Key Skills For Living



Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.   11-13

ABSTRACT:  A set of eleven key skills for self-management, good relationships, and a “good” and productive life are offered, stemming from my years of observation of people as a psychologist.

KEY WORDS:  effective living, productive living, life skills, thriving, eudaemonia, a good life


The skills we need for effective and happy living are multitudinous, but we can identify those that are most important and contribute the most to making our lives better.  My relatively condensed list is—

honesty    (being honest and truthful)

responsibility    (being responsible)

acceptance    (being accepting)

love                (having a loving attitude toward self and others)

empathy      (being empathic and understanding with self and

equality      (treating everyone, including ourselves, as being
basically equal)

cooperation    (cooperating skillfully with others in joint tasks)

fairness     (being fair in all dealings with others)

self-control     (controlling one’s behavior so as to make the
best decisions and so as not to antagonize or
harm others)

autonomy    (being able to decide independently on the best
thing to do and to stand independently for what is
the right thing to do)

skills for dealing with one’s emotions    (being able to use
important information in one’s emotions without
having them override good judgment or result in
harm to self or others)

I suggest that these skills, if fully integrated into your attitudes and your behavior, will form a basis for living well and having a good life (and that they are the skills and behaviors that will contribute the most to your life, out of all of the other skills and behavior that we may employ).

It might seem unusual to you to think of these as skills.  Most people would think of responsibility, for example, as an aspirational virtue, but “being responsible” (or, behaving responsibly) is a skill that we can learn and cultivate, because it is made up of smaller skills that all go together to make it possible for us to “be responsible.”  We cannot be responsible unless we have the skill to understand what is expected and appropriate and the ability to sometimes delay our own gratification while we carry out what we believe to be expected and appropriate, just as we cannot be honest unless we have the skill of knowing clearly what we think and feel and the skill of tolerating others’ occasional unhappiness with us for revealing the truth.

If our goal is to have a good life, then we should first of all be clear, though, about what “a good life” would be.  In my opinion the minimum criteria for a having good life are (1) meeting one’s survival needs at least adequately, (2) having no more than a tolerable level of physical pain and bodily problems, (3) having some pleasure and pleasant emotion in one’s life, achieved mainly through (a) having a good relationship with oneself and good feelings about oneself, (b) having no more than a tolerable level of emotional pain and conflict, and (c) feeling a reasonable level of security, and (4) having some and to some degree gratifying relationships with others, including most importantly, a secure place in one’s family and basic acceptance in one’s community.

Life can be much better than the minimum, however, if we feel that we have “enough” in terms of physical survival and life maintenance, pleasure and enjoyment in life, good feelings toward ourselves, a sense of security, and gratifying relationships with others .  The question is how best to reach this level of “having enough.”  (Going beyond the level of having “enough” (maximizing pleasure, etc.) can be stimulating for a brief time, but it doesn’t last and must be restimulated over and over.  You have probably experienced how the pleasure of a new car fades after a while.)

Maximizing the skillful use of these eleven principles will move you toward being a person who is honest, responsible, loving, accepting, cooperative, fair, self-aware, self-confident, empathic, and compassionate, who has good self-control and can manage his or her emotions effectively, and who can stand alone when necessary in support of what is right.  You will be living so as to maximize your joy, fulfillment, contentment, and satisfaction, maximize equality among people, and minimize conflict, hatred, and violence.  You will be able to live joyfully, serenely, effectively, with great satisfaction, and at peace with yourself, others, and life.  You will have “good” or “positive” interactions with other people, defined as interactions in which both parties feel comfortable and safe (as a result of understanding each other and feeling treated appropriately by the other person) and in which both parties are motivated to cooperate in achieving mutually agreeable goals.

Note that the set of values and skills presented here is not designed to maximize pleasure, excitement, or achievement in your life and will not help you to avoid your emotions or escape from unpleasant reality.  It is based on the belief that we get the greatest total enjoyment from life by living a relaxed, sane, and well-managed life while being open to our feelings, to other people, and to whatever comes in life.  Of course, these skills will also help you to get along well in your job or other work, though not by besting, denigrating, or harming others.

Many of us build our own personal styles by incorporating a number of different skills and behaviors into our lives, and there are also a number of styles of being and living that we can recognize as patterns in others.  We see persons who prefer a life of calmness, peace, love, and cooperation, persons who try to maximize their dominance and authority, persons who focus on striving and competition, persons who focus on getting attention and fame, persons who try to maximize stimulation, hedonism, and sensory pleasure in their lives, persons who prefer an intellectual life, and persons who always conform, fit in, and try to be good.  (We also know that there some persons who hide their primary foci and reveal them only in private.)  We should note that most people adopt a combination of skills and styles that fits their various goals and experiences.  Regardless of your personal style, adding more of the eleven skills presented here may be useful.  These skills would, for example, make the intellectual person more understanding and social, and they would make the dominant person more compassionate and human to others.


Being honest with ourselves leads to greater comfort with ourselves and to less inner conflict and worry for us.  Being honest with others leads to greater trust, cooperation, and liking.   Lying or distorting the truth leads to conflicts and roadblocks to good relations and to effective action.  In order to make good decisions and choices in life, people need to have an accurate view of reality, and if we have concern about others, then we will wish to help them to have an accurate view of reality, too.  We help each other with regard to reality by being honest with each other and by telling the truth.

We distort reality when we believe or present to someone else a description of reality that we know or should know (could readily know) is not the description of reality that is most likely to be trueWe “tell the truth” when we present to someone else a description of reality that we believe to be the most accurate description of reality that has been achieved up to this time.  In distorting, we ignore certain contrary information so that we can believe what we want to believe, we present a description to someone else that is what we want to believe rather than what we know to be more true, or we present a description to someone else that we know to be incomplete or erroneous (and that we usually hope will be misleading to that other person, so that we can benefit).  The latter is commonly known as lying.  Ignoring or purposely distorting information to oneself to ensure a certain outcome or belief for oneself is “lying” to oneself.

Being honest with yourself is fully admitting to awareness everything that you know about reality.  Being honest with others is answering their questions truthfully and letting others know all of the information that you know to be true that could affect their welfare.  Telling the truth is accurately conveying (and appropriately qualifying) what you believe to be reality (what actually happened or the current state of something), even though you may not know the truth or the reality of things correctly.  Determining what is true is essential to being honest and telling the truth, and the process of determining what is true is complicated and deserves our best efforts.

Human beings are limited in what we can understand, and we sometimes misunderstand reality and therefore cannot represent it accurately to others.  Of course this is an inherent limitation for all of us and is not an excuse for not telling the truth as near as we know it.

In general, self-deception occurs because we believe that with respect to that particular piece of reality, we will come out ahead by not knowing the truth.  One may fear the changes that knowing would require, and one may wish not to know in order not to upset current relationships or in order to avoid the internal conflict that can come from thinking, feeling, or doing something that violates one’s conscience or calls one’s valued identity into question.

Besides ignorance, three factors interfere with our telling of the truth.  We are tempted to distort the truth when we think that doing so will help us (1) to avoid punishments (“I didn’t do it”), (2) to get what we want (“He had two pieces of candy, and I only got one” when in fact the speaker had already had three), or (3) to ease and avoid emotional pain (e.g., when a person could know from the evidence that her husband is unfaithful, but she avoids thinking about it at all in order to avoid the pain).  We all experiment with these lies as children, and many of us continue to distort reality as adults whenever we think it could help us to avoid pain or give us other advantages.

We do not usually lie to each other about most “factual” things (usually things that we can all agree on), but we are tempted to lie to others about things that they cannot readily confirm, in order to avoid negative consequences (shame, guilt, punishment) and in order to deceive others so that they will do something we want them to do.  We practically expect car salesmen to lie about the qualities of a car so that a prospective buyer will buy it.  (These car salesmen may be honest with themselves, but they are not honest with others, and they do not tell the truth.)  Both kinds of lies cause problems for other people, the first because avoiding responsibility for ourselves tends to give others wrong information, as well as giving them a distorted picture of ourselves, and the second because the distortions cause economic or other practical disadvantages for others stemming from making decisions that lead to losses or other harm.

Lying by omission (what we don’t say) can be just as harmful to others as lying by what we say.  Not mentioning that the road ahead has no gas stations for 100 miles can be quite harmful if we answer a question about the status of the road ahead with only “The road is fine.”  We did not lie, “technically,” if the road surface and signage are adequate, but our failure to expand the question from “what they asked” to “related things that they need to know” may cost them significantly.  A car salesman who answers a question from a potential buyer of  “Is this car safe?” with “Sure, it’s safe,” when what he means is “It’s as safe as most other cars,” is ignoring what the customer needs to know if part of the safety picture is that like many cars, this car rolls over easily.  It may be true that the car is almost as safe as most other cars, and it may be true that a number of other cars also roll over readily, but the salesman is distorting the reality that the customer needs to or should assess by not giving the customer all of the relevant information, and he does this hoping to make it more likely that the customer will buy the car.  He lies by omission to gain advantage for himself.

In order to be honest with ourselves and others, we must believe that knowing the truth and seeing reality clearly will lead to a better life than ignorance and self-deception.  The arguments supporting this belief are that knowing the truth and seeing reality clearly allow us to make better choices and decisions, which will lead to more effective goal-attainment efforts and to minimization of suffering and pain in life, and that telling the truth will result in greater trust and comfortableness between people.

The key to honesty with oneself is being willing to accept the pain of knowing in return for its benefits, and this can only be done if one believes that the benefits will outweigh the pain, at least over time.  The keys to honesty with others are believing that our relationships will be happier and more productive if we are honest and believing that others will be better off in general if we are honest with them.  These beliefs rest on caring about what happens to others and on knowing that honesty leads to deeper and stronger connections with others.  More superficial relationships include and can tolerate more withholding of truth, but deeper and more meaningful relationships require that we really “know” the other person (which means that we know what is going on inside them) and that they “know” us.  (Honest self-disclosure risks vulnerability for ourselves and generates greater trust in others.)

Sometimes the “pain” of being honest lies in giving up something that we want.  For example, if we acknowledge and do not deny to ourselves that our frequent snacking acts against our efforts to lose weight, we may “have to” rein in our snacking, thus “forcing ourselves” to do without the pleasure of the snacking.

We can learn to be strong enough to tolerate unpleasant truths, and when the content is unpleasant or hurtful to others, we can exercise discretion while not losing sight of what is true.  It is not necessary to beat others over the head with truth, and an accepting atmosphere leads more readily to change than a critical atmosphere.

You can help yourself and others to a better life by making a commitment to know and tell the truth and not to distort reality for your own benefit or to make yourself feel better.  Notice when you distort reality or tell little lies, especially when you distort what you say in order to get the other person to do what you want.  Think seriously about telling the truth instead.  Telling the truth sometimes means that you will feel embarrassment or suffer a temporary breach in a relationship, but others will respect you for your willingness to feel those things for the sake of being honest with them.


Being responsible is to always act as promised, as could be reasonably expected, and/or as appropriate.  When we make a promise, we keep it, even if it turns out to be inconvenient.  When unexpected circumstances come up, we do the right thing for all concerned, instead of just taking care of ourselves.  When others can’t get in touch with us in a difficult time, they know that we will do what is appropriate with respect to them as well as ourselves.  If you are entrusted with the money or materials of others, you safeguard those things carefully, and if you contract to administer a joint ownership or agreement, you ensure that the rights of all parties are honored as appropriate.

It is easy enough to observe that being responsible causes others to trust us and therefore to cooperate with us and relate more closely, so being responsible allows us to get more out of life.  (We are focusing here on the “dependable” and “trustworthy” aspects of responsibility, rather than the “accountable” aspect.)  Being responsible makes everything go more smoothly.  The responsible person takes care of responsibilities on her own volition, without complaining or doing it only to avoid the criticism of others.  She truly sees them as responsibilities rather than as unfair and excessive demands.  She is also willing to tolerate considerable discomfort, pain, or disadvantage in order to be responsible.  The immature person puts off taking care of responsibilities as long as possible and fails to appreciate the impact that this may have on others.

If you have concern for others, you can benefit them significantly by being responsible.  This means (1) doing what you have promised, what you said that you will do, and what you are assigned to do, and (2) acting appropriately for the circumstances.  If you tell someone you will do something, then you do it without fail, even if you have not formally promised, and if you are appropriately assigned a task, you carry it out in such a way as to meet appropriate expectations for your task.  In addition, you act “responsibly” in all circumstances—driving safely, doing your homework, not taking money from your mother’s purse, paying your debts on time, actually watching the child you are babysitting rather than the TV, etc., etc.  This aspect of responsibility encompasses doing “the right thing” and acting in accord with the reasonable expectations that other have for you.

You minimize trouble and difficulties for others and for yourself by keeping your promises and carrying out your responsibilities, because others have based their expectations and actions on what you have promised or been assigned, and if you fail to do what you have said or what you have been assigned, you will make things more confusing and difficult for them.  Being responsible and trustworthy yourself moves others to be that way, too, and everyone benefits.

The reasons for most irresponsibility are (1) not “feeling like” doing the responsible thing at the time that it should be done and (2) believing that it will be personally advantageous not to do the responsible thing.  You are tired and don’t “feel like” doing your homework, so you lie to your mother that you have done it, go to bed, and figure you’ll make some excuse to the teacher tomorrow and somehow get by.  Instead of going by the rules of your Little League as a coach, you lie about the age of a particularly good player so that he can play on your team.  (Occasionally people also act irresponsibly in order to hurt someone else or to harm oneself.)

The argument for being responsible and acting responsibly is the same as that presented above for being honest and truthful.  Over the long haul, you will get more from others, get more out of life, and be happier if you are responsible, even though that means that you will do things when promised, even if sometimes you don’t feel like it or have to stay up late, and even though being responsible means that you will give up opportunities to take advantage of others by acting irresponsibly.  We choose to be responsible when we see the future advantages and disadvantages of being responsible accurately and see that the advantages to our relationships of being responsible (having people like, trust us, readily cooperate with us, and be responsible themselves in their dealings with us) far outweigh the pain that we sometimes endure as a result of acting responsibly.  Children have the illusion that they need to get all they can right now, but as adults we can see the bigger picture and realize that we benefit more over time from treating people well than we benefit from taking advantage of them whenever we can.

Some people believe that lots of people “out there” are having great lives from taking advantage of others, but they are not taking into account that those people have no real friends (because no one can trust them) and poor marriages (because they are not trustworthy and don’t care about others), so their “great lives” appear to be great only superficially.  Rich people may seem to be friends, but a fair amount of that “friendship” is business-based and not personal at all, and since they are all competing for the same dollars and status, many are quite ready to take advantage of each other if opportunities arise that require it.  A couple in the news may seem happy when photographed in their nice clothes and jewelry, but if they do not love each other, they are not happy about that huge aspect of their lives when they are away from the cameras.  People may get a thrill out of successfully taking advantage of others, and they may get some financial advantage at the moment, but they are giving up a great deal by being that kind of person.   Everything significant that we have or get in life must be earned, and there is no free lunch!

One specialized aspect of responsibility is taking care of oneself (appropriate autonomy), to the extent that doing so is possible and appropriate for one.  The responsible person is motivated to take care of himself as much as possible because he expects others to do the same for themselves (as well as helping others when they truly cannot help themselves).  The responsible person also knows that he can take better care of himself than anyone else can!

To be more responsible, examine what you believe about the benefits (to yourself and others) versus the costs (to yourself) of being responsible, and decide whether it is to your advantage to be more responsible.  Experiment with taking care of responsibilities correctly and on time (doing the job as it was meant to be done, doing the job in the time frame agreed to), and find out if the self-esteem that you get plus the appreciation that you get from others for acting responsibly is or is not more gratifying than the consequences you receive from failing to carry out those responsibilities.  Which way to you gain more?

In justifying being untrustworthy and irresponsible, it is common for people to tell themselves that they can gain the advantages of being untrustworthy and irresponsible (immediate gain for oneself by taking advantage of others) without paying the price of losing the trust, approval, and cooperation of others in the future.  They believe that they can lie their way out of those consequences and avoid the people who will be unhappy with them in the future, if necessary.  In order to choose being trustworthy, you must see (accurately) that those negative consequences will occur (having people not trust, approve of, or cooperate with you), instead of fooling yourself into believing that they won’t occur or that they can be avoided.  People will see you for what you are.

It takes time to change one’s reputation from irresponsible and untrustworthy to responsible and trustworthy, since it must be demonstrated in actions, and people won’t trust you until they see a consistent pattern of responsible and trustworthy actions.  Be patient as you learn to be responsible and trustworthy through each experience of choosing to be reliable and consistent.  The more responsible and trustworthy you are, the more responsible and trustworthy others will be with you.


Understanding oneself and others realistically and in depth leads us to be basically accepting of ourselves and others, because knowing a person completely reveals that person’s faults and frailties (and we all have them!).  (The wise person goes beyond basic acceptance to complete acceptance of self.)  Understanding ourselves in depth also reveals (1) how most of us avoid knowing ourselves completely because we fear that we would have to reject or even despise ourselves if we knew ourselves in depth, (2) how much we reject ourselves daily through self-criticism and self-punishments, and (3) how we fear accepting ourselves because it might lead us to look “bad” and to be “bad.”

Being accepted is basically “being allowed”—being allowed to be yourself without rejection or attack.  Self-acceptance is therefore “allowing yourself to be” instead of rejecting and attacking yourself.  Unfortunately most people attack and reject themselves with alarming frequency.  Every time you harm yourself, criticize yourself, put yourself down, or judgmentally compare yourself unfavorably to someone else, you are rejecting yourself.

To achieve acceptance, know yourself completely and intimately (so that you don’t pretend that certain things that you dislike about yourself don’t even exist); don’t react to any parts of yourself that you dislike with attack and rejection; and calmly decide either to work toward changing the disliked or harmful parts of yourself or to simply let them be (which is perfectly OK to do, as long as it does not imply that you are free to harm others through expression of those disliked or harmful parts of yourself).  Stop criticizing yourself and hurting your own feelings. Stop rejecting yourself. The peace and calm of accepting yourself is wonderful.   Close your eyes and imagine accepting yourself completely.  You will feel an immediate calmness and relaxation (unless you are so firmly self-rejecting that you cannot even imagine accepting yourself).  (Beyond simple acceptance (letting be), if you also feel loving kindness and compassion for yourself, it will add a positive, encouraging feeling to your life.)

If you are not accepting yourself (letting yourself be), then you are by definition rejecting yourself. The key to accepting yourself, then, is to stop rejecting yourself.  Think seriously about this, and try to identify the ways in which you reject yourself.  The most common types of self-rejecting behaviors are self-criticism, self-accusations, harming oneself, punishing oneself, routinely comparing oneself negatively to others, and demeaning oneself by calling oneself names or putting oneself in negative or inferior positions. How do you do these things to yourself?  What do you criticize yourself for?  What do you hide from yourself that even you don’t want to know about yourself?

