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Therapy Take-Aways to Practice in Your Life

Building Compassion in Relationships by Understanding our Differences and Similarities


Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking to several groups on the topic of “Compassion in Relationships”. Preparing for these talks was a great opportunity for me to reflect on how understanding our differences and similarities really helps us develop compassion for one another.

As a Counselling Psychologist, I see a lot of people in conflict with themselves and each other. The most common complaints generally involve large amounts of criticism and judgment and very small amounts of compassion. If a relationship is going to be successful – we need less criticism and more compassion!


Plato wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. 

This is a wonderful quote that we can all relate to it. So why is this so difficult to do?


We are all the same in our desire to be understood, accepted and loved. But we are not all the same in the way we view the world and act on our views. Feeling accepted and loved is largely connected to being seen and understood for who we are. But it’s not always easy to understand each other!

There are real differences in how each of us see and understand the world around us. When we look at other people through the lens that we see the world, we can sometimes have trouble making sense of someone else’s actions. What might be “common sense” for you is not necessarily “common” to others. When we don’t understand that there are different ways of viewing things, we can become irritated, critical and angry with each other. But when we learn to accept these differences we can understand why another person is acting the way they are. This understanding plants the seeds for building compassion in our relationships.


So why do people see and do things differently?

The differences between us are largely imbedded in the expression of our personality. I really appreciate the Enneagram system of understanding personality because it clearly identifies 9 core archetypal patterns known as the 9 Enneagram Types. There are variations within type but each of the core types are defined by specific and different underlying motivations that drive the way a person thinks, feels and acts.

When we understand our deeper motivations we can begin to make sense of the way we react to life events and the people we interact with. And knowing the deeper motivation behind someone else’s behavior allows us to access compassion for them and perhaps tread a little lighter. Referring again to Plato’s quote, knowing about these personality differences can help us understand the “hard battle” that another person may be “fighting”.


A very brief look at the 9 Types and their key motivations


Type 1 – The Strict Perfectionist is motivated to do what’s right – to improve and make order in the world.

Type 2 – The Considerate Helper is motivated to meet the needs of others and maintain relationship connections.


Type 3 – The Competitive Achiever is motivated to perform and achieve.

Type 4 – The Intense Creative is motivated to seek out beauty and express deep emotion and individuality.

Type 5 – The Quiet Specialist is motivated to observe, possess and synthesize knowledge and to conserve personal energy.

Type 6 – The Loyal Sceptic is motivated to question and seek security/reassurance.

Type 7 – The The Enthusiastic Visionary is motivated to seek pleasure through freedom and opportunity.

Type 8 – The Active Controller is motivated to be strong and avoid vulnerability.

Type 9 – The Adaptive Peacemaker is motivated to maintain peace and harmony.


If you are intrigued by this topic of understanding your personality, you may be interested in getting your personalized Enneagram profile by taking the Integrative Enneagram Questionnaire (IEQ). I am now accredited to offer and administer this profoundly accurate test developed by Integrative Enneagram Solutions. To read more about how to take the IEQ and how I work with the Enneagram to help people understand themselves and others please click here to see my Enneagram Consultation page.


And how are we all the same?

In spite of our personality differences there are many human experiences that we all share. We all strive to be happy. We have all experienced sadness and the pain of loss. And we all long to be understood and loved. Remembering this is a helpful way to soften the heart