a place of open-heartedness are freely able to share the love and acceptance. If you’re not feeling this way however, not to worry; you are not alone.

The holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons. 

It’s a time when people notice the absence of loved ones they’ve lost throughout the year. In times of a pandemic, it can feel especially isolating when/if we are unable to gather with loved ones and everything feels and seems so “abnormal”. 

If we are struggling financially, this time of year seems to shine a spotlight on shortcomings. Anxieties can run high and people can feel like their fuse is shortened.

Cultivating compassion can be one remedy. 

When we experience self-compassion, we are more easily able to feel and extend that same compassion to others. 

Tuning into the body is important. 

The body will communicate when/if we listen. When our back is sore, it’s body’s way of telling us to rest. 

When we rest, we feel better. If we do not rest, the back pain can get worse until we no longer have a choice, and perhaps physically can no longer get up. Listening to the body is one way to experience compassion for self.

Another way to cultivate a personal sense of compassion is to give ourselves permission. 

If we struggle with a bout of insomnia, perhaps the compassionate thing to do would be to give ourselves permission to be up and reading, watching a soothing show on television, or listening to music.

It’s easy to over-extend ourselves throughout the holiday season. It can be difficult to say no. At the same time, saying no, listening to the body and responding to its needs, are imperative in ensuring our cups are full and we are able to give as required or as we want to.

Many of us have difficulty with boundaries. 

For people who have a propensity with codependency, boundaries can be especially challenging. Setting boundaries starts with knowing oneself. It can help to journal about personal values and what is important to us. 

From that place of security, we can draw (unseen) lines we are unwilling to cross, and when someone challenges that, we must work to reinforce the boundary (or if the boundary being crossed is severe enough, walk away entirely).

For those who find it difficult to feel compassionate without being taken advantage of, I offer the following tips to assist your journey of self-discovery:

1. Make self-care a priority

When we are within our “Window of Tolerance” we are easily able to show up for the people around us. We are using the front part of our brain which is good with creative resolutions and problem solving. 

Think about your personal needs and set a goal to do something kind for yourself daily (it can be as simple as taking an Epsom salt bath or reading a book for an hour or getting a massage or acupuncture). 

When your Self is cared for, it becomes easier to set and maintain boundaries, as well as have more compassion, patience, and kindness towards others.

2. Allow the body’s cues to guide you. 

Spend some time getting to know the body and feeling connected. It’s easy to dissociate with all of the distractions of this season. Practice a yoga self- massage and spend time in meditation or contemplation, asking the body what it needs. 

When an answer comes through, do that. If you’re experiencing pain, utilize things like cold (ice), heat (compress), or rest. Ensure you’re eating well and getting proper exercise.

3. Set and maintain boundaries. 

If you’re not feeling something or are feeling over-extended, it’s okay to say no. Give yourself permission to say no. Give yourself permission to be firm about boundaries as well. Work to communicate those boundaries clearly and follow through on consequences where appropriate.

4. Get comfortable saying no and communicating your needs. 

“I” statements can be very beneficial for communication and boundary setting. Also, monitor your own behaviors and ensure you are not over-riding boundaries that other people are setting. 

5. Go easy on yourself and others. 

Outward appearances don’t always reflect what is happening on the inside. Try and remember that everyone struggles from time to time. It’s the nature of the human experience. 

Forgive yourself, others, and let things go. We never truly know what it’s like to be in someone’s else’s shoes. At the same time, we can try. When we are kind and compassionate towards others, in reciprocity, we will experience that kindness and compassion in return.

Lori Russell-Siemer, LCSW –

Emmily Weldon

Compassion can be a difficult topic to discuss because it can feel like we are being ‘too easy’ on ourselves or others. 

Compassion is the ability to connect and orient toward suffering, either your own or others. You need to be able to be aware of the suffering, emotionally feel that suffering, wish for relief from that suffering, and ability or readiness to move toward action to relieve that suffering.

Many people worry about being compassionate because it may not push others or themselves to be “better” or to grow. 

There is no evidence to support that idea. In fact, there is data that has been collected showing that harsh criticism can actually move you or others away from the goal rather than closer. 

For example, if you only hear negative feedback, how motivated will you be to keep pushing yourself? Probably not very motivated. It leads to shame and if you feel like you won’t succeed… then why try? 

That is what our brain is often trying to figure out. It works the same with others and our relationships with them as well. 

The more compassion and understanding that we can show, the more motivated they will be to stick with a goal or even maintain a relationship with you.

When showing compassion for others take some time to reflect putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. We are all doing the best we can in this crazy world. Most of us inherently have the same goals: to live a happy, healthy life where we are connected to others. 

We may have different ways of going about that but remember the end result is usually the same. If we can understand that we can use our own experiences to express compassion toward them.

Practice shifting your perspective away from yourself. Don’t just think about how something affects you, but also how it might be impacting others around you. 

In therapy, I talk with clients about the 51% rule. You have to think about yourself 51% of the time. You have to consider your own needs first because no one else will (nor should they). However, that other 49% is reserved for others. Use that space to really try to find the balance of your own needs to avoid being taken advantage of while also considering other people experiences within that.

Practicing kindness doesn’t have to mean people-pleasing. 

Kindness doesn’t have to mean selling out your own truth for someone else. True, genuine kindness comes from consideration of others. When you can take time to truly understand what someone is saying without interpreting and judging you can understand them. You can empathize with them… even if you don’t agree with all of their decisions or their response. 

You can have compassion, empathy, and understanding without having to justify or validate their behaviors and reactions to the situations.

Many people become focused on what is “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad.” What if we let go of that all or nothing thinking and needing to label everything. Things are often more complicated than they appear on the surface. 

Get curious about others. 

What is under the action? What is motivating it? What might be going on for them to cause this reaction?

We live in a world where it often feels like there is no pleasing anyone and nothing is ever good enough. You will always be short of perfect because perfection is an impossible standard. Remember that and apply it to others as well. Consider that they are doing their best and say encouraging words.

The journey to showing compassion for others and for building your own self-compassion can be a difficult one. It can be helpful to have support along the way. Therapy can be a great tool to help challenge your perspective and work through your relationship with yourself and with others.

Emmily Weldon, LPCC, LMHC –

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