The primary reason that we reject ourselves is that we have learned from those around us to reject and criticize ourselves, either because we believe that we do not meet expected standards, that we have done something wrong, or that it is simply “wrong” to be ourselves. Some people also reject themselves because they believe that constantly rejecting themselves is the only way to control their “bad” behavior. These reasons for rejecting ourselves are false and unnecessary.

Self-critical and self-rejecting behaviors are learned from those around us, usually in childhood.  If significant others view us and treat us as if we deserve criticism and demeanment, for our behavior or simply for being ourselves, then as we grow up we imitate this and begin to criticize and demean ourselves.  Every time we “make a mistake” (every time we notice the displeased or disapproving reactions of others) we may tell ourselves something unrealistic and excessive, like “Boy, am I stupid,” “I’ll never get it right,” “I’m terrible,” “Dad is never going to like me,” “Guess that proves once again that I’m not good enough,” or some other self-demeaning statement.  The opinions of others about us gain force from the fact that most adults give more rewards to children who are favored than they do to children who are not.  As children, we know when we are not favored, it hurts to know this, and we often assume that we must be “bad” or wrong if we are not favored.  We blame ourselves for not being favored and begin to criticize and demean ourselves.   The key to change is recognizing that you do not deserve this self-criticism and demeanment—that your behavior is not “bad” or at least not bad enough to justify rejecting yourself, and that you are actually an OK person.  The fact that you are not your parents’ favorite does not imply that you are not good enough or that you don’t deserve all the good you can find in life.

Acceptance is often confused with approval and other positive responses from others.  Being approved of involves being measured against the standards of others and being preferred, tolerated, or rejected by them, while acceptance is “being allowed to be” just as you are.  Being accepted does not imply that everything about you is OK with others (or is even OK with yourself).  You can be accepted without being approved of by others.

Many of us believe that if we don’t get the approval, or at least the acceptance, of certain important others, then we are worthless and should feel inferior and undeserving, but this is totally false.  Your value and your happiness do not depend on the approval or acceptance of specific other people. Since you are no longer a child, your survival and gratifications no longer depend primarily on certain other individuals, such as your parents.  You can do very well without any of those people who reject you, if you are only willing to do so.  Naturally you would very much like to have the acceptance and approval of significant others, but you can become your own source of acceptance.  If those significant others were suddenly to disappear for some reason, you would have to do it for yourself anyway, which suggests that you can become your own source of acceptance (and approval) even if they are still around.

Use your independent mind to realize that you are OK even without these other people and even if they do not accept you.  Give up worrying about gaining their approval and acceptance (which you actually already deserve), and focus on your own acceptance of yourself and on making your life a good life to live.  Mourn for what you have not had, and mourn for the hope that you are now giving up of getting it from those people, and then rejoice in your new freedom to be yourself and to do what is good for you!

Human beings have probably through evolution developed a built-in tendency to want the approval of others, since this acts to ensure sufficient conformity and responsiveness to authority to enable the group to survive and to function well.  In accepting yourself completely, you are going against this inbred tendency, and the fact that you have to go against this inbred tendency is part of what makes self-acceptance difficult.  The key to working out this difficulty is recognizing and accepting that others and even the group have some legitimate need to set rules defining acceptable behaviors, but they have no legitimate authority to control who you are (with the exception of prohibiting certain behaviors by group members).  Your family or other individuals may decide on the basis of how they feel about and evaluate you not to associate with you, but they have no authority to tell you that you are “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad,” since these are only their individual attitudes and bear no relation to any higher authority or standard.  You must leave their views behind and redefine yourself as OK.  Most people use criticism and/or rejection as means of trying to control your behavior or even to control who you are, but you have no obligation to respond or conform.  Accepting yourself is so valuable that it may justify accepting, sadly, that some others may choose not to be around you if you will not bow to their demands and that if some others cannot accept you, then you may be better off without them.

To change your mind about yourself—to see yourself as basically OK rather than as a terrible person or a screw-up—requires questioning the standards and the attitudes of those who first rejected and criticized you.  You must be able to see that there was in fact nothing much wrong with you, even though certain adults may have had negative feelings and attitudes toward you, which were their own responsibility and were not really due to anything significant about you.

As children, we take for granted that if our parents are upset with us or won’t accept us, it means that we have done something wrong or that we are “bad” or unacceptable.  This is usually not true at all, and we can see this by looking back at those incidents through our adult understanding.  By itself, the fact that you were rejected proves nothing about you.  Realistically search your memory and your assumptions about yourself, and you will not find much really wrong with you.  In those few cases in which a part of yourself could lead to harm to others— e.g., a sexual interest exclusively in children, it will serve you best to accept that part of yourself within yourself, while at the same time ensuring that no one is harmed by it. Things that you accept about yourself are not necessarily OK with others, and accepting something about yourself does not mean that you believe that you should be able to express it behaviorally.

People over-generalize a great deal about their lack of worth, with such false statements as “I’m terrible,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m worthless”, and “I’m not acceptable.”

You must question and correct your over-generalizations. You may not have been accepted by your mother, your father, or certain other important people, but that does not mean that you are “not acceptable” in general.  You are acceptable just the way you are, even if your parents did not accept you.  You may have so far equated those things—that if your parents did not accept you, then you must be unacceptable in general, but all it meant was that you were not acceptable to them at that moment.  Certainly they were important people to you, but they were only two out of seven billion on the planet, and their opinions don’t count for much in the larger context.  You will, of course, have to accept and adjust to the emotionally difficult “fact” that your own parents did not accept you, but it helps to put it in context, just as it helps to find that there are others in the world who will accept you.

Imagine again what it would feel like to cease criticizing yourself and finding fault with yourself.  The peace would be wonderful!  You could relax instead of always being on guard or always having to answer your own criticisms and doubts.  You could really live your life, instead of being perpetually distracted by your own internal criticisms.  Give it a try.  You are OK.  There is nothing really wrong with you.  Work on stopping your unnecessary self-criticism and self-demeanment.  “Let yourself be” (allow yourself to be), without self-criticism and self-­demeanment.  You will love yourself for it!

Some people justify rejecting themselves (and justify others’ rejection of them) on the basis that they are not “good enough” and therefore deserve to be criticized and rejected, but this idea is simply based on using inappropriate standards.  If appropriate standards are used, you are good enough!  Changing this requires questioning and changing the standards that you apply to yourself.  Your parents may have rejected you on the basis of their standards and expectations of you, but you must now take a hard look at what those standards and expectations were and decide whether they were appropriate or not.  Just because they were your parents does not mean that their standards and expectations were appropriate.

Some people hold onto patterns of self-rejection because they think that it is easier to reject themselves than it would be to fully recognize how they are being rejected by their parents or others they love.  They make their rejection of themselves their own fault, and as long as they continue to try to force themselves to be who they are “supposed to be,” they don’t have to recognize and deal with the pain of the actual rejection that they are getting, and they don’t have to recognize and deal with the unreasonableness of the rejection that they have received.  If we stop rejecting ourselves, we will see more clearly the inappropriateness of how we are being rejected by others, and we will probably feel some sadness and anger about it.

People who have been rejected sometimes feel that they do not deserve to be members of their families or of society.  If you treat others decently, you do deserve to be accepted (allowed to be) as a member of your family and of society, regardless of the attitudes and reactions of anyone else to the contrary.  You are as good as anyone else deep down, and you deserve equal treatment just as much as anyone else.  Stand up for yourself and for your equal rights.  Assert your right to be an equal member, and behave as a good group member should.

Controlling Yourself Through Self-Criticism and Self-Rejection

As children we all must learn to conform to adult social expectations, and one of the methods some people use to control their unacceptable behavior is constantly watching themselves for things to reject themselves for.  You think that if you constantly look for faults or something wrong with yourself, then you can “catch yourself” before you do anything wrong, and you won’t have much opportunity to engage in any really “bad” behavior (and therefore won’t be punished or rejected).  Unfortunately your suspicious habits of self-criticism and self-punishment will also cause you to be unable to accept yourself.

It is unnecessary to use self-rejection as a means of controlling your behavior, because as an adult you can choose your appropriate behaviors on the basis of what is in your best interest.  In fact, you should always do what is in your best interest!  (Some will disagree with this last statement, but they are invited to consider a change in perspective.  We always do what we perceive to be in our best interest—it’s just that we don’t always identify it that way, so that we won’t seem “selfish”.)  (See How To Feel Good About Yourself—12 Key Steps To Positive Self-Esteem by Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D. (2003) (Step 10) for a full explanation of this new method of controlling your behavior.)  Doing something that you want to do but which is likely to cause you considerable trouble in the future is probably not in your best interest, even if it is what you “want to do.”  Doing something that you want to do but which is likely to harm others, who are likely then to harm or want to harm you in some way as a consequence, is also probably not in your best interest.  If doing what is best for yourself includes the belief or assumption that doing what is best for yourself always involves not just what you want to do, but also involves appropriately considering all of the long-term and short-term consequences of your actions as well as how your actions will affect others, then you will automatically be doing what is best for yourself.

Some people fear that if they accept themselves, they will accept their “bad” behavior as well (and will therefore do more bad behavior).  This is not a problem of acceptance but of knowing what is best for you.  We all do what we believe is best for us.  If you believe deep down that your bad behavior is best for you, then you will continue to do it (regardless of what you say and whether or not you accept it or pretend to accept it).  Your conflict is between what you want to do or what you believe you should do and what you really believe is best for you.  You will be more comfortable with yourself if you resolve this inner conflict.  If your bad behavior that you believe is best for you is actually bad for you, you must recognize this and decide whether you are going to do what is best for you or what is in fact bad for you. (If your “bad” behavior is actually good for you, then there is something wrong with the rules you are trying to live by or with what you are calling “bad” and “good”!)  So, you do not engage in “bad” behavior because you accept it but rather because you actually believe that it is best for you and you therefore want to do it!

Some people fear that if they accept themselves they will become lazy and complacent and will never make any further improvements in themselves.  Actually, meaningful change is easier in an accepting climate than it is in a rejecting climate.  A rejecting, punishing climate motivates us to escape the punishment, but the anger and resentment that we feel about the rejection and punishment also cause us to stiffen up and refuse to change (since “giving in” to the pressure to change would be like completely giving up control and giving up self-respect).  In an accepting climate, we do not have to fight back, we are free to consider who we really want to be and what would be best for us, and we are free to make those changes if we wish.

This also speaks to what to do if you do reject the standards that your parents had for you and used to reject you.  Rejecting those inappropriate standards does not mean living with no standards or that you can do anything you feel like doing.  You will need to define your own. more humane, reasonable, and appropriate standards for yourself and then live up to them.

Accepting Others

If you can accept yourself, then you are on the road to truly accepting others as they are, too, for you can see that they have their faults, frailties, and struggles, just as you do, that they have the same basic desires and goals in life as you do, and that they are, for the most part, just as worthy of acceptance as you are.  Have compassion for their struggles and their self-rejection, and you can consciously extend your feeling of self-acceptance to them as well. (Paradoxically, most people who do not accept themselves are more accepting of others than of themselves, but this is blind acceptance of superiors by an inferior, rather than true, empathic acceptance.)

Knowing the complexity of human beings, the wise person can accept that other peoples’ emotions and beliefs are different from his own.  These differences do not necessarily mean danger or require distancing. The wise person can see the good and the bad about a person without condemning that person.

The most difficult barrier to accepting others is wanting or needing things from them that they do not choose to give.  The common reaction to this is to keep trying to get the other person to give what is desired, and the usual result is frustration on both sides and often eventual dissolution of the relationship.  It is not possible to truly accept another person if you feel frustrated about not getting what you want from him or her.  The answer to this is to accept that you are not going to get what you want from that person and then to either enjoy what you can get in that relationship (accepting that you won’t get some things you want) or find other sources for what you need or want.  Letting go can be difficult, and you may be sad and may need to mourn your loss of hope, but if you conclude sincerely that you are not going to get what you want or need from that person, then it is truly best for you to stop trying to force that person to give what you want, and you will benefit from letting go (and accepting that person as he or she really is).

Forgiving Yourself

It is typical for us to feel guilt or shame when we do something in conflict with our standards, harm ourselves or others, or reject ourselves.  Guilt (a combination of fear, anticipation of punishment, and painful self-criticism) is a primary barrier to self-acceptance, and in order to restore inner peace and accept ourselves fully once again, it is important to forgive ourselves.  In forgiving ourselves, we see clearly what we have done, we right wrongs that can be righted, we improve our behavior for the future so that we will not harm ourselves or others in the same way again, and then we let go of guilt and self-hatred and move forward into the future with a positive, though realistic attitude.  Here are some steps that will help you in seeking forgiveness—from yourself or from others—so that you can accept yourself once again.

In dealing with guilt,

(1) Acknowledge fully and honestly what you have done, with no excuses, rationalizations, or attempts to shift the blame inappropriately to others.  (Of course, you should not take responsibility for things that you have not done!)

(2) Determine how your behavior has affected both yourself and others.  If no one has been harmed, then reconsider why you consider what you have done to be “wrong.”  (Even if no one was harmed, the behavior may still be dangerous enough and potentially harmful enough that you still think it best not to do it.)  If others act hurt, but this is because of their own inappropriate reactions to your behavior, then you must draw the line regarding what you will be responsible for.  If others condemn you, but no one has been harmed, then their condemnation stems from their wanting you to believe or act like they believe and act, and you must decide whether that violates your right to think for yourself and act in your best interest.  If you decide that your behavior was not wrong, then you can accept it and consider whether you need to forgive yourself for your self-criticism and self-rejection regarding this behavior.

(3) Consciously accept what you did as part of your history now.  Don’t pretend that it didn’t happen, or that it really wasn’t you, or that you can wipe out your action by making up for it after the fact.

(4) Understand why you did what you did.  What needs, motives, weaknesses, and blind spots were involved?  Be totally honest with yourself.  This is where you are likely to see how you hurt yourself sometimes with your choices.

(5) Consider whether the standard you applied to yourself was appropriate, and consider whether you have been too hard on yourself.

(6) If you believe that your standard is appropriate, and you still feel uncomfortable with your behavior, then you must next decide whether you want to change your behavior.  Carefully decide if it would really be better for you if you did not do that behavior again.  This is a crucial step, for if you really think, consciously or unconsciously, that it is better for you to keep doing the behavior, then you will keep on doing it (and keep on violating the standards that you say you believe in), even if it results in guilt over and over again.

(7) If you decide not to do the behavior again, resolve to take better care of yourself in the future by not repeating the behavior in question (because you believe that it is truly best for you not to engage in the behavior again), and commit yourself to this path.

(8) Decide whether you need to change some of your habits and ways of controlling your behavior in order to be able to avoid this particular behavior in the future.

(9) Consider taking actions to make up for what you have done, like apologizing or making something up to another person (or to yourself, if you were the one harmed).  Sometimes due to the passage of time or others’ attitudes and feelings, you cannot make up for harm caused to others.

(10) You have now done all you can do to take care of what you have done and to avoid doing such things in the future.  The last step is to accept the above actions as adequate grounds for letting go of that past behavior, letting go of any guilt that you feel, receiving the forgiveness of the other person if that is offered, and forgiving yourself— which means accepting yourself as OK again.

If you have trouble forgiving yourself, or finding forgiveness from others, identify the conditions that you require in order to be forgiven.  Do you have some unrealistic requirements that are not likely to be met, such as requiring that you repay the injured party double value before you can forgive yourself, or requiring that the person injured tell you that you are OK?  Remember that forgiving is not forgetting.  Also, you may need to accept that sometimes the injured party simply refuses to forgive.  Sometimes forgiving yourself is your only option.

You can forgive yourself for harming yourself accidentally if you sincerely intend not to continue harming yourself, but if you are fooling yourself when you promise yourself not to repeat the self-harming behavior, eventually this will become an issue of bad faith with yourself.  You will be unable to fool yourself any longer and unable to accept yourself.

Once again, in forgiving ourselves, we see clearly what we have done, we right wrongs that can be righted, we improve our behavior for the future so that we will not harm ourselves or others in the same way again, and then we let go of guilt and self-hatred and move forward into the future with a positive, though realistic attitude.

Adjusting to Accepting Yourself

If you fully accept that you were OK and that you have not really deserved to feel bad about yourself all these years, then you will probably feel much sadness, and you may feel anger toward those who convinced you that you were “bad” or inferior.  Both of these feelings are normal, and it is best that you let yourself feel them fully and wait for them to pass.  This sadness is both a release of a tremendous amount of stored up pain and a readjustment to a new identity.  For years you have been whipping yourself to be someone else, because you thought that you were not good enough or were not who you were supposed to be.  Now you are accepting that you will never be good enough according to those previous, inappropriate requirements and that you will never please those whom you have been striving to please.  Naturally you will feel sadness at giving this up, but you will also feel release and relaxation at letting go of the pressure of these impossible expectations and accepting that you are OK just the way you are.  As to the anger, just because you feel anger does not mean that you must act on it.  If you do feel impelled to act, it will be enough to tell those who have not accepted you that in your opinion they were wrong about you and that they harmed you greatly.  There is no real need to harm them to make up for their harm to you, and this “evening the score” simply leads to more struggle and further revenge.  Not punishing them does not mean that you accept their behavior toward you as OK; it simply means that you are truly ready to walk away from this part of the past.  Let yourself feel these feelings, take action if you need to, and wait for the feelings to pass, for they will pass.


The following fact is so amazing that it must be stated over and over-all you need to do in order to accept yourself is to stop rejecting yourself and allow yourself to be.  Stop criticizing and demeaning yourself.  Accept the fact that it is OK not to be totally OK if all that means is that certain other people are not happy with you.  It is not true that you are unacceptable because there is “something wrong with you.”  There is nothing wrong with you.  You have adopted the irrational and idiosyncratic negative responses of certain others to you, and you have been rejecting yourself without good reason.  There is nothing so wrong with you that you deserve this rejection.  Lighten up.  Work on seeing yourself more realistically—not through the eyes of those rejecting adults of your childhood, but through your more realistic and understanding eyes.  Let yourself be (while still refraining from harming yourself and others).  Take the risk of accepting an imperfect but perfectly OK human being—yourself.  (Remember, though, if you are harming yourself through your choices and behaviors, you will very naturally be unable to accept yourself.)

In place of criticizing yourself, give yourself support and love.  In place of demeaning yourself, appreciate your many good qualities and learn to do a good job of deciding and doing what is best for you.  In place of punishing yourself, have compassion for yourself and forgive and comfort yourself.  Treat yourself with the same caring, consideration, and thoughtfulness that you would another person whom you love.  Redefine yourself as OK and worthy of inclusion with others.  Forgive yourself for the pain you have caused yourself by rejecting yourself.  Give yourself the gift of believing that it is really OK to be who you are!  Allow yourself to be!


Love is perhaps the most wonderful and treasured feeling we can have toward others and toward ourselves.  Our society is certainly preoccupied with love, or at least with what it calls love.  A majority of movies and books seem to attract people by dealing with love.  Most of us worry for some significant periods of our lives about whether we will “find somebody to love” or to love us.  The greatest fear and greatest pain of many people is being alone and without love.

In thinking about love in their lives, most people think of loving or being loved by someone else, but love for oneself (and consequently treating oneself well) is a key asset for living a satisfying and fulfilling life.  It is often said that we cannot love others if we cannot love ourselves, though this is probably better understood as saying that if one feels unloved or mistreated, then it is much harder to love others.  It would also be true that if one truly does feel love for others (sincerely, comfortably, fully), then one will be the kind of person who naturally feels love for oneself.  Because of the importance of self-love, self-acceptance, and self-esteem for loving others, and because so many people do not love themselves, loving oneself and loving others will be presented in a parallel fashion here.

Because parents call us selfish and punish us for being good to ourselves while ignoring the needs of others, we are now fearful of loving ourselves.  However, feeling love for oneself (feeling warmly and positively toward ourselves, enjoying our awareness of ourselves, wanting to ensure the we are treated well and have our needs satisfied) does not at all preclude feeling the same way toward others, and it does not prevent us from doing good both for others and for ourselves at the same time.  Most people view love or good will as an either-or game (either I get the toy or the other child gets the toy), but adults can work toward getting toys for everyone.  A loving nature and attitude in life extends naturally to both others and oneself.


A useful working definition of love is “a positive, warm, affectionate feeling involving attachment feelings, identification with the loved one, desire to be close or closer with the loved one, the wish for good things for the loved one, and pleasure experienced in contact with or contemplation of the loved one.”  Love truly “makes our world go round,” and it provides most of us with our clearest reason for experiencing life as worthwhile.

It should be recognized that with love, as with all other feelings, we each have a somewhat different personal definition of this feeling, since we learn our concepts and definitions from how we observe that others define them and from our own experiences.  The definitions that we observe in those around us, as well as our personal experiences, are somewhat different for each of us.  Still, if we are to seriously think about love, we need to be “on the same page,” and the definition offered here will be useful for exploring how we love and how we have difficulties loving and being loved.

Love is a warm, positive (pleasant) feeling, as opposed to a neutral, cold, or negative feeling.  When we love someone we feel warmly toward him, and it feels good.  Similarly when we love ourselves, we feel warm toward ourselves, and it feels good.  We feel affection (tender attachment and fondness) for the loved one.  When we love ourselves, we feel tenderness and fondness for ourselves.

When we love, we want to attach to the loved one, to be connected.  We long to be with and even touching the loved one all the time.  We are convinced that the loved one is wonderful and lovable, and we readily ignore the loved one’s flaws and occasional failures.  When we love ourselves, we are firmly connected with ourselves, rather than keeping ourselves at arms length because we see ourselves as unworthy and undesirable to attach to.

When we love, we identify with the loved one, as we do when we like someone.  We want to be like the loved one or identified with the loved one, since it feels good to be connected in this way and feels good to think of ourselves in terms of our similarities to the loved one.  In loving ourselves, we identify clearly with ourselves, knowing who we are and valuing and affirming who we are by identifying with ourselves.  We enjoy being connected with ourselves, because we are worth being with. In loving, we want to be close to the loved one.  Being near feels good and is comforting.  Closeness implies the possibility of interaction, but simply being close by is satisfying in its own right.  In loving ourselves, we enjoy being close with ourselves.  Since we enjoy ourselves and find ourselves valuable, it is enjoyable to be close with ourselves.

When we love someone, we want good things for them.  We want them to be happy and fortunate in life.  We want things to go well for them.  We feel pain empathically when a loved person is hurt.  Similarly when we love ourselves, we want good things for ourselves.  We know that we deserve all the good in life that is available, and our wishes for ourselves are unequivocally positive.

We take great pleasure in our contact with the loved one, and we enjoy simply looking at or thinking about the loved person, even without interaction.  The loved person is a positive object for us which we value as a source of good feelings and pleasant experiences.  The loved person is interesting to us.  When we love ourselves, we enjoy being in contact with ourselves.  We enjoy being aware of ourselves, observing our actions and being aware of every feeling and thought inside.  (This is consistent with a definition of self-esteem as positive feelings in response to the awareness of ourselves.)

The major definitional aspects of love in the current (11-2013) version of the Merriam-Webster online dictionary are consistent with the elements cited above: strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties;  attraction based on sexual desire; affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests; warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion; unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another.

It is instructive to reflect on the more differentiated view of love of the ancient Greeks.  “Eros” is generally what we think of as sexual desire or passion.  “Philia” is generally equivalent to friendship, seen with friends, family, colleagues, comrades in arms, etc.  Playful love, as between children or casual lovers, came to be called “ludus” in Latin.  “Pragma” referred to the deep connection and understanding possible between long-married spouses.  “Agape” or selfless love identified a general feeling of love for everyone, possibly extending to animals and the world itself.  “Philautia” referred to self-love.  As you will see, our working definition here focuses on all of these except eros, which our society has confused with the general concept of love due to the evolution over the last thousand years of the concept of a spousal relationship which is completely self-sufficient and needs nothing from outside.*



For contrast, let us look now at some of the things that love is not.  Our society’s current view is that the best love includes sex, and it downplays or ignores other forms of love.  This limited focus is so extreme that most people in our society think of love and sex as being the same thing.  As you will note regarding the Merriam-Webster elements above, they can be divided into two major groups of definitional elements, one having to do with affection and other warm but non-sexual feelings toward others, and the other being sexual attraction or desire.  Love, as we are defining it, is not passion or desire.  Pleasurable sexual interaction does result in positive feelings for one another, but these positive feelings fade in a day or two and must then be renewed through further pleasurable sexual interaction.  (A significant and longer term sexual relationship may result in permanent feelings of affection in some people.)  The term “lovemaking” suggests that sex is the same as love, but it is basically a euphemism for “having sex.”  People having sex may also, of course, feel love for each other, but engaging in sex is not motivated by loving the other person but rather by desire.  A sexual relationship is the most emotionally exciting connection that we can have, but that excitement usually does not last more than a few years, while love can continue to grow and become more satisfying and meaningful throughout our lifetimes.

Our society promotes this confusion of love and sex throughout the media.  Perhaps the most frequent theme in books and movies about relationships is unfulfilled sexual desire for another person.  A loves B, but B loves C, and A goes through agony trying to get B to notice or to love him or her.  This is always referred to as love and is never called desire, even though it is clearly desire and involves A’s wish for getting love from B (perhaps both sexual and non-sexual), not A’s love for B.  If A loved B and that were really the theme, then A would feel warm and affectionate toward B, rather than agony, and would be looking for ways to enhance the happiness of B in all appropriate ways.  This might involve finding out whether B would really prefer C or A, and if B preferred C, then A would help B improve his/her relationship with C.  (It is possible, of course, that A both loves B and desires B, but this gets all mixed up in our language, because we never separate these issues.  We say that A hurts so much because he/she loves B, not that A is happy because he/she loves B but at the same time hurts so much because his/her desire for B is being frustrated.) Spanish is a bit more helpful in this regard, since the phrase “te quiero” means “I want you,” not “I love you.”

Another insight on this is available by looking at what happens when a “love relationship” is “over.”  Usually A and B part and either forget each other and have no contact or complain about and criticize each other to their friends.  Could this have been love?  It clearly was some desire or want which was not satisfied or which ceased being satisfied.  If it had been the warm, positive, affectionate feeling we are calling love, then that feeling could logically continue long after A and B were no longer spending all their time together (except for the disappointment that many feel when the desire has faded, which for them spoils the warm, positive feelings that were also there, if they were there at all).  We are so blind to this that those couples who do continue to feel love for each other, even though they are not primary love objects or sex partners for each other, are a mystery to others.  We don’t even have a word to describe this condition.  They end up having to say that they are “still friends,” but this often does not do justice to their feelings, which are feelings of love and not just friendship.  This illustrates just how narrow-minded we are about “love,” acting as if love is worthwhile only if it resides in a primary relationship with one other person that involves sex.  We have trouble communicating, then, about the love we have for our children, since it is certainly not like the passionate desire which we are taught is the love that we should all be looking for.

More of the same confusion is illustrated in our statements of the type “I just love my job.”  We don’t mean that we feel affection or even desire or passion toward our job.  We really mean that we like it strongly, but in our vernacular, liking that gets stronger and stronger has nowhere to go descriptively except into “love.”

Our first experience of love, from our parents as they care for us as infants, certainly should not lead to the confusion between desire and love (even if both have roots in Freud’s “libido”).  Clearly parental love is not desire but is love as defined in our working definition for this essay.  It would be helpful if we all tried to use the right terms for what we are talking about, because the confusion leads to heartache and suffering.  It is an old and oft repeated story how the “loved one” takes “I love you” to mean something other than what the speaker really means.  Most usually in this everyday tragedy, the speaker means “I want you” or “I want something from you,” and the hearer wants it to mean and takes it to mean something more along the lines of affection and commitment.  Then when B deserts A, A wails, “But I thought you loved me!”  Be honest when you describe your feelings to others.  If you like them, say that.  If you want them or want something from them or with them, say that.  If you love them, say that.

This is not to say that there is not deception on both sides of this universal hunt for “love.”  It is another old story that men trade love for sex and women trade sex for love.  Many times, both “lovers” want to believe that desire and passion are the same as love and as long as they can maintain their passion then their longings for love will be fulfilled.  Sadly, passion is not love, and the “in love” type of passion changes over time, leaving the relationship exposed to decay if there is not also love present, either all along or developing over time.

The difference between passion/desire and love is perhaps most clearly seen by noticing that passion is wanting something from the “loved one” (in addition to the tremendous feeling of connection or twinship that is often felt) while love is wanting something for the loved one.  When people who are “in love” give to each other, it is usually in terms of their over-identification with each other, so that it is like giving to oneself–seeing oneself as part of this fusion with the lover.  In love as we are using it here there is also identification with the loved one but not this kind of fusion into one being that we see in “being in love” or that we feel in sexual union.  Love as desire frequently ends up as a contest or battle, as we try to get the response we want from the other person.   Concerns about whether the other person loves you, or loves you enough, or who loves who more, or who has given more (or given up more) frequently arise and can only make life harder for both parties rather than enriching the life of both.  In contrast, love as affection is a response to the loved one as he or she is right now, without a requirement that the loved one change or give something back.  Love which says, “I will love you if you will…,” is obviously not love but bribery.  Similarly, any test of love in the form of “if you loved me, you would…” is a statement of blackmail, since the speaker is using a “guilt trip” in order to get the other person to perform as desired.

Parenthetically, this discussion is an example of a more far-reaching principle that any emotion we have which requires a response or a change in someone else is going to cause trouble, because getting someone else to respond or change is only going to happen in a small percentage of cases, leaving us either frustrated or holding on endlessly to efforts to get the other person to respond or change.  This applies to any emotion–love, guilt, shame, loneliness, etc.  It works better to take responsibility for our own emotions, dealing with them ourselves, if possible, or perhaps seeking the desired response or change openly from someone else and then if it is not forthcoming, seeking what we need somewhere else or changing our own responses and interpretations of events instead of blaming the world.

Some part of the physiological response which we identify with love may well have to do with wanting to return to a state of being taken care of completely, as when we were babies.  There is a similarity between the feelings of both love and passion and the feeling of complete satisfaction of all needs, as in childhood, perhaps because of this connection.  But love is not simply being satisfied, since it also involves affection and other emotional and cognitive responses to the loved one.

We could be more clear with each other about our feelings if we adopted the several Greek terms for various types of loving relationships, but for the moment let us simply separate sexual desire and passion from the other aspects of love.


Love is not selfish or self-centered, and self-love is not selfish or self-centered either.  As we have discussed the difference between desire and love, it is clear that desire is self-centered and gives to the loved one mainly to get back.  Love, however, with part of its definition being the impulse to give to the loved one in order to enhance the loved one’s well-being, cannot be called selfish or self-centered.  Usually this confusion between loving oneself and selfishness arises from selfish parents accusing the child of being selfish and self-centered, when he or she is loving toward himself or herself, because they want to be obeyed and use guilt-trips like this to bully the child into being more responsive.  Sometimes parents say this because they want all the child’s love for themselves and do not wish the child to love anyone else, including himself.

Everything that we do is self-motivated, because we can only do what we choose to do.  (Think about it if you are unsure of this.  Try to do something you are not choosing to do.  You will not be able to do it.)  L. S. Barksdale makes this point very well in his books on self-esteem.  In this sense, everything is “selfish.”  For the concept of selfishness to have meaning, that meaning must be something like “actions are selfish when the person performing them could reasonably be expected to choose another action–one which would take better account of others’ interests in addition to his own.”  If a person takes her lunch to work and then eats it, we rarely call this selfish.  If a person takes her lunch to work and someone else there has forgotten his lunch, it is usually not considered selfish if she eats her lunch and does not share it.  If that someone else is sitting there watching her eat and talks about how much he needs to eat something and how vexed he is that he forgot his lunch,  she could be thought by some people to be selfish if she does not offer to share her lunch with him.  Other people would not see this as selfish, but would see the other person as appropriately getting the consequences of forgetting his lunch by not having any lunch.  As stated above, selfish is when someone could be reasonably expected to do something different than he does–something that would respond to others’ needs or feelings more than the originally chosen action.


Love is not self-sacrifice, which is another source of confusion in our culture.  Very often we hear things to the effect that someone loves someone else a great deal as proved by the fact that the person sacrificed himself and his needs in some way for the loved one.  Our discussion just above puts the lie to this superficial understanding of people.  Everything you do is what you have chosen to do, and if that is true, then what is sacrifice?  Giving to others is to be commended, but if we choose to give to others, then that is what we are choosing to do, so how can it be sacrifice?  If a mother saves all her money for her children’s education and as a consequence does not live in as nice a house or have clothes that are not as nice as she could have had if she were not saving that money for her children, then she is making a choice of what to do with that money.  Her circumstances are changed by her choice, but the thing she has chosen to do–to save the money–she wants to do more than she wants to spend it on herself.  Is that sacrifice?  If she was responsible for her choice, then she did exactly what she wanted to do.  If she made that choice not just for her children but so that we would think her a good mother, then once again she is getting exactly what she wanted.  If she made that choice so that she would not feel guilty about spending the money on herself, then she is getting exactly what she wanted.

Parents do not love their children for the sake of the children, but because it is natural to do so.  They are motivated by their own needs and feelings to love the children.  (Of course, the sight and sound of children and their needs may play an important role in eliciting this natural response on the part of parents.)  Someone who sacrifices for the sake of someone else actually does so in his or her own best interest.  A person who gives by choice benefits by that giving, through feeling good about himself or herself, through enjoying the pleasure of the receiver, or through other self-satisfactions.  Love is not self-sacrifice, since everyone benefits from love.

If a mother tells her children how much she loves them and how much she is giving up for them, she can be setting up a problem for the children.  If gratitude and love are enough for them to give her, then things will be all right, but if the children come to associate love with being guilty, then it will sour their view of love.  We cannot call this love if it leads to guilt and poor self-esteem for the “loved one,” since love seeks the best interest of the loved one.  “Love” which requires guilt or sacrifice in return is not love, but selfish desire.  Children with a mother like this grow up wary of love, because they know that “love” will always end up taking something from them.  Anything given in true love is freely given, and this giving feels good to the person doing it.

Another way to see the problem with a sacrificial view of love is that if you really did make the loved one’s needs more important than your own, it would literally make you crazy.  As discussed above, it is natural to make choices on the basis of what one views as his best interest, and if this is not done, it will result in depression or psychosis.  If we make others’ needs more important than our own, then “love” hurts and diminishes us.

If making other’ needs more important than our own has bad emotional consequences for us, perhaps another possibility would be making others’ needs as important as our own, but not more important.  By doing this, we would certainly treat others with respect and consideration enough to make for a better society.  If someone else’s needs are truly equally important, then do we do what will benefit us or what will benefit the other person?  We could take turns, but this doesn’t seem like a very satisfying solution.  Fritz Perls defined neurosis as basically the confusion between acting on our needs and acting on the basis of others’ needs.  Any system of ethics that is based on strict equality encourages keeping count of exactly how much everyone gets, and this overconcern about being shorted is quite the opposite of the generosity which we so appreciate in others.

Perhaps the best solution is to simply act on our feeling of love and to seek “win-win” actions, which benefit others as well as ourselves.  Acting on our feelings of love makes giving natural and satisfying, rather than the result of some score-keeping process.  Finding solutions or actions that benefit everyone is not always possible, but it is a good practice, and it keeps us mindful of others’ needs and rights.  If people could accept love and expressions of love when they are naturally available and not feel deprived when they are not, this whole problem would disappear.  Having good self-esteem goes a long, long way toward making this kind of maturity possible.  With good self-esteem, we are relatively self-sufficient and can allow others to be themselves, even when that sometimes means that they are not doing exactly what we might like at that moment.  To have to keep score and to be upset when others are getting a little more than we are usually comes from childhood feelings of jealousy or envy (of love or of material benefits) with respect to siblings or others in our families.  Hopefully as we mature we can relax somewhat about this and accept what is given and available to us with good grace, at least as long as things are basically fair.


For most people, the circle of loved ones is limited to family and a very few others.  Most relationships in our society are too limited or too adversarial to permit the development of the sorts of familiarity and closeness which are usually associated with the development of love.  In a pure sense, however, love does not require safety or familiarity, only the willingness to love.  There are those who seem able to love practically everyone, even those who oppose or harm them, but it is so rare that we are amazed to observe it.  We, too, could almost certainly expand our ability to love in this same direction.  We will not be “in love” with all those other people (because that comes with passion), but we will feel loving toward them.  We will feel warmly and positively toward them, affectionate toward them, and identify and empathize with them.  We will feel attachment and will enjoy being close to them.  We will wish good things for them.  Expanding our abilities to love would produce wonderful changes in our society and in the world.


Not “Deserving” Love

Let us review next some of the barriers to loving and being loved.  Self-rejection and non-acceptance are at the top of the list.  If you reject yourself and do not accept yourself, then you will have difficulty accepting love from others (or from yourself) because you do not “deserve” it and are therefore not lovable.  You would see yourself as not good enough or not have enough of some quality to deserve love.

Assuming that you have not in the immediate past done something for which you feel quite bad and therefore temporarily unlovable, the culprit here is usually in your history.  You have received treatment and messages from others that you have interpreted as meaning that you did not deserve love, and you still believe it.  Usually this comes from parents, but it may certainly be added to by peers, other authority figures, and “significant others.”  If they treat us poorly, instead of seeing the situation realistically (as adults), we interpret it (as children) to mean that we must not be lovable or we do not deserve love.  This follows immediately from our tendency to see rewards as having to be earned or at least merited.  If mother feeds me, it must mean that I deserve food at that moment, since sometimes if I am particularly difficult about eating, she stops feeding me.  Therefore I want my behavior or my being to create deservingness at all points in time.  It would be more realistic to say that “I deserve food all the time, but sometimes my behavior makes it too difficult for mother to feed me,” just as one could say “I deserve love all the time, but sometimes my behavior makes it difficult for others to love me.”

Believing that we must not have deserved love is our attempt to explain what happened.  It is not a direct description of what happened, though, because it is not based on the actual feelings or perceptions of the other person as well as on his or her behavior toward us.  This type of error in interpretation stems from another human characteristic–that we would rather have an explanation than live without one, even if that means that we live with great pain as a consequence of our incorrect explanation.  This is because of our tremendous need to feel that we are in control and that we can control our circumstances.  Being in control in this situation is having an explanation, even though there is not anything that one can do about it directly.  The control that the child has “knowing” that he or she would be treated better, loved and accepted, if he or she were the way he or she was supposed to be.  Theoretically, then, the child could work on being more the way he or she is supposed to be, and therefore be in control and achieve the goal of being loved.

In reality, in most of those situations, no matter what the child did, no matter how the child was, the treatment or response would not have been any better from the adults who were there, but it feels better to the child to “know” what would make things better and to be able to try, than it does to have no explanation and be totally helpless.  Many people go through their lives without love and with poor self-esteem, feeling awful much of the time, because they cannot escape the consequences of this choice to distort reality by believing that they were undeserving and need to be different somehow before they can be deserving.  The price paid is enormous.

Fear of Love

Sometimes being as hurt and disappointed about lack of love as many of us are can lead to a fear of love.  We either become convinced that every experience of love will end up hurting us or being taken away from us and so avoid it like the plague, or we believe that to feel loved now will be so painful, because of all we have been through, that we can’t stand it (since it reminds us of the all that pain of not being loved).  These avoidances are again understandable but must be changed.  There is no god or keeper of your fate that watches to see when you get something good so that it can then be taken away from you.  It might have seemed like this to you as a very young child, but it is not in fact true.  Look around you, and reality will convince you.  You are not different from others.  No one is taking happiness away from them, and no one takes happiness away from you.  If some real people in your life were so cruel that they regularly destroyed your happiness, then that was their fault and their problem.  If you do not let those people or others like them be close to you and control your life now, then you can prevent this sort of thing from continuing.

Insisting on Love From Specific Others

Another barrier to love is insisting on getting it from particular others or only in certain ways.  An example might be insisting that one will not feel loved or accepted unless mother provides that love and acceptance.  Oftentimes this someone is the person who created the problem in the first place, and the child (now adult) is in effect insisting on going back and starting over from where things went wrong originally. This sort of insistence is understandable but not productive.  It may be impossible to get that love from that person, living or dead.  It may also lead to a deadlock in which by setting such a condition, you never get what you really want.  It also ignores the fact that love is just as wonderful wherever it comes from.  What people like this refuse to face is that mother (or whoever) can actually “get away with it” and never give what she should have given.  If you keep insisting on getting it from mother, you have the illusion that the wrong is going to be righted, whereas in reality it may never be put right.  You may simply have to accept that you can’t get what you should have gotten, that even though it was not your fault, you are helpless to change what happened, and it is not going to be made up to you.  It isn’t fair.  That is a lot to face sometimes, but the pain must be faced.

Refusing Love from Oneself

A related barrier is insisting on love from others rather than from oneself.  Anger and resentment often play a strong part in this—feeling angry about the love you did not receive and insisting that it be made up to you.  As noted above, it almost never happens that someone makes up for something like this to anyone at a later time.  You will simply go to your grave angry and unloved.

People may not want their own love and insist that it must come from others or from certain other people because they don’t value themselves enough.  Clearly, if they valued themselves more, they would be more willing to accept and value their own love for themselves.  People like this will say that since they are garbage themselves, their love is worthless to them or to anyone else.  Actually this is the kind of self-put-down which is begging for someone else to contradict it and to say, “Oh, no, that’s not true–your love is valuable.”  People always have deep within themselves a voice which still hopes and still believes in their value, so statements like this are an expression of surface games, either with oneself or with others around one.  The problem here is the person’s reluctance to feel the pain and the goodness which come from really facing oneself honestly.  When there are no more games and no more deceptions, there is both pain and solidness–the pain of accepting reality and the solidness of one’s real self instead of the insubstantiality of an unreal identity or sense of oneself.  Your own love is just as valuable (and a lot more trustworthy) than the love of others, wonderful as that love from others can be.  Work on accepting your own love for yourself and enjoying it.

Sometimes the reluctance to accept one’s own love is based in feelings of helplessness.  You may feel that since you have never been loved in a healthy way by someone else, you can’t feel loved because you don’t know what it feels like, and you can’t love yourself because you have never observed anyone else do it.  These are genuine barriers, but they can be overcome.  They seem “logical” at first, but they are not really that strong.

If you are one of those who insist on first getting love from others before you will consider loving yourself, take careful stock of yourself in regard to feeling loved.  Be sure that your complaint that no one ever loves you is accurate, or whether in fact love has been available to you but you have, out of fear, been unable to accept it.  In a more positive vein, remember that the most effective way to elicit treatment that we want from others is to treat ourselves that way.  If you want love from others, the best way is to treat yourself lovingly.  If you love yourself, then love will come from outside as well.

Definitional Restrictions

In addition to insisting on first getting love from others rather than oneself, there are other restrictions often placed on love.  A trivial sort of example might be someone who will not believe in another’s love unless that person sends roses.  Roses are seen as the true symbol of love, and this is used as a test for whether love is “real.”  A more insidious example is a person who insists that love means that you will do what he or she wants, so that if you believe that a relationship is a two-way street, this person will never believe that you love him or her, because sometimes you will not do exactly what he or she wants.

Infants sometimes have this illusion about how their parents love them and accept them with no consequences to them no matter what they do (completely unconditional love), and it is a wonderful feeling, but it was an illusion in the first place.  If these infants do not become able to accept necessary standards for their behavior in the world, then they will be perpetual misfits.  As an adult it is very difficult to fool yourself into believing this illusion.  If you as an adult are insisting that you will not feel loved unless you are loved while being exactly who you are at all times and being allowed to do whatever you want to do, then you are going to wait forever.  It’s better to accept a more realistic view of love and the genuine benefits of it than to grieve your life away because you can’t have your ideal.

Another way in which people put an impossible restriction on love is the insistence that love be endless and that the person who loves never leave.  This is like saying “I don’t want to ever be disappointed, so if you are ever going to leave me, I won’t accept love from you.”  Since everyone will eventually leave, through death if for no other reason, this person will never accept love from anyone.  Whether you consider it sad or just reality, nothing in life is guaranteed or perfect.  It is better to experience and get beyond one’s sadness and disappointment about this than not to really live–that is, never to try or risk or love or proceed with something not knowing how it is going to turn out.

We see more subtly this unrealistic expectation that love never end in the common statement after the end of a love relationship, “Well, I guess it wasn’t love.”  The assumption is that if it had been love, then the two people would have continued to love each other and stayed together.  It is likely, of course, in many of these situations, that the two people did feel love for each other (in addition to passion), at least to some extent and at some times.  The love they felt was evidently not enough to keep them together (and there are often economic, cultural, and other factors which are even more responsible than love for the ending of relationships).  This is no reason to devalue it by saying that it wasn’t love at all.  Love is valuable, from whatever source, and whenever it is available.

If you can feel loved only while feeling passion or desire, then you are set up to feel unloved much of the time.  If passion disappears from a relationship, it doesn’t mean that there had been no love or that love is gone as well, but this obviously is dependent on perceiving love as different from desire and as being more enduring.

If you recognize love only in people trying to manipulate you with guilt or self-sacrifice, then of course you are going to shy away from love because it is so painful.  The confusions of love with desire and self-sacrifice are the main contents of the soap operas which take up hours on television each day, so you can be sure that many, many people suffer from these confusions and struggles.

People who have been significantly abused can confuse love and pain.  (This is the origin of masochistic tendencies, as well.)  These people may feel they are being loved later in life when they are actually being abused, and we can understand how they might also shy away from love because of their belief that love hurts and hurts very badly.  It would obviously not be desirable to promote being loved and loving if that were guaranteed to increase pain, guilt, self-sacrifice, or the lonely longing of unrequited romantic desire.

It is easier to accept redefinition, of course, if you can say that your mother really did love you along with doing other things to you.  It is harder to accept if when you take a fresh look at things you find that she really didn’t love you at all.  If your mother didn’t love you at all, and all you got were manipulations, then you as a child would naturally cling to any way of feeling loved that you could, even if you had to deceive yourself to achieve this.  I believe, though, that as an adult, it is now better to see the truth and be freed from your false beliefs, even though that may be painful, so that you can go on to find genuine love in your life.


Even after you have made progress with your definitional difficulties, it may still be hard to feel love or to feel loved.  The most common barrier here is being gun-shy about the hurt that has been experienced along with love and therefore being afraid to risk feeling loved and feeling love without guarantees.  Unfortunately life does not permit those kinds of guarantees.  What life gives is opportunity, endless opportunity.  There are so many people to love and who may love us that it is like a starving person walking by a restaurant with a sign offering free food without going in because he is afraid he’ll have to wait too long for the meal to be served or because he is afraid they won’t have the things he likes best on the menu for that day.  Such a person is losing out on what is available.

Some people have been so hurt in relationships in which they should have been loved better, particularly with parents, that even to feel love would bring up so much pain that they just don’t want to do it.  There is no easy answer for this.  You have to get started somehow, and getting started means clearing up that pain from the past, so you can live in present reality without being controlled by the past.  You must experience and get through that pain, whether you can do it yourself or you need the help of another (good friend, counselor, therapist).

Keep in mind that the pain itself is not going to kill you.  Your reaction to the pain and your interpretation of the pain are the problems.  Reacting to the pain with “this hurts so much that no one should have to bear this, so I won’t bear it either” leaves you stuck getting nowhere.  If you let yourself experience and endure the pain, it will pass, and you will get better.  Interpreting the pain as indicating that you are an unlovable and undeserving person (since that was your conclusion earlier in your life when you first felt that pain) would simply keep you mired in your pain and poor self-esteem.

It is critical to convince yourself that the fact that some particular person, even your parent, did not love you or did not love you well does not at all mean that you are unlovable or undeserving.  If you thought that as a child, as many children do, then you must take charge of that thought and change it.  It is irrational and unjust.  If you really believe it after carefully thinking it through, then there is something wrong with your thinking.  You are putting a condition on love, like “in order to be lovable, you have to be loved by your parents,” or “if your parents can’t love you, then who can?” or “obviously you must be perfect in order to be loved, and I wasn’t perfect.”  You might have wished with all your might to be loved well by your parents, but if they couldn’t do it, then they simply couldn’t do it, and that is not your fault, and it doesn’t say anything about your lovability in the rest of the world and the rest of your life.  You must work on this until you get it straight.

Loyalty to Significant Others

A final barrier to love is loyalty to significant others, usually parents and family.  When parents have loved a child inadequately, occasionally the child feels so fiercely loyal to the parents that he or she insists that nothing better is available because what he or she got must have been OK.  The child refuses to acknowledge the inadequacies of the parents and prefers not to be loved better rather than admitting that the parents did not do a good job.  By doing this reframe, the child thereby refuses to feel the pain of being loved poorly by refusing to admit even to himself or herself that there was anything wrong.  This also has the “benefit” that the person can avoid whatever anger he or she might feel about the poor parenting.  Again the answer here is to become willing to feel the pain, so that one can move on from there and find better things for oneself in life.

Our loyalties to the past sometimes serve us well and sometimes do not.  It is nice to feel secure in one’s traditions and network of relationships, but sometimes these loyalties are a trap that keeps us in a pattern of feeling unloved (even if we have to fool ourselves about it) and bad  about ourselves for not deserving to be loved.  You must take a look at how loyalties to parents or family or friends or other parts of the past or present are keeping you from feeling your full and true feelings.  Once you understand this, then you can consider how you could change or reframe those loyalties so that you are free to be a different person and to feel better about yourself.

For example, if your mother used “love” as a means of inducing guilt in you and getting her own way, and she represented loving yourself as selfish and wrong (because that would make you more independent of her and less responsive to her guilt manipulations), then you may have grown up suspicious of love and unable to love yourself, because of your experience with her as well as your loyalty to her.  Recognizing this, you could decide that you want to be able to love yourself and that you are willing to change your relationship with your mother in order to gain this ability to love yourself (and be better loved by others).  This does not mean that you must change your mother, although this is the approach most commonly tried.  It is more productive and more responsible to change your own way of looking at things and dealing with things.

You could change your view of love to recognize that when your mother uses “love” to gain leverage, she is not loving you but is using you instead.  You could decide therefore not to be manipulated in this way, realizing that you have no obligation to pay back love (which is always given freely) and therefore need not feel guilty about not being controlled by your mother.  You could seek more loving relationships with other people, and you could discuss the issue with your mother if you wanted to try to establish a more loving relationship between the two of you.  If she continued to use the same maneuvers as before, you could simply stop responding to them with guilt and compliance.  Instead you could do what you felt like doing for her, out of love or respect, but do nothing out of guilt.  Your mother might be upset about not being able to control you like she could before, but you could let her be responsible for her feeling in that regard, just as you are taking responsibility for your guilt and poor self-esteem and are doing something about them.  You must believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own feelings and be willing to let your mother be responsible in that regard (and be upset for a while if that is the result).

The separateness of being more independent may feel strange to you, even lonely for a while, but you will get used to this as you develop sources of true love and nurturance for yourself, including that which you learn to give yourself.  You would probably also have to deal directly with the pain of guilt when you first begin to insist on taking control of your own feelings.  There is no way to pre-change those feeling reactions.  We cannot do some magic in the head before we first make a behavioral change so that we immediately feel comfortable with the change.  Knowing this, however, you can accept this as the natural sequence of events, and know that as you change behaviors, you will have to work at the same time to change your feeling reactions (by changing your understanding of things and by expressing and ridding yourself of old feelings).

If we follow this particular pain back in time (the pain of not doing what your mother wants), we will find your fear of punishment when you didn’t do what your mother wanted and your terror at being rejected by her (and therefore dying from not being fed and taken care of).  Children react to these emotions by learning (forcing themselves) to conform to expectations and rules and to keep authority figures happy by not resisting or disobeying.  To go against these conditioned responses in yourself, you must recognize where the present emotion you are feeling is coming from (from those experiences of childhood fear and terror), recognize the inappropriateness of those previous feelings to your present situation, and consciously act in different ways in the present than you would “naturally” have done (go against your mother’s expectations rather than conform in order to avoid the feelings of fear and terror).  It is also very helpful to allow yourself to fully experience those early feelings of fear and terror and let yourself express yourself naturally in response to those feelings, whether that is by crying or screaming or crouching on the floor, because going through this natural expression (instead of avoiding the feelings by automatically conforming) helps you to experience that you have met those feelings (and by implication, the situation which involved those feelings) and survived.  You must know that you will survive the feelings and the current situation, in order for you to take the risk of a new and different behavior.  (The theory and the mechanics of this type of emotional expression based on past experiences has been highly developed by Dr. Ed Edelhofer in his Integrative Affective Therapy.)


One important way in which we translate love into our experience and our actions is compassion.  Wisdom, maturity, and compassion are the keys to living wisely, deeply, and compassionately (which in my opinion is a life with the greatest likelihood of including peacefulness, success, loving and gratifying relationships, good self-esteem, satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment).

Compassion is an attitude and a feeling state composed of warm concern for another with regard to what we perceive as the negative feelings or life status of that other person, together with a desire for positive life status and outcomes for the person.  (Webster’s Ninth Collegiate dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”)  Compassion is based in an empathic understanding of the status and outcomes of that person or persons.  It implies that one will manage his behavior so that it will not lead to negative life status and outcomes for the person of concern, and it may (but need not) lead to actions designed to enhance the life status and outcomes of the person.  One can also feel compassion for more than one person, as well as for non-human beings and for the earth, as well as for oneself.

Compassion is the sympathetic tug at our heartstrings that we feel upon observing or becoming aware of a person’s emotional pain, distress, or suffering.  We might feel compassion for the bereaved, for a rejected spouse or lover, for victims of an earthquake, or for a child disappointed in grades or sports accomplishments.  We might feel compassion for those suffering from living under a brutal government.  Compassion does not require that suffering be great to qualify, and we can even feel compassion for those suffering from the results of their own poor choices, such as the genuine grief of a spouse being divorced for having an affair.  (Self-induced suffering can, of course, be a larger behavioral pattern in the person’s life that is causing him significant problems.)  If it is expanded to concern for all persons, compassion is like having a loving attitude toward the whole world, with the addition of wanting any suffering and distress to be alleviated.

How Compassion Is Valuable To Us All

Human beings thrive emotionally on being understood, having our feelings and concerns recognized by others, and knowing that others are positively disposed toward us—all elements of compassion.  We all warm to and value people who relate to us in these ways.  (Only those who are extremely afraid of losing love and being betrayed reject compassion and refuse to allow themselves to warm to it.)  The more people we have around us who have warm, positive concern for us, the more comfortable we are (and the more likely we are to also be compassionate ourselves).  Almost everyone would choose to have more rather than fewer compassionate persons as friends and associates.

The Processes of Compassion

Compassion occurs through an empathic process of being aware of the emotional state of another.  Deepening and sharpening our empathy capacities can therefore broaden and deepen our compassion.

Compassion is above all else a feeling of warm concern for the person and wanting the person’s distress or suffering to be reduced.  This requires that we be able to step outside of our personal concerns sufficiently to be genuinely concerned for another person—concerned for that person’s sake only and not for ourselves or regarding the impact of the situation on ourselves.  The desire for a positive outcome for another must flow from the warm, positive feeling of connection that we feel with the other person, even if we do not know that person.  This relationship may be the fellow-feeling that we can have with any other person, simply because we are both human beings.  The benefits of our feeling of positive concern for others is maximized if we can relate in this way to all others and not just to our closest friends and relatives.

Using our capacities for empathy, we sense the psychological state of the other person and come to appreciate the subtleties and complexity of that person’s feelings and thoughts, including the distress that she feels.  This requires experiencing, albeit from a distance and in a reduced intensity, the other person’s feelings and intuiting her thoughts, and doing this for long enough that we have time to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the person.

Using our empathic understanding of the other person and her distress or negative psychological state, we imagine a better state or outcome for the person, whether that is simply relief of suffering or the achievement of a positive feeling state.  The quality of our empathy will determine whether our imagined improved condition for that person is what the person would actually want or benefit from.  If we are motivated to possibly take action to help, it can be even more effective to find out directly from the person what outcomes she views as desirable.  (There will be times, of course, when we “know” that the outcomes desired by the person are in fact not in her best interest, which leaves us with a dilemma.)

Having compassion does not require that we act to create the desired positive outcome for the other person, but to do so would flow naturally from feeling compassion.

It is important that we not be envious of another person’s positive outcomes, or else we might not sincerely want positive outcomes for him.

What Compassion Is Not

Compassion is not simply concern, since it must also include desire that the other person’s distress be alleviated.

Compassion is not simply helping others, since it must also include felt concern.  Helping others may flow from compassion, but it can also be a way for the helper to avoid feeling another’s pain.

Compassion is not love, since love involves also (1) wanting to be close or closer to the loved one and (2) wanting and acting to bring about what is best for the loved one, in a proactive sense as well as by alleviating distress.  Compassion and love do share, however, a similar warm, positive feeling or stance toward the others involved, as well as a desire for those others to feel “good” rather than “bad.”

Feeling compassion for others does not aim at getting anything back.  It does not seek reciprocity.

Compassion is not pity, since pity is defined as “sympathetic sorrow…,” while compassion is awareness and concern regarding another’s distress.

Compassion is not feeling sorry for another, since feeling sorry for someone is often an isolating response rather than warm concern (along the lines of “I sure wouldn’t want to be that person”).  (In recent years, many people inaccurately understand pity to be feeling sorry for another.)

Compassion is not sympathy, which is defined (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) as a relationship in which things affecting one person similarly affect the other, as emotional or intellectual accord, or as “the act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings or interests of another” (which is more similar to “empathy”).

Compassion is not felt from a consciously superior position, since that would probably not include a warm, positive feeling toward the other person.

Most people whom we perceive to be compassionate are stable and trustworthy in their compassion—i.e., if they have compassion for us today, they will have compassion for us another time also, given the same circumstances.  There are some, though, who mouth concern but whose feelings are capricious.  One test for this might be whether the person claiming to be concerned is actually in touch with the pain of the person he is concerned about.  To feel compassion involves feeling another’s pain empathically, though in diluted form.  The person feeling compassion chooses to pay this price because feeling concern for and relatedness with others is desirable.  Those who do not wish to pay this price skip the step of contemplation of the other person’s situation and pain, not living with it long enough to have a comprehensive empathic sense of the other person’s psychological state.  Some of these people, who wish not to feel the other person’s pain, immediately throw significant energy into alleviation of that pain.

Enhancing Compassion

Enhancing or maximizing compassion in us all is desirable because the more connection we feel with others (and especially with all others), the more giving, understanding, and trustworthy we are likely to be toward others (and they toward us).  The concern and positive relationship that we feel with others and the desire that we feel that they have positive (rather than negative) status and outcomes make it more likely that we will express that concern to others, and this makes it more likely that, going beyond compassion, our concern will turn into action aiming to achieve positive outcomes for others.

Since compassion requires empathy, for appreciating the experience and psychological state of the other, enhancing our empathic capacities can increase our capacity for compassion.  The biggest barriers to better empathy are being inaccurate in our understanding of others, being unwilling to feel the negative feeling states of others, and judging and rejecting those whose behavior we dislike.  Having better empathy calls on us to (1) understand others in greater detail and more accurately, (2) be better able to tolerate first our own and then others’ negative states and distress so that we can truly understand them, and (3) accept others as they are, so that we can feel compassion even for those whose behavior we find repugnant.  It is easy to feel sorry for those who suffer because of “misfortune” but much harder to feel genuine concern about and to wish for a better state for those who have harmed others (e.g., those who have murdered or molested others) or those who suffer because of their own “bad” choices (anorexics, adulterers, etc.)!

Understanding others in greater detail and more accurately requires learning more about the subtleties of thoughts, feelings, and motives of people.  Paying greater attention to our own complexity is a first step—recognizing all of our emotions, even the unpleasant and embarrassing ones, noticing all of our thoughts, even those we don’t like, and acknowledging how we criticize, judge, and reject others.  Applying the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others can be enlightening!

Our ability to tolerate the negative states of others that we experience empathically can be enhanced by learning to tolerate and live with our own negative emotions better.  For most of us this means accepting those negative feelings and allowing ourselves to really experience them instead of automatically denying or repressing them before we process them or allow them to fade.  This does not mean liking negative states but simply allowing ourselves to experience them fully instead of immediately and automatically pushing them away or altering them.

Accepting others even when we don’t like them or like their behavior is a different approach to interpersonal relations than most of us learn growing up.  Most of us use rejection and harming others as our way of trying to get them to change their behavior (hurting, shaming, embarrassing, criticizing, ignoring, distancing, guilt-tripping), but a more positive approach is to accept everyone basically as a person but use communication and education to seek change in their behavior.  This means that we would state clearly what we don’t like to the other person (after considering honestly whether the other person’s behavior is truly harmful rather than just inconvenient for us).  We would ask the other person for the specific change of behavior that we want, and if possible we would suggest other behaviors that could achieve that person’s goals just as well or better.  This communication should be done with an accepting or neutral rather than a critical tone, since a critical tone is another method of punishing.  Many people will object that if you don’t punish such people, they will never change, but these people are assuming that the way they themselves were treated (punishment) is how others should be treated, and they may never have experienced the pull toward positive behavior that genuine acceptance creates.  It is a fact that an accepting atmosphere leads to more significant change than a punishing environment, partly because the target person has no need to fight against the request for change.

Compassion has as its motive power the desire for the alleviation of distress or suffering in others, so in order to have compassion, one must care about others and their experience.  Caring means that the feelings of others matter to one and that one is interested enough in others’ status that one is aware of their experience.  In our modern world many people restrict their caring only to those close to them, so compassion could be enhanced by expanding that circle of caring.  It might seem unbearably unpleasant to be aware of the distress of so many others around the world when it seems so impossible to do anything meaningful about it, but an individual (such as yourself) who approaches everyone around him (acquainted or not) with compassion, does influence those others to be more caring and compassionate themselves, and this influence can spread.

Compassion is enhanced the more we are capable of selfless concern.  We are naturally motivated to take care of ourselves and do right by ourselves, but we can also consider the needs of others independent of how it might affect us, if we practice having this consideration, particularly by seeing things from the point of view of the other person (utilizing accurate empathy).  In any case, we would not be affected negatively by the diminished distress of the person for whom we feel compassion, as long as we were not envious of her improvement!

Compassion is enhanced through feeling kinship with all other persons.  We can care meaningfully about not only those we know and love but about everyone on the planet, if we consider and appreciate that every one of them has the same emotions, most of the same thoughts and fears, and the same desires and basic life goals that we do, even if those occur in a different language and a different culture.  We cannot influence the lives of all those other people separately, but we can through our attitude toward every individual make this a more comfortable and encouraging world for everyone.

In the “real world,” our interest in and concern for others often arises from a felt similarity (thinking or feeling that we are like the other person), but this will tend to restrict our compassion to those whom we perceive to be (superficially) like ourselves.  It is quite possible to extend your compassion to everyone if your warm, positive regard for others includes everyone, and you are willing to see deep enough into another person to realize that he or she is in fact just like you in many meaningful ways.

Since love and compassion have in common the desire for the distress of others to be alleviated, compassion can be enhanced by expanding your circle of love—i.e., feeling love even toward strangers.  This loving attitude toward strangers is another way to approach being compassionate.  It adds greatly to our own felt life experience to approach everyone with a loving attitude.

To practice compassion, identify some other person or persons to focus on.  Contact a place within yourself where you feel warm and positive, and focus on the other person while feeling that warm, positive feeling, including them in that warm, positive space.  Attend carefully to that person, with interest, in order to empathically understand his situation and feelings, particularly feelings of distress or suffering.  Suspend, for a time, any inclinations you have to reject the person or his behavior.  Take time to see the whole person and understand him comprehensively.  Relate to that person through your memory of having had similar feelings yourself.  Let concern for the other person arise in your feelings, and be aware of your desire for his distress to be alleviated.  Let this stance guide your future actions as they might affect that other person, whether or not you act directly to alleviate his distress of the moment.  In order to make compassion a central part of your personality, try to maintain this concern and warm, positive stance toward everyone you interact with, as well the other people in the world.


Empathy (the ability to feel, know, and/or appreciate what another person is feeling, thinking, or experiencing without being directly informed of it by the other person) is the one human ability that is most helpful to us in our efforts to have good relations with others and to live together harmoniously and productively.  If we could not appreciate what others are feeling, we would not care about them as we do.  If we could not intuit or “interpret” what others are thinking, we would not feel comfortable around them, because we could not predict what they would do next (and could therefore not “trust” them).  Empathy allows us to recognize our basic similarity to other people and therefore become willing be closer to them and to give them the same rights that we have.  Empathy also helps us to anticipate the reactions of others to various behaviors we might choose to do, so that we can then choose behaviors that will be most to our advantage. Empathy makes possible accepting others as they are, and it also makes possible (but is not sufficient for) choosing as our behaviors those that do not harm others and behaviors that benefit both ourselves and others.  (Without this empathic appreciation of others’ subjective experience, reason easily gets off course.)

Empathy is a key skill for coming to understand the deeper and comprehensive truth about human beings, since the more accurate information we have about people, the better we can understand them.  This includes understanding ourselves as well, since we often come to understand ourselves through understanding others.  Having empathy helps us to abandon the false assumption that so many people make that others feel about and view the world the same way that they themselves do (which leads to surprise, fear, and anger toward others when they are confronted with the fact that others are not just like them).

Being able to understand how people fail or make mistakes (and therefore understanding how they could avoid failing and making mistakes) is critical to being able to advise them or help them to do better.  Failures and mistakes usually flow from misunderstanding information about the environment, about oneself, or about others, and from purposive (though often unconscious) distortions of reality in order to avoid emotions or to justify desired actions.   A person is wise or mature partly to the extent that she accurately perceives these processes of misunderstanding and distortion in herself and in others.

Having empathy involves both emotional and cognitive components. We resonate with the other person’s expressions of emotions, and we also perceive the other person’s situation and place ourselves in that situation in order to imagine what the other person is feeling or otherwise experiencing.  We observe the cues from others in words, voice patterns, posture, movements, and facial expressions, and putting this together with what we perceive and what we know historically about the person’s current situation and concerns, we intuit or imagine and partially experience what that person is feeling and thinking.  This is a complicated process, and empathy is often only partially accurate and sometimes wrong.  Our internal processes are so complex that empathy generally captures only the highlights of what is happening for the other person, but the more we know about the cues that we see in a particular person and the more we know about his circumstances, the deeper and more accurate our empathy can be.

It should be clear that in order to have empathy for others, we must we willing to experience, at least to some degree, what the other person is experiencing.  Also, in order for us to make sense of what we experience of another person’s experience, we must have some familiarity with the sorts of things that the other person is experiencing.  Therefore, self-awareness provides the foundation for empathy, since in empathy we respond from our own past experience to cues that we think are telling us what others are thinking and feeling.   If we are not in touch with our own emotional experience, then we cannot make sense of the other person’s emotions.  We then adjust our initial impressions, which are based on our own similarities to the other person and her experience, using our knowledge of how we are different from her and how her circumstances are different from our own.

Empathy allows us to view firsthand the tendency that we have to view the world the way we want the world to be, as well as distorting reality in order to avoid unpleasant emotions and improve security and self-esteem.  (This concept of how we want the world to be, or how the world “should” be, is one way we have of preserving hope and of preserving the belief that there is some order and fairness to life.)

It takes us years of observing and trying to make sense of ourselves and others to develop accurate empathy, and it is critical that empathy be accurate if our actions based on our conclusions from that empathy are to be successful and beneficent and if our advice based on that empathy is to be helpful.  In this process of developing accurate empathy, the skill of facing reality squarely and not distorting our understanding in order to feel better ourselves or to spare others is clearly essential.

The typical difficulties we encounter in having accurate empathy are (1) not correctly perceiving another person’s situation, (2) not being familiar with the feelings likely to be associated with that situation (3) not wanting to feel the same painful or unpleasant feelings that the other person is feeling, (4) being afraid of being too close to others, (5) fearing that having empathy will mean that one will always give in to others’ needs, and (6) assuming that others feel and think the same way we do about the world (which they do not),

Accuracy of perception depends on paying attention, attending to all of the relevant factors in a situation (emotions, thoughts, others involved, the history of the person with similar situations, cultural context, etc.), and having some familiarity with the type of situation in which the other person finds herself.  We can choose to pay attention, to take seriously what is happening, and to learn enough about the world and its peoples to have some familiarity with a wide variety of situations.  (If we do not care enough to pay serious attention, we can only ask ourselves why knowing about and understanding others is not important to us.)

We should assess whether we have sufficient familiarity with the situation before we depend on empathy-generated information, whether it deals with relationships, expectations, customs, or coping with the world around us.  Fortunately, most situations are common to us all (getting along with others, doing our daily work), but many of us shy away from familiarity with internal situations such as dealing with depression or anguish.  Most of us could broaden and deepen our human awareness by learning more about dealing with emotions.  Learning about other cultures and knowing that our own culture’s customs are only one way to live can also help us to understand a broader array of people and situations.

Being empathic requires that we be willing to partially experience what others are feeling (with less intensity), both in terms of letting another person’s experience into ourselves and in terms of allowing ourselves to experience whatever emotions the other person is actually feeling.  If a person is not secure in his own boundaries, he is likely to avoid experiencing the feelings of others, since this could lead to uncertainty about identity and difficulty in making decisions.

Some people resist empathy because they do not wish to deal with emotional pain, whether it is their own or that of others.  They do their best to deny or otherwise avoid their own painful emotions, instead of dealing with them or managing them.  Such people are cut off from an important area of human experience, since if we cannot appreciate emotional pain, we are cut off from the information that such pain can give us about what needs to be done or improved in our lives.  Learning to accept and manage our own emotional pain can lead to greater ability to empathize with others (and to closer, more satisfying relationships with them).  This requires working to become more tolerant of the full range of our feelings.

Some people fear that closeness will result in “engulfment” (the primitive fear that if one is close with someone, one will be taken in or taken over and completely controlled by that person).  Engulfment fears may require psychotherapy if they are to be overcome.  Some people fear closeness because they fear being hurt or rejected in a close relationship, but this can be overcome by becoming more supportive and loving toward oneself, to help one better tolerate the negative things that others can sometimes do.

Some people resist having empathy for others because they think that it will mean being overly sympathetic toward others and giving in to others all the time.  Fortunately, this is not true.  Understanding others does not require letting them have their way.  Appreciating what others experience simply gives us more options.  Depending on history and circumstances, we may decide to let others have their way or to help them, or we may decide that it is appropriate or necessary for us to have what we want and for them to give way to us.  Being appropriately assertive in taking good care of ourselves is an essential skill in getting along with others, for we cannot get along well with others if we resent them for what we give to them.

Many errors in empathy arise from incorrectly interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because we believe that they react to stimuli and situations more or less as we do ourselves.  In terms of some basic life situations in our own culture, this may be true, but even within our own culture each person is unique, and the picture that each of us has in his or her head of the world is somewhat different.  We must realize that others may feel differently about things than we do and not assume that they feel the same as we do.  We imagine ourselves in their situation and note how we would feel, but we must then adjust our empathic understanding for the ways in which the other person is different from us.  Taking differences into account is especially important with a person from another culture or background, since that person will almost certainly have different assumptions than we do about the meaning of events and about how people are expected to feel about them.  The more ways in which the other person is different from us that we can take into account, the more accurate our empathy will be.

Realizing that others view and feel about the world differently than we do makes it more complicated to understand others and to predict their behavior, but that same insight will make our predictions more accurate and will allow us to tolerate them rather than reacting negatively to them because of our misunderstanding of them.

Having too little empathy is socially maladaptive, but some people have too much of it, as when they cannot escape from the feelings of others or when they suffer so much for others (in regard to what they understand to be the experience of those others) that they become dysfunctional themselves.   People with too much empathy will benefit from toning it down, but in order to do this they may have to deal with why others’ feelings are so influential with them, which may have resulted from their own permeable personal boundaries but may also be part of a pattern of putting others ahead of themselves in life in general.

Perhaps the key in this regard is that while using empathy, we partially experience (at a lower intensity) the experience of others, but at the same time we know that our experiencing of this is our experiencing. We are not actually experiencing the feelings of another person.  In other words, when we experience something empathically, it is still ourselves processing and experiencing the information and emotions.  In empathy we are not “taken over” by the experience of others so that we become those others and think and feel exactly what those others are thinking and feeling.  We are ourselves trying purposely to put ourselves into the shoes of others to understand better what others are experiencing.

The “proper” amount of empathy allows us to gladly join with others in their experience when we want to and withdraw from it when we wish.  It allows us to feel gratified when we affect the experience of others positively by our behavior, and it helps us to remember that we are basically similar to each other, having the same needs and emotions as everyone else.

Expand and deepen your empathy by paying more attention to others’ feelings and thoughts and relating them, as appropriate, to your own feelings and thoughts.  Purposely imagine what you believe they feel and think, based on your observations of them and using both your emotional resonance with them and your interpretations of what they say and what they do.  Don’t fight the awareness that these practices will bring.  Allow yourself to accept others for who they are (which does not mean that you like everything about them or allow them to take advantage of you).


Many human problems could be resolved or at least eased if we lived according to the principle that human beings are all fundamentally equals.  You are fundamentally the equal of others, and they are fundamentally equal to you.  Everyone has the right to expect equal treatment from others, and this includes being treated fairly.  In order to have a democratic society, everyone must have elements of basic equality.  In order to have a cooperative and amicable society, everyone must be treated fairly.

The alternative to general equality is a free-for-all in which everyone vies for a greater share and for more privileges than others have.  This free-for-all approach is more consistent than equality is with the general human tendency to always want and try to get more, but we have choice in the structural assumptions of our society, and we can choose greater equality, rather than the free-for-all, in order to maximize fairness and minimize conflict.  Over the centuries, we can see a slow progression of societal structures, moving from assigned and immutable roles (serf, peasant, master, slave, king, women as chattel) to greater social mobility and greater “rights” for previously disadvantaged groups, such as slaves, women, and those of ethnic backgrounds different from the majority.  It is clear that disadvantaged groups never lose their desire for greater equality and never give up their struggle toward greater equality

You deserve equal treatment with regard to the rules that apply to everyone in your status in any particular group.  As a member of the group of “citizens” you should have an equal right with all other “citizens” to vote, equal protection under the laws, etc.  As a member of your family, you should have equal respect and be accorded equal basic worth by the other family members.

Our attitudes about whether we are equal to others are established in childhood by how we are treated compared to others.  If a parent gives a child a lesser share (of food, toys, love, etc.) than that received by other family members (especially other children in the family), the child interprets this to mean that he is not as deserving or worthwhile as those who get more, and he feels inferior and of lesser value.  However, the fact that your parents gave you a smaller share or loved you less than others did not in fact mean that you deserved less or that you were not basically equal to others.

Being fundamentally equal to others does not, of course, imply that we are identical to others.  Every individual is unique, but we are all equal in terms of certain fundamental rights and in the ways that we should be treated by our fellow human beings.  Every person has the right to be treated equally with respect to rules and laws that apply to everyone of the same group (whether that group is the family, the school class, the work force, or society in general).  Every person should have an equal right to basic respect and acceptance, if the group is to function smoothly and with minimal conflict.

Neither does equality mean that we should all get exactly the same things in life. We are not identical to each other as individuals, and our circumstances are all different. You should not necessarily get the same number of toys as the children in some other family, but you should share in your own family’s wealth equally with the other children in your family. You should have equal opportunity to work, but if you choose not to work, then you have no right to expect others to supply you with an income equal to that of those who do work.

Status Hierarchies, Power, Superiority, and Inferiority

Human beings who are dominant over others get a larger share of the available goods than those they dominate.  Without assumptions about who will get more, efforts to sort out who is dominant could lead to constant conflicts and killings, so in order to stabilize these power arrangements, we create status hierarchies to define what share of the available goods each of us will receive.  People therefore strive to be above others in the status hierarchy in order to get more of what they want.  Those who get a larger share typically feel superior to and more highly deserving than those lower on the hierarchy, simply because they get a larger share.  (This derives from our childish reasoning that those who get more must deserve more and those who get less must be less deserving.)  People may also strive to be higher in the hierarchy simply to feel superior and thereby bolster shaky self-esteem.

Superiority and status inevitably damage the self-esteem of those placed in inferior (lower) positions.   People in inferior positions naturally attribute lesser value to themselves because they receive less of the available rewards.  This effect is enhanced if those in superior positions show contempt or demeaning attitudes toward them.

If we take basic equality seriously, then no nation, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, vocational, or other group can assert that its members are automatically “better than” or worth more than any other persons based on those identifiers.  Everyone is basically equal.  There is no evidence from history or from our current individual observations that proves (or even indicates) that any of these attempted group differentiations are true.  Catholics are not automatically better than Protestants.  The young are not automatically worth more than the elderly.  Smarter people are not worth more than people who are less intelligent.  Wealthier people are not better than poor people.  Citizens of the United States are not automatically better than citizens of England.  Etc., etc.  We know that such attempted distinctions are done to boost the self-esteem or group identification of individuals, but it would be better to find other ways to help with self-esteem or group identification than claiming status or basic value distinctions.

Our individualistic, competitive society is a perfect setting for people to demonstrate superiority over others and “being better than” others, by winning or by having more money, a better job, a better education, a better car, etc.  Many in our society have some awareness of the silliness and immaturity of this striving for superiority through consumer goods.  The bumper sticker “He who dies with the most toys, wins” pokes fun at our foolishness (although it does not suggest that we stop it).

Equality is not the most natural state for human societies, as we can see from human history.  The first rule of human societies is rule by power and the subjugation of other human beings to the interests of those who are powerful.  This order is maintained by killing anyone who disagrees.  None of us is above such attitudes.  Many perfectly upstanding, moral citizens two hundred years ago believed that it was perfectly OK to enslave other human beings, and that this was acceptable in the eyes of God as well.  The historical subjugation of women and the rejection of gay persons are other examples.  The long history of struggles for human rights demonstrates that those who are made inferior, whether that is in families or in society in general, do not rest until the inferiority is erased.

Since a situation of forced inequality is fundamentally unstable, since people will continue to strive to achieve equality until they reach it, and since fundamental equality is more fair than inequality, equality would seem to be the best choice of a social ethic (assuming that most people do wish to minimize inequality and unfairness).  It is my personal belief that superiority-inferiority systems, including our own society, have a basically immoral quality, partly because they reliably establish negative self-esteem in those who are inferior.  It would be a much better world if we gave up striving for superiority completely and turned our attention to accepting ourselves as we are and enjoying the fruits of being who we are (without comparing ourselves with others).


We develop a sense and concept of fairness quite early in childhood, as we realize that there are limited resources and that others may well get what we want if we do not compete for it.  At first we compete simply by asserting ourselves, with no idea of rules, but parents usually impose some family rules, even if in some families these rules are inconsistent or favor certain children over others.  Fairness is the attitude and concept of having rules that deal with appropriate distribution of both physical and emotional resources among people and making these rules be appropriate, acceptable, and enforced.  Fairness applies to how the ice cream is divided up, how much quality time each child has with mother, whose college education the family will pay for, how games are refereed, how elections are conducted, and any other activity where the “rights” and outcomes for more than one person are involved.  We judge whether we are being treated fairly by noting whether our outcomes are appropriate when compared with those of others in the same situation.

The most basic notion of fairness is equality, with everyone getting an equal share, either in the moment or on a taking-turns basis, but sometimes in a family or in society there are rules that favor some over others in ways that are consistent with the overall beliefs and assumptions of the group and that are therefore “accepted” by everyone as the way things are to be done, even if those who are disadvantaged by the rules continue to push for change to make things more equal.  Slavery is an example of a rule that severely disadvantaged some people but was viewed as “fair” by the overall society.

Politics is the province within which societal rules are made and within which people vie for advantage, and in this competition we see that many people still wish to have rules made that favor them over others, even when this contributes to inequality and unfairness.  Many people are willing to overlook fairness concerns (their own and others’) when they themselves are unfairly advantaged!

All people seem to have a strong and abiding sense of fairness, and people are generally upset when their notions of fairness are violated by others or by the established rules.  The key to having more fairness in the world is commitment on the part of more people to honor and abide by what is fair, even when it is not to their immediate advantage.  This is similar to knowing that you are going to get more from your relationships with others if you honor their needs and feelings, rather than taking advantage of them whenever you can, even though that benefit may be in the future or in terms of various forms of good will.  In order to be satisfied with being consistently fair, we must believe that we will get a “fair shake” over the long haul, even if we let others have their way for the moment.  Others respect those who “play by the rules” and who apply the same rules to themselves that they do to everyone else.  You can become one of the “good guys” by being fair with everyone.

“Win-Win” Solutions Lead to Greater Equality and to Greater Happiness in the World

The world could be a much different place if we all believed that we would get more by helping everyone benefit from any given transaction than we get by always trying to win and get more than others.  The fact that the world is the way it is indicates that many people still believe that they can get more by looking for opportunities to take from others and to be superior to others.  Examine your own attitudes about winning, being better than others, getting what you want even at the expense of others, etc.  (Saying that “everyone else is doing it,” “let the buyer beware,” or “that’s just business” are not acceptable reasons to treat others badly and are simply excuses that we use to try to justify our selfish behavior.)

If we view others as being basically equal and of equal worth, then it will alter our attitudes about competition.  We would naturally stop trying to gain advantage over others simply so that we could feel that we are “better than” those others.  We might still compete in business to make a better product for a lower price, and we might still try our best to win on the football field, but these would no longer have the implication of making us better than our competitors.

Make it a rule for yourself that in all of your transactions with others you will attend to their benefit as well as your own.  Completely give up trying to get things from others without giving back, as well as trying to get things from others in circumstances where others will be harmed by giving you what you want (like selling someone a defective car without telling them).  You don’t have to ensure that you and others get equal benefit, but it will improve future relations with them if you don’t leave them with the impression, either now or later, that you have treated them badly.  In order to stop trying to gain advantage over others, you will have to feel good about yourself for things other than winning and besting others and stop relying on competition and superiority for your self-esteem.

In order to have greater equality and fairness in our society, we need a respected societal ethic that reinforces a more mature, cooperative stance toward relationships.  Our churches, being by and large strongly committed to the status quo and highly avoidant of internal conflict, have status hierarchies within themselves and have not provided us with much leadership in this regard.  We must come to respect strength more than power, benevolence more than domination, cooperation more than winning, success more than superiority, responsibility more than opportunism, and empathy more than manipulation.

A simple attitude and method of bringing more equality to your relationships and to society in general is to train yourself to think, for every decision and choice that you make, of how you could act so as to both get what you want and benefit others (or at least not inconvenience them) by your actions.  As children we cannot see ahead far enough to appreciate the benefits of cooperation and of taking others’ needs and feelings into account.  Hopefully we gain some insight about this as we grow up, but many people still operate on the principle of taking as much as they can get right now, even if it harms or inconveniences others and creates conflicts with them.  They calculate how much they can get away with, rather than considering how to get as much as they can while also benefiting others.  This follows from our basic childhood fear that we will not get enough if we leave everything to others and that if we don’t get something now, the opportunity to get it could disappear at any time.  These are normal fears for children but do not represent reality for adults.  Many people still view the world like children in this way.  The key point is that often, without much effort, we can take actions that will get us what we want and at the same time benefit or at least not harm others.

This approach makes life better for others, but more importantly it benefits us greatly as well.  We all like people who are aware of our needs and feelings and act in ways that take our needs and feelings into account.  So, by helping others and taking care not to harm them, we build positive connections with people, which makes them much more likely to act the same toward us, to treat us better, and to choose us as partners in mutually beneficial goal-seeking.  In this way, we gain future benefits that far outweigh the cost of our efforts to pay attention to others’ needs and feelings.  As adults we can realize, too, that not getting our way or not getting what we want just when we want it is rarely actually important (even though our immediate feelings, left over from childhood, are telling us differently).  Letting others have their way sometimes, or “taking turns” in this way, is a small price to pay for the good will that we build up between ourselves and others.  You can get more in life by appropriately balancing your needs with those of others than you can by taking whatever you can get regardless of how it affects others.

Everyone Has Equal Basic Worth

We are all equally valuable in terms of our basic worth as persons.  This precept is based on the belief that while we certainly do value every other person partly in terms of how we benefit from him or her, each person also has an inherent value or worth, just for being a person, and I am suggesting that this inherent worth is equal for all of us.  Your parents might be more important to you than anyone else in the world, but the fact that they are valuable to you does not make them better than or more valuable than anyone else in the world, in terms of their basic worth as persons.  We should remember that the personal importance that we ascribe to others, because of their position, fame, or relationship to us, are added in our minds on top of the basic equal worth that all people have.  If we begin to view people both in terms of their inherent worth and in terms of how they benefit us, we will also begin to treat them more as equals.

Everyone Deserves Equal Respect

To treat someone with respect means to act as if the person were worthy of high regard, to avoid interfering with that person’s legitimate efforts to meet his needs, and to avoid violating that person’s rights.  Our society aspires, at least on paper, that every person be treated with the same basic respect as every other person regardless of differences such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or handicap.  I believe the same basic respect is also due to everyone regardless of appearance, achievements, wealth, or social standing.  (We may admire someone because of his appearance, achievements, wealth, social standing, or anything else, but we should not respect him more than anyone else.)

In addition, everyone should be treated with the same basic respect even if we do not actually feel the same respect for him or her.  Thus, we should treat criminals and those who have injured us with that same basic respect, even though we dislike them or wish them harm.  It helps the civility of our society and the self-esteem of everyone if we always treat everyone with that same basic respect (treating them as if they were worthy of high regard and/or esteem). This is not hypocritical-it is simply a choice of whether to use disrespect as a punishment, and treating others with respect also exerts an influence on them to treat others better themselves.

The Needs of Each Person Are Just As Important As Those of Any Other Person

Since we are all basically equal, your needs are just as important as those of others, and theirs are just as important to them as yours are to you.  If there is a “bigger scheme of things,” then every other person’s needs are just as important as yours in that bigger picture.  Each person has just as much right as others to the good things available in life to everyone.  If you believe that others’ needs are more important than yours, you will naturally see yourself as inferior to them, and your self-esteem will be lowered.  Making your needs more important than those of others might seem better than having them be less important than others’ needs, but it is not a good solution overall, since this will lead to inferiority for someone else, as well as perpetuating an unending struggle for superiority.  The socially desirable and socially stable answer must lie in some form of equality.  Your needs must be as important as those of others-not more important and not less important.  It can be complicated to figure out how to make your needs and those of others equal when there are limited resources, but if we all feel basically equal, then we can cooperate in sharing what is available in whatever manner seems best.

Coming to Feel Equal To Others

If you do not feel basically equal to others, then in order to feel equal, it is essential to feel as deserving as others, and the best way to feel more deserving is to re-evaluate the experiences that caused you to feel less deserving and decide that you were not in fact less deserving but that you simply accepted that inferior role for yourself.  A person who does not feel equal must conclude that his experiences that led to feeling undeserving or unequal should not have been interpreted that way and that he is in fact a basic equal of others.  After changing his mind on this point, the newly equal person must accept that it is OK to receive good things and that he deserves whatever good things are available.  He then changes his interactions with others to reflect his new equal status and stops putting his needs below others’ needs in importance, including being appropriately assertive about his needs versus those of others in any given situation.  Those who have previously benefited from his inferior status (by getting a larger share themselves) will complain, but they have no rightful basis for complaining.

We cannot force others to treat us as an equal, but we must at least speak up, voicing our complaints and identifying the inequality as unfair and inappropriate.  It may be ultimately beneficial, though sad, to leave behind those who cannot accept  as equals.


Cooperation leads to greater benefit for more people than does a system in which everyone tries individually to get his or own way or to maximize his or her own benefit regardless of the impact on others.  Cooperation allows for more effective accomplishment of mutual goals, and cooperation also makes for a happier society, since it creates a greater feeling of alliance, trust, and relationship than we have if we must always view others with suspicion because we know that they are out to maximize their outcomes, even at our expense.

Children first want always to get their own way but may later realize that the benefits of sharing or taking turns, in terms of the reciprocity that results, are greater than always fighting to have everything for yourself or to get your way.  Mature adults know that they cannot have the lives that they want without a great deal of cooperation with others in their communities and in the economy.  Any activity that requires more than one person requires some sort of cooperation, so knowing how to cooperate in a way that enhances the chances of success is important.  On an even larger scale, our whole economy depends on groups of people (companies) producing things that other groups and individuals need to live or to make their own products.  If they were not all doing their part, many important aspects of your life would be missing.

In the struggle for status and popularity, many adults continue to compete, instead of cooperate, by harming others (gossip to hurt or help certain others; creating alliances with some against others; putting certain others down or acting superior; etc.).  Equality would be the cooperative solution in the status/popularity area—everyone agreeing that everyone has equal basic worth as persons so that there is no need to try to be superior and to make others inferior through putting them down or putting them in disadvantageous positions.  In the survival and material goods arenas, working together effectively is essential to having adequate security in our lives and adequate products and services.

You must believe that you will get more by cooperating than by competing if you are to sincerely and regularly employ cooperative skills and strategies.  While the case for this can easily be made rationally, it is difficult for people to believe it if their main experience in life has been having to struggle with others who were out for themselves and not inclined to cooperate (except perhaps cooperating temporarily with some to gain advantage over others).  Such people do not trust others to care about them and therefore are hesitant to trust them in cooperative efforts.  Cooperation among people who are basically out for themselves will always fall apart as soon as an immediate goal is reached, because the participants are inclined to look for the next competitive opportunity to take advantage of each other, rather than keeping the members positively disposed toward the next cooperative effort.  Cooperation among people who care at least basically for each other as human beings is a more stable arrangement and more satisfying, since the participants can trust each other.  We might call this a “positive cooperative milieu,” that is composed of people who want good things for each other in general as well as for themselves (because they cared) and who came together as needed to cooperate in seeking specific mutual goals.  You may have to experience a positive cooperative milieu in order to believe that this is possible.  The key, of course, is the caring in the context of cooperating.

Key skills for successful cooperation include first finding out what others’ needs are in the situation and then accepting rather than fighting over those needs.  Telling people that they don’t need something or that they shouldn’t feel something is sure to fail and will sabotage the carrying out of cooperative plans.  All parties must be sufficiently assertive to state their needs clearly, but overstating them, as some people do in order to gain a preferred bargaining position for a further negotiation, annoys and alienates other participants.  Being reasonable about needs tends to influence other parties to also be reasonable, and any party that exaggerates can be encouraged to be reasonable as well.  Any party that exaggerates its needs or attempts to take advantage of other parties is not actually cooperating at all and perhaps should be excluded from the cooperative effort and from its benefits if it is likely to be seeking its own advantage in every step of the cooperative effort.

After needs have been reasonably stated, goals must be chosen and stated clearly.  It is often not possible for every party to get all that it wants, so compromise will be needed.  The needs of every party should be met to roughly the same degree, or else some will see the situation as “unfair” and be tempted to withdraw from or sabotage the cooperation.

Next, possible cooperative actions are explored that can be expected to lead to achieving the chosen goals.  In order to maximize cooperation, the focus should be on actions that lead to meeting the needs of all parties to the maximum extent possible (the “win-win” approach).  Willingness to compromise with regard to adjustments in needs and goals and with respect to goal-related actions is necessary if willing agreement is to be reached and a positive milieu preserved.

The final step in cooperative efforts is to carry out your assigned actions responsibly and adequately.  It may be tempting to fail to do your part, hoping that others will pick up the slack, but this makes you unpopular as a partner in future cooperation.

After each cooperative project, the parties can review the process, to see if there are ways to make it work more smoothly and effectively (communicating, compromising, keeping promises, fulfilling tasks, sharing, supporting each other, etc.).

The moral aspect of cooperation can be seen in the principle of reciprocity.  It is a basic characteristic of human beings that we tend to imitate what we experience in others.  This is the way that children do much of their learning in early years, and it remains true for adults, too, although the imitation is more subtle.  More specifically for our purposes, how one person treats another person tends to induce the other person to react similarly.  If you treat others well, they will naturally be pulled to treat you well.  If you treat others poorly, they will tend to treat you poorly.

In addition to this imitation factor, we learn ideas when growing up about behavior that is appropriate and behavior that is inappropriate, and we apply these “rules” and expectations in determining how to treat others and how to respond to others.  Most of us are taught to respond in kind.  One form of guidance in this respect is the “Golden Rule”—to treat others as we would have them treat us, which teaches the principle that if we want others to treat us well, we should treat them well.  (There are a few people who for personality and psychopathology reasons want others to treat them badly, but this was probably not part of the thinking when the Golden Rule was formulated.)

Sharing is taught to children as an adaptive tool and skill in human relations.  Sharing allows all parties to think that they are getting something from an interaction, and it therefore decreases open conflict and violence.  Sharing is especially effective if the sharing is viewed by all parties as an appropriate division of resources—i.e., that it is “fair.”

When cooperating, we will immediately have the benefits of smoother relations and reaching goals, but some of the benefits of treating others well will occur in the future.  In some circumstances, when we treat someone else well, that person is in a position to immediately return the favor (returning a greeting, cooperating with a proposal for joint action, etc.), but often this is not the case.  Our positive treatment of them pays off later because of the positive relationship that we have created with them by treating them in positive ways, so that when opportunity arises, they will be more likely to treat us positively than negatively.  This is an investment in our future while at the same time making things better in the present for everyone involved (a “win-win” situation).  Thus, by always treating others positively, we build up positive potential to be treated as well as possible by others.  We actually reap benefits of our efforts over a long period of time, however, so we must believe that the total benefit of treating others positively will be considerably greater than the immediate benefits we could get from taking advantage of them or harming them.  Fortunately, in almost all environments, the majority of people are ready to respond positively to us if we treat them positively, so even a little trial period of treating others positively will quickly show you that there are great immediate benefits to be had from that approach to relationships!  (The most trusting and enduring relationships result from treating others positively with a sincere, caring attitude, but even more superficial positivity (back-slapping, effusive greetings, giving favors, “buttering up”) will have some positive effects in gaining cooperation.)


 The desire to be treated fairly is a fundamental aspect of human psychology and human relations.  It arises in the first few years of life, as children note how the treatment they receive compares to how other children are treated.  Later in childhood, children are greatly interested in “the rules” and want the rules to be applied fairly.  Being treated fairly affirms our place in the social order.  Adults view the laws as supporting what is fair, and they use the legal system to try to ensure equal and fair treatment.  Laws, of course, do not cover every aspect of equality and fairness, and our beliefs about morals and ethics provide a more encompassing structure for evaluating and advocating for fairness and equality.

Fundamentally, fairness is applying the rules and expectations to everyone equally and without bias.  In most regards, basic equality is a key implication of being treated fairly, but people may also accept treatment as “fair” that stems from the generally accepted assignment of different status or value to various persons in society, if that system of assigning value applies to everyone and has been historically accepted.  In some societies, a caste system has been historically accepted, and in medieval times a person’s rights and status were thought to be assigned by God.  In the U.S., we say that everyone should have equality of opportunity and be treated equally under the law, while at the same time accepting that people’s status and possessions will in no way be equal.

Going beyond societal conventions about fairness, the mature person treats others fairly, even when it means that he will not get exactly what he himself wants.  He empathizes with how others feel about fairness and refuses to feel better or to benefit unfairly at the expense of others.  If a selling price is agreed upon, he does not try to change it if the going rate for his object or service suddenly increases.  As a referee or umpire, a mature person strives to make his calls according to reality, shorn of his preferences for either team to win and regardless of what the crowd wants.  As a boss, he does not give preference to the vacation requests of any one employee over those of others.  As a parent, he strives to give the children equally what they need to grow up and flourish.  As a sibling, he divides the candy equally, even if he would like to have more.  He treats everyone with the same consideration and fairness, regardless of their relatedness, social standing, or ethnicity, and regardless of what he might wish to get from the other person at the time.

The mature person is fair toward others since she no longer strives to gain unfair advantage over others and since she views herself as basically an equal to others and very much like others in desires, emotions, and life goals.  The mature person sees clearly that the advantages of treating others fairly (having them reciprocally treat her fairly, having them like and cooperate with her more readily) are worth more than the advantages that could be gained by taking advantage of others (gaining materially in the short-run), as well as seeing that the disadvantages of treating others fairly (giving up opportunities to gain from treating others unfairly) are far less significant than the disadvantages of treating others unfairly (having others resent one, distrust one, and withdraw from helping or cooperating with one).

The key to treating others fairly is seeing them as basically equal to ourselves, deserving of the same treatment and benefits as ourselves.  Therefore we treat those equal others with the same consideration for their welfare and feelings that we want from others in their treatment of us.  Treating others as equals communicates our respect for them, and the good will and trust that flow from this minimize conflicts and allow others to feel comfortable with us.  Mature persons perceive that treating others fairly and with respect builds positive relationships and makes for better cooperation in the larger group.

The unwise person and the immature person try to get as much as they can from others, by means that are fair or unfair, and they are unable to recognize the social contract of mutually appropriate behavior that benefits everyone in the long run.  They change the rules or their morals whenever it seems to be to their immediate advantage.  The immature person always feels that unpleasant reality is unfair to him and lets everyone know about his unfair and terrible troubles and how difficult they are to tolerate.  He seeks compensation for difficulties through pretending to be ill or claiming the right to special treatment.

The unwise or less mature person assigns different levels of how others will be treated, based on their prior relationships with them, their current importance, their relatedness (family, friend, etc.), and their assigned status (education, wealth, ethnicity, etc.).  They thus deny almost everyone else the status in their eyes of being a basic equal, which justifies their patterns of differential treatment.  This differential treatment is always in the service of personal gain in social position or possessions—treating those from whom they want something better than they treat others, so that when those needs change, so does the importance of people to them and therefore also how they treat those others.

To become more mature and to gain in wisdom, examine your internal sense of fairness and equality and how you apply them in daily life.  Look at the emotional and social results when you treat people unequally or unfairly.  Consider the potential gains in good will and positive relations with others from treating everyone equally and fairly, against the possible losses you might suffer from giving up opportunities to take advantage of others by being unfair and assigning others value according to what you can get from them.  Consider how you feel when you are treated as an equal and fairly, versus how you feel when you are treated as inferior or unfairly.  Experiment with treating everyone you encounter in one day fairly and as a basic equal, and see how it works.


Due to her good understanding of the consequences of her behavior and its impact on others, the mature person has cultivates self-control through the years, since good judgment and acting responsibly sometimes require not acting, delaying action, and/or not doing what one would most like to do at the moment.  She knows that the harm to self and others from acting in impulsive, erratic, or out-of-control ways exceeds any cost of being self-controlling.  The wise person recognizes the value to everyone of acting in the best interest of those around her as well as in her own best interest, and she knows that acting with appropriate self-control induces those around her to do so as well.  She tends, therefore, to act appropriately and to take care of legitimate responsibilities without having to be coerced.  Due to ignoring unwanted behavioral consequences and refusing to see her impact on others, the immature person has no interest in self-control, unless it promises immediate reward.

All mammals have some capacity for inhibiting behavior, which is the most fundamental form of self-control, often motivated subjectively by fear or by the wish to be invisible to predators.  This basic inhibition of action can give you the chance to reflect on your choices before acting and thereby to have the opportunity to consciously choose to do what is right to do and what is best for those affected (the basic definition of good judgment).  Practice pausing to reflect in your decision-making process before acting, and think about the appropriateness of your various choices and their impact on everyone involved.

As we grow up, most of us are motivated to refrain from certain actions out of fear of punishment or parental disapproval, and many people continue as adults to have only fear as a motivator for self-control.  As adults, though, we can broaden our motivation to include empathic concern for the consequences to others of our various behavioral choices.  Thus, the anticipation of pain that we might cause to others can become a more important motive for self-control (and for doing what is best and what is right) than our fear of what they might do to us in response.  Developing our empathy is therefore an important source of improving self-control.

Learning to do what is truly best for ourselves is a third and perhaps most advanced motivator for self-control.  Doing what you believe is best for yourself turns self-control into simply another method of getting what you want, which minimizes any frustrations that you feel in controlling your behavior.  If you integrate all of the consequences of your actions (both short-term and long-term) and the impact of your actions on others (and their resultant actions toward you) into your decision-making process, then these factors, together with your various desires, will make a good basis for choosing an action.  Self-control then becomes primarily a method for taking effective action at the right time, rather than a struggle between what you want to do and what you think you should do.  The purpose of doing what is truly best for yourself is to seek what will be best in all respects for yourself over the long term, even if that means reframing what you consider gratifying and sometimes foregoing certain gratifications in the present.

If the issue is one of gratification, such as whether or not to eat less (or eat healthier foods), if you try to exercise self-control in order simply to refrain from eating more, another part of you wants to eat more, so it is you fighting yourself (actually trying to manage competing motives within yourself that strive for supremacy).  If, however, you can be clear within yourself about what is the best thing for you (whether that is eating more or not eating more), then it is much easier to choose which option to take, and self-control is no longer such a struggle.  The keys are (1) focusing not on what you should do but on what is best for you and (2) truly wanting what is best for yourself, so that doing what is best for you feels like you are doing something good for yourself, even if doing that involves refraining from doing something that itself would feel good.  If you choose to go against what you say is truly best for yourself, then you must reconsider your assessment of what is truly best for yourself, since your actions have indicated that you actually think that something else is better for you!

To cultivate better and easier self-control, learn to pause before acting so that you can adequately consider your alternatives; develop empathy sufficient that you can appreciate your impact on others and value it relatively equally with your own subjective welfare; and clarify what you think is truly best for yourself and pursue that as ultimately giving you a better life than acting in each moment toward what will feel good in that moment.


We are all quite dependent on each other for the quality of our lives.  If others were not out there baking bread, cleaning the parks, putting automobiles together, fighting your group’s wars, etc., etc., your life would be much harder and less enjoyable.  Nonetheless, if you as an individual are to be in charge of making decisions for yourself and choosing the path in life that you feel and think will be best for you, you must have some autonomy, and you must think for yourself.

It is also absolutely necessary to have a reasonable degree of autonomy if you are to have stable, healthy self-esteem and make your own mind up independent of what others say or believe, since if you cannot think for yourself, then others will determine your identity and how you think and feel about everything.  Having an independent mind is an important characteristic of people who are wise as well, since wisdom includes a view of reality that is not shared or understood by most other people.

It is natural for children and adults to be affected by what others think of them and feel about them, but you cannot allow yourself to be primarily controlled by what others think and feel.  We do need to know how others are reacting to us and why, but we must be able to take in the useful information in how others react to us, while reserving for ourselves the final judgment about ourselves and our behavior.   Ideally you should be relatively unphased by others occasionally saying “You’re awful,” or “You hurt me,” if you disagree after careful assessment.  Even if your mother says “You are worthless,” you should train yourself not to simply and automatically feel bad about yourself or define yourself as a bad person or a failure, without examining why she said this and what she really means.  It is sometimes painful to be different from others and to live by your own assessment of reality and your own chosen standards, but that is the price of being mature and being able to do the right thing when everyone around you is not.   Each of us has his or her own rather different views and feelings about things, and no one person or group has the complete truth.

The same applies to standards and expectations.  Everyone has a somewhat different opinion about what standards should be and about how to evaluate others in terms of those standards.  Naturally you would like to be “good enough” in the eyes of important others, at least most of the time, but being to a healthy degree autonomous means that you will also decide on which standards and expectations you believe are humane and appropriate.  You would then faithfully hold yourself to those standards, and you would not let others impose their standards on you if you believed them to be inhumane or inappropriate.

Having your own independent mind is a form of self-assertion in that you assert your right to see the truth and your right to have your own beliefs and feelings, apart from what others want you to believe or feel. You will like yourself and respect yourself for asserting these rights!

One important specific aspect of appropriate autonomy is taking care of yourself as much as possible, especially in terms of earning enough to provide yourself with food, shelter, and clothing.  If you do not, then you will always be subject to the changes of mind and changes of heart of whoever or whatever is providing for you, which makes keeping your independent mind very difficult.  You will be tempted to tell lies and to otherwise distort reality to yourself and others if you feel you “must” please them in order to survive.  (Of course, this applies to any situation in which someone else has power over you, not just with regard to your daily bread.)


Emotions are a particular class of our experiential responses to stimuli, both internal and external.  We “feel” them and call them “feelings” (although most people include in “feelings” experiences that are not strictly emotions, such as intuitions and sensory experiences).  Emotions are our source of motivation, since they form the basis for our “knowing” what needs to be done (get away from something, remedy a threat to our status level, atone for a mistake, etc.).  Without emotions, we would be rudderless in life.  People generally think that they do things because they have “decided” to do them, but our cognitive functions only try to find a way to satisfy our various motivations, that arise both from sensory experience (such as hunger) and from our emotions (guilt, shame, joy, etc.).  Emotions seem to arise from actions of neurons in our brains’ limbic systems, and these arrangements of neurons probably developed as they did because having these internal signals to ourselves was adaptive in keeping us alive and reproducing.  (Alternatively, these arrangements of neurons were created by someone or something, for purposes that we do not understand with any certainty.)

Dealing adaptively with your emotions involves understanding how emotions operate and knowing that they do not necessarily represent reality.  This enables you to pause before acting in order to allow emotions and their implications to be clarified.

Since knowing the truth and seeing reality clearly sometimes involve knowing things that are unpleasant to know, in order to search for truth with any hope of success we must have an adequate ability to manage our emotions.  The most common ways that people respond to unpleasant feelings is to deny the “reality” that leads to those feelings and to try to get whatever or whomever they blame for “causing” their unpleasant feelings to change so that they won’t continue to experience the unpleasant feeling.  Hence, we try to get our husband to “prove” that he loves us so that we won’t have to worry that he may not, or we suppress the knowledge that the meat that we buy at the supermarket has come to us as a result of someone killing the animal whose meat it was.  The wise or mature person must keep her clarity about the truth and find ways to feel OK as well.  The first condition of doing this is that we do it for ourselves, rather than try to get others to change (or deny reality) so that we won’t have to feel bad.  Every person is responsible for his or her emotional reactions to stimuli.

A crucial skill for being able to see reality clearly and know the truth is being able to use the information in your emotions to learn more about the reality in question but not to allow your emotions to cause you to distort your view of reality.  We need to be able to see the truth, even though we are tempted to change or distort it in order to quell unpleasant emotions.  A wise mother, for instance, might know clearly that her child had committed a crime even though she would like to deny that fact and might even openly claim its opposite to those around her.  This is what makes managing your emotions so important to reality perception.  It is fairly common for people to take out on others unhappy feelings that were not caused by those particular other people, like yelling at the kids after you get home because your boss chewed you out.  This is only possible, though, if you allow yourself to let go of your contact with reality so that you can aim your feelings about your boss toward the kids without being sufficiently aware of it that you stop yourself and kick the fence instead.

Don’t reject any painful feelings that seeing reality arouses in you, but rather work gradually on tolerating them and becoming more comfortable with them.  “The truth is” that everyone is a mixture of adaptive and maladaptive tendencies, and we are all capable of hurting those we love.  No one is perfect (including your parents and your leaders).  Many situations in the world are deplorable (people suffering in floods or famines, being killed for their religion, etc.), but  you can learn to have empathy and sympathy for those who suffer and do what you can to help while at the same time continuing to do what you must do every day for your own life.  You can see reality clearly, feel for others (and for yourself), and still know the truth and act effectively in the world.

Mature persons can transcend cultural expectations for emotions.  Mature women do not use emotions to create dependency, elicit caretaking from men, or escape responsibility (by appearing to be weak, childlike, or needy), because to do so would be untruthful.  Mature men do not have to conform to the stereotype in this culture that men should be strong and unemotional, because they know that one can be both adequately strong and healthily emotional, since behavior is readily shaped to the emotional roles needed in different contexts.

Important guidelines for managing your emotions are listed below.  (These guidelines are worded so that they focus on dealing with painful and unpleasant emotions, but the ideas apply also to positive emotions if those should be causing disruption in your life, such as seeking too much pleasure or seeking pleasure to avoid pain, including addictions.)

You will notice that these guidelines focus on managing your emotions and their impact on your life, but they do not give you “tricks” or sure-fire methods of eliminating emotions or emotional pain.  Emotional pain is a necessary part of human life, and it would not be good for your life to be able simply to stop it or eliminate it.  (Because emotions occur so deeply in the brain, we actually don’t have any such eliminative methods in the West anyway, except to a minor extent with frontal lobotomies or other brain excisions, which is perhaps why drugs are so popular.  Some Eastern methods, such as fundamental yoga, may focus on pain tolerance.)  The goals, therefore, are to make use of the information that emotions can provide us with and to keep them from causing extre me disruption in our lives.


(1)  Keep stimulus levels to a level that you can tolerate without resorting to maladaptive coping methods.

Adaptively manage all levels of stimulus
input, including sensory/perceptual input, emotions, and

If needed, expand or reduce your experiencing.  Most
people are prone to reducing their experiencing in general,
but some people “feel too much”, which means that they are
deficient in the adaptive mechanisms that would make it
possible for them to tolerate their emotions and therefore
to be able to make use of the  information in their emotions.
Those who “feel too much” usually must reduce their
emotional experiencing somewhat to allow greater
awareness and continued functioning while experiencing
the emotion.


(2)  Be aware of all emotions.

Allow awareness of all emotions aroused within you.

Accurately identify emotions in yourself and in others.


(3)  Accept all of your emotions (and do not identify any of them as “bad”).

Believe that your emotions are essentially normal and

Stop criticizing and demeaning yourself for your feelings.

Accept your emotions (just as you accept all of yourself)
without responding to them with shame, guilt,
embarrassment, etc.   (Emotions are simply conditioned
internal signals to yourself and are nothing to be ashamed of.)

(4)  Take responsibility for your emotions, being clear that your emotions arise from within yourself and are not placed into you from outside.

Accept that your emotions are your own reactions to things
and are not forced upon you by others.  Even if others are
trying to cause the emotion in question to occur within you,
your emotion is still your reaction.

Be clear that each person is solely responsible for his own
feeling reactions to things (unless someone else is purposely
causing the emotion).

Take responsibility for your emotions and for doing something
about them, as opposed to blaming others or trying to get
others to change so that you won’t have to feel undesired
emotions (with the exception of when others are purposely
attempting to induce unpleasant emotion in you).  For
example, no person or group should impose on others a duty
to perform the specific behaviors that he or she culturally
believes illustrate respect, fairness, and honesty (bowing vs.
shaking hands, etc.).

No individual should deal with or manage his/her emotions by
inflicting harm on others (e.g., abusing the children because of
anger at authorities).

No group should deal with or manage the emotions of its
members by inflicting harm on members of other groups (e.g.,
sacrificing captured people to “appease the gods” in order to
make group members feel more safe and secure).

Distinguish accurately your own emotions from those of

Understand which emotion-inducing behaviors (your actions
that others may react to by feeling an emotion) are
permissible in your culture and your group and for which
emotion-inducing behaviors you are viewed as being
responsible for the results.

(5)  Do not take responsibility for others’ emotions (unless you have deliberately attempted to cause them).

You can feel empathy for another’s emotional pain without
feeling responsible for it or being responsible for it.

Be clear that each person is solely responsible for her own
feeling reactions to things (unless someone else is purposely
causing the emotion).

(6)  Accept that emotional pain is inevitable and often useful and does not necessarily need to be avoided or altered.  When nothing can be done to alleviate or avoid a painful emotion, tolerate it with good grace.  (Utilize meditation and inner focusing methods of pain reduction.)

Accept and tolerate the unavoidable, inevitable pain of

Tolerate, accept, and become comfortable with (if possible)–
the pain of the inevitable losses that we experience in

the emotions resulting from the deaths of others and

the inevitable feelings of inadequacy that we
experience in life

all forms of rejection, including being excluded,
ignored, criticized, left, disregarded, discounted, and

disappointment and frustration of your need
gratification efforts

the disappointment that accompanies your needs not
being met

the emotional pain of not knowing

the pain of unconfirmed expectations

the feelings resulting from differences between
ourselves and others

the feelings resulting from the unknown and from not
knowing (instead of creating a distorted reality in
efforts to cope)

the feelings resulting from ambiguity (instead of
creating a distorted reality in efforts to cope)

the feelings resulting from interpersonal conflict

the emotional pain of change

our inevitable feelings of vulnerability

our inevitable feelings of helplessness

the pain of knowing unpleasant things about yourself

the feelings that may arise because of our need for

the aloneness and sometimes loneliness of being
separate and autonomous

your limited capacity to control events and control
your subjective state

Accept that there are emotions and emotionally-
stimulating situations that you cannot alter enough to
eliminate the troublesome emotion,  (Find ways to allow the
emotion without letting it disrupt your life.)

(7)  Do not distort reality or use other ultimately maladaptive defenses/avoidances in order to ease emotional pain (except in crisis overload situations).  (Be convinced that you will be better off dealing with emotional pain than you will be if you employ distortions.)

Be constantly aware of how you might be distorting
or defending against your emotional experience.

Avoid emotions when to do so is necessary to function.  (In
general, better outcomes are obtained to the extent that all
emotional experience can be processed fully, so long
as this awareness and processing can be handled internally
without self-harm, but there are times–particularly crisis
times–when simply avoiding or truncating emotional
awareness is adaptive.)        (see Maladaptive Methods of
Dealing with Emotion)

Maintain reality contact and effective reality testing while
experiencing and coping with your emotions and needs
(which may motivate you to distort reality).

Allow distortion of reality to assuage feelings only
temporarily and only in the service of survival.

Return to partially experienced emotions at an appropriate
time, and process them fully.

Believe that you can get more out of life by adhering to
reality than by distorting it.

Have a higher commitment to truth than to your personal
and immediate comfort, based on your belief that in the
long run, adherence to reality will make for a less conflictful
and a more productive life.


(8)  Experience the emotion fully (or at least fully enough to gain all of the useful information in the emotion).

Allow full experiencing of an emotion (within the limit
of  maintaining an organized cognitive state) while delaying
action until the full meaning of the emotion is understood.

Be comfortable with (or at least tolerate) your emotions,
even when they are unpleasant.

(9)  Temporarily suppress the emotional experience if necessary for current activities, and then return to it as soon as practicable for further processing.

(10) Let your emotions be, without needing to act on them except by choice.  Delay acting in response to them until it is adaptive to act.

Let emotions be and tolerate them without having to act.
(Emotions themselves will not harm you and with time most
emotions dull or disappear through accommodation or

Step back and observe yourself experiencing the emotion.
(This distance can help you to view the emotion more
objectively, not be overwhelmed by the emotion, and not
have to react immediately to the emotion.)

Use the ability to delay gratification to tolerate emotions.
(When you are trying to tolerate an unpleasant emotion,
knowing that you will be better off soon, when the
emotion passes) can add motivation to tolerate the

Inhibit expression of emotions until appropriate.

Tolerate reality and your emotional responses to it,
however unpleasant.

(11) Do not distort reality or use other ultimately maladaptive defenses/avoidances in order to ease emotional pain (except in crisis overload situations).  (Be convinced that you will be better off dealing with emotional pain than you will be if you employ distortions.)  (same as 7 above)

Be constantly aware of how you might be distorting or
defending against your emotional experience.

Avoid emotions when to do so is necessary to function.  (In
general, better outcomes are obtained to the extent that
all emotional experience can be processed fully, so long
as this awareness and processing can be handled internally
without self harm, but there are times–particularly crisis
times–when simply avoiding or truncating emotional
awareness is adaptive.)         (see Maladaptive Methods of
Dealing with Emotion)

Maintain reality contact and effective reality testing while
experiencing and coping with your emotions and needs
(which may motivate you to distort reality).

Allow distortion of reality to assuage feelings only
temporarily and only in the service of survival.

Return to partially experienced emotions at an appropriate
time, and process them fully.

Believe that you can get more out of life by adhering to
reality than by distorting it.

Have a higher commitment to truth than to your personal
and immediate comfort, based on your belief that in the
long run, adherence to reality will make for a less
conflictful and a more productive life.

(12) Interpret and use the information in the emotion appropriately (realizing that your emotions may not be based on reality).

Be open to learning changed attitudes toward and ways of
handling your emotions.

Understand emotions as your own internal signals to
yourself, carrying information about what should be
attended to, what is desirable, what should be avoided,
what may be painful or dangerous, and what may be
pleasant or unpleasant.

Understand the emotion in terms of its origins and
existential meaning (which may help you to tolerate it).

Understand that emotions may be based on
misperceptions and misunderstandings, so that they
sometimes do not accurately represent reality or the truth
about things.

Use all of the available information in the emotional signal.

Know the difference between perceiving reality accurately
and making possibly inaccurate interpretations.

Seek the counsel of others you trust in order to understand
your emotional reactions.

(13) Understand and transcend your use of “cover” emotions (e.g., reacting with anger instead of the hurt that stimulated a reaction in the first place).

Seek awareness of the fundamental emotion beneath the
initial (or “cover”) emotion or feeling (especially the
fundamental emotions hidden beneath anger, anxiety,
depression, shame, and guilt).

Be willing to experience your emotional pain and be aware
of what is causing it.

Manage frustration, anger, and violence by appropriate
handling of vulnerability, helplessness, rejection, fear,
disappointment and other more fundamental emotions.

(14) Learn what you can about yourself from the emotion and from what stimulated it.

Let emotions be and tolerate them without having to act, as
a means of learning more about what you feel and what you

Understand why you reacted emotionally as you did, if the
emotion’s implications do not match reality (understand
the “meaning” of the emotion–what it attempts to
communicate to you based on your prior experience,
“instinct,” or the natural functioning of the brain).

Seek awareness of similar situations/reactions in the past
that may be influencing you now via generalization.

Allow yourself to free-associate to the feeling and to the
current situation, in order to uncover unconscious

Recognize when you experience painful emotions that
were used to train you to do what others wanted you to do
that was not in your best interest.

If a response that you have to an emotion, including
avoidance of it, is not adaptive, reasonable, or good for you,
allow yourself to experience and live the emotional state so
as to learn more about what it means to you.

Recognize when you have an “emotional problem” that
needs correction (when something is significantly amiss in
your functioning or subjective state as a result of inability
to appropriately tolerate or manage an emotion).

(15) Correct emotion-based misperceptions or misinterpretations so that interpretations of reality can be more accurate in the future.

Be open to more accurate perceptions of reality and to new
ways of doing things.

Accept and, as possible, maturely revise your expectations
of self, others, and life, especially in dealing with
disappointments and feelings of failure.

Realistically and reasonably reinterpret events from the
past, when previous false interpretations have caused
emotional pain, so that you can change your automatic
emotionally-based interpretations.

Be able to perceive the “relativity” of all reality
perceptions, including your individual views, your family’s
views, and your culture’s agreed-upon views of and
distortions of reality.

Find out if the danger or reality predicted by an emotion
actually occurs, so you can adapt.

Recognize the false inferences you have been making from

Learn to routinely recognize these false inferences in the
future through reality testing and develop the capacity to
both feel the emotion and at the same time know that the
automatic interpretation of it is false.

Evaluate for yourself the reasonableness of an emotion in
the light of reality.

Be able to know the more realistic interpretation of an
event, even while you are experiencing an inaccurate
interpretation based on your emotional conditioning from
the past.

(16) After becoming clear about the reasons for the emotion, if the emotion is incongruent with how you want to respond to the situation or issue, then identify the beliefs, understanding, and/or conditioning that cause the undesired emotion or the undesired reaction to the emotion, and change those beliefs or understanding, or process those conditioning experiences in such a way that the desired emotional reaction becomes possible and appropriate to your beliefs and understanding of reality.

Recognize that many emotional reactions are not
“instinctual” or inherent due to your biological makeup, but
rather occur because you have imitated (without
awareness) the emotional reactions of others to particular
events, or because you don’t have any better emotional
reaction that you could attach to the stimulus.  This applies
both to the emotion chosen and to the intensity of the

Use improved and honest reality perception to identify
what needs to be changed (see #20).  Identify reactions
that are unreasonable or unnecessary, and decide whether
you wish to change them.

Identify the reaction you wish to have to the stimulus (an
action of others or of yourself, an environmental issue,
etc.).  Organize it in your mind so that the reaction you
wish to have makes good sense to you.

Every time you experience the unwanted emotion or
emotional association to the stimulus, rehearse the
reaction that you wish to have, going over it in your mind,
so that it can eventually replace the old reaction.

(17) Express emotions adaptively when this is needed to
resolve them and complete their work.

Express emotions in order to legitimize them to yourself
and to avoid feeling that you are betraying yourself by not
fully processing the emotion.

Express emotions so that others can understand and

Express emotions in ways that do not alienate or
antagonize others.

Use physical expression to discharge accumulated tension,
including giving voice to emotions, singing, exercise,
specific instrumental physical actions, and dancing.
(18) Provide various forms of self-support, including soothing and comforting yourself for your emotional pain.

Give yourself needed support and reassurance regarding
the future.

Believe that you do deserve soothing/comforting.

Experience soothing/comforting through touch, gaze,
speech, attention, and emotional communication.

Comfort yourself as needed (with memories, fantasies, or
rewards, or with your good feelings about yourself).

Accept and use your own self-soothing and self-comforting.

Seek soothing/comforting from others when appropriate
and needed.

Maintain your basic sense of security despite rejections and

Maintain your basic sense of value despite rejections and

(19) Share and discuss emotions with others, if that helps you to “process” them (through feeling understood, feeling accepted, gaining new insights and perspectives, etc.).

Express emotions to others in order to feel understood, to
legitimize the emotions, to be reassured that you are
acceptable, to change the context from an emotion alone to
a shared emotion, to gain the insights of others, and to
discover that you are not alone in feeling the emotions.

Express emotions so that others can understand and

Express emotions in ways that do not alienate or antagonize

(20) “Process” persistent emotions until they fade (often through acceptance and forgiveness of self and/or others, or through accommodation or habituation).

Process reactions to experiences and events, so that you can
leave the past behind and live in the present.

After becoming clear about the reasons for the emotion, if
the emotion is incongruent with how you want to respond to
the situation or issue, then identify the beliefs,
understanding, and/or conditioning that cause the undesired
emotion or the undesired reaction to the emotion, and
change those beliefs or understanding, or process those prior
conditioning experiences in such a way that the desired
emotional reaction becomes possible and appropriate to
your beliefs and understanding of reality.  (See #16 above.)

Use improved and honest reality perception to identify what
needs to be changed.

Forgive appropriately and start over.

Let go of injuries received and mistakes made, after
appropriate processing.

Assess injuries and mistakes reasonably.

Assign responsibility for injuries and mistakes reasonably.

Accept your own degree and nature of responsibility for

Decide on how to prevent the injury or mistake and its
negative impact on others and on yourself in the future.

Commit to make any needed change in order to act
differently in the future so as to prevent the injury or mistake
in the future.

Carry out any undoing or atonement you feel is needed.

Trust yourself to carry out your plan for the future, and let go
of the injury/mistake.

Recover from trauma, through appropriate re-experiencing
and expressing affect, through loving, comforting, and taking
care of yourself, through realistically and reasonably
reinterpreting events from the past (interpretations of which
have caused you pain),  through reconceptualizing the
environment and its risks relatively rationally, and through
receiving the acceptance and support of others.


(21) If over-stimulation (emotions beyond your capacities for coping) is frequent, learn to keep stimulus levels to a level you can tolerate without resorting to maladaptive coping methods.  (same as #1 above)

(22) Make practical changes in your general coping skills and strategies that will reduce the natural occurrence of the unpleasant emotion.

Learn more about the world so that your choices are more

Learn social skills that will gain you more of what you want
in relation to others.

Develop goal-attainment skills that will allow you more
success and gratification.

Change the context in which goal-attainment efforts take
place, so you can be more successful.

(23) After becoming clear about the reasons for the emotion, if the emotion is incongruent with how you want to respond to the situation or issue, then identify the beliefs, understanding, and/or conditioning that cause the undesired emotion or reaction to the emotion, and change those beliefs or understanding, or process those prior conditioning experiences in such a way that the desired emotional reaction becomes possible and appropriate to your beliefs and understanding of reality.  (same as #16 above)

Realize that you can shape your being and your future–
that how things are is not necessarily the way they must be
or should be.

Accept yourself completely and without reservation,
including, needs, wants, emotions, thoughts, motives,
behavior, potentials, and body.

Accept others completely as they are, and give up efforts
to try to change them so that you can have what you want.

Accept life completely as it is.

Change maladaptive personality traits and habits.

Let go of inappropriate or impossible goals.

Recover from trauma, through appropriate re-
experiencing and expressing affect, through loving,
comforting, and taking care of yourself, through
realistically and reasonably reinterpreting events from the
past (interpretations of which have caused you pain),
through reconceptualizing the environment and its risks
relatively rationally, and through receiving the acceptance
and support of others.

(24) If an emotion is causing disruption in your life, despite your best coping efforts, employ methods that ease the pain even though they will not lead to resolution or improvement (while at the same time being careful to minimize any problems created by these methods):


changing goals

improving your pleasure balance to compensate

engaging in gratifying activities

expressing the emotion through an adaptive activity

avoidance of concrete reminders (actual and symbolic)



denial (pretending it didn’t happen or pretending you are
not who you really are)

repression (submerging awareness) (not needing it any
more, not feeling it any more, or not knowing it any more)

seeking more healthy emotional interaction with others,
that can distract and can assuage your emotion

(25) If an emotion is causing disruption in your life, despite your coping efforts, devise ways of avoiding or minimizing those problems or of compensating for them.

Continue to seek better processing of the troublesome
emotion that is causing problems despite your efforts to

Learn additional methods of coping with problems that
result from your emotions, including taking good care of
yourself, learning to apologize, etc.

(26) Cultivate self-esteem, reality, and interpersonal skills and ways of living that do not lead to unnecessary problematic emotions.

To summarize, strive first to understand what stimulates your emotions and then what they mean for you.  Gradually incorporate each of the suggestions above into your methods of responding to your emotions, which will allow you to gain new insights about yourself and others and to establish new and more healthy habits—particularly the abilities to pause before acting in response to emotions and the ability to allow emotions to simply dissipate on their own.


 To review, here is the list of eleven key skills for living—the eleven skills that will make more difference in your life than any other skills.  Note that they are not context-limited.  We have not addressed “getting along with your spouse” “getting along with your boss,” or “raising good children,” because all of these eleven skills apply to all of these functions and to everything else that you do in life.  They will assist you in every one of the different situations you encounter in life.  The better you can incorporate these skills into who you are, the better you will cope with and get the most out of everything you do.

honesty    (being honest and truthful)

responsibility    (being responsible)

acceptance    (being accepting)

love                (having a loving attitude toward self and others)

empathy      (being empathic and understanding with self and

equality      (treating everyone, including ourselves, as being
basically equal)

cooperation    (cooperating skillfully with others in joint tasks)

fairness     (being fair in all dealings with others)

self-control     (controlling one’s behavior so as to make the
best decisions and so as not not to antagonize or harm

autonomy    (being able to decide independently on the best thing to
do and to stand independently for what is the right thing
to do)

skills for dealing with one’s emotions    (being able to use important
information in one’s emotions without having
them override good judgment or result in harm
to self or others)

You may find in considering these skills that you are reluctant to commit to them, probably because you think that you are getting something important from not using some of these skills.  You may believe that you can only survive and get along in your family by, for example doing a fair amount of lying and misrepresenting what you think, because you believe that if you were to tell the truth or be more transparent, then some of the others might suffer greatly, or they would all take even more advantage of you.  Or, you might believe that having emotional outbursts is important in helping you get to your way, so that you are reluctant to improve your management of your emotions.

Purposely not using these skills (not being honest, not being responsible, etc.) may be part of how you manage your life now, but it will be worthwhile to you to consider seriously whether you are satisfied with your life as it is now.  These skills are being proposed and explained because in my opinion they lead to the best life possible for human beings, so I am suggesting that if you are purposely not using them, then if you cultivated them you would have a better life than you now have.  This could, however, require separating yourself from certain people, including individuals who are family or friends, whose attitudes and behavior are keeping you in a position where you believe that you must purposely not use the skills advocated here.  In my view, they are using you to get more of what they want at your expense, since in my view, the more you do not use the skills presented here, the worse your life is.  This can be a difficult choice, but you are not obligated to subjugate yourself or make a worse life for yourself simply for the sake of anyone else’s feelings.

You may also feel hopeless about learning and utilizing these skills because you believe that while you are treating others better and perhaps feeling better about yourself, others will simply continue to mistreat you in their usual ways (lying, being irresponsible, being manipulatively critical and rejecting, etc.).  This is certainly a challenge, but bear in mind that if you implement these skills well, you can be at peace with yourself, and you will have at least somewhat better relationships (easier, more cooperative) even if others continue to be who they are.  You will feel better about yourself and your life while applying these skills, even if others continue to be just as they are, because your motives and actions will be pure.  You will like yourself and how you are behaving, even if others don’t do well by you.  However, there is considerable power in expectations, and your efforts to treat others better does exert pressure on them to do the same.  So, by practicing these skills you will make your life better, and others may slowly move toward being more honest, responsible, and accepting, too, but in the end, practicing these skills and benefiting from them may cause you to decide that you would be better off associating with people who can reciprocate this form of relationship, rather than continuing to suffer with your same associates.

Being honest helps you to be clear and calm within yourself, since you don’t have to keep track of lies or distortions of reality, and it makes people around you like, trust, and respect you more.

Being responsible engenders trust in you by other people and makes your life more orderly.  It also makes you more predictable and less dangerous to yourself as well as to other people.

Being accepting (letting yourself and others be without judgement or pressure to change) allows you to calm down and be more peaceful within yourself and with others, as well as toning down your self-criticism and unrealistic expectations of yourself.

Love (as opposed to passion) is a calm, positive attitude that allows you to want the best for yourself (or others) without expectations of return.  In the form of compassion, it can create an atmosphere of love around you that embraces the whole world.

Empathy helps you to understand and appreciate the life experience of others, so that you can be emotionally closer to them and can better choose how to relate to them.

Viewing everyone as basically equal does away with much competition and with most striving to be better than others and to “win,” which allows you to relate to others comfortably as peers and companions rather than as threatening competitors.

Cooperation skills help you to join with others in projects that benefit everyone and which you could not complete by yourself, thus expanding your reach in life.

Being fair gives a message of equality to others and tells them that you value their welfare almost as much as your own.

Self-control helps you to avoid harming others, and it allows you to choose the most effective behaviors to create the outcomes and the life that you want.

Autonomy makes it possible for you to choose for yourself what you want your life to be, as well as to stand up for what is right when necessary

Learning skills for dealing with your emotions will help you to be more calm, peaceful, and happy and to have better relations with others.

If this sounds like a life that you would like to live, work on a little each day.  If it isn’t, then thanks for reading anyway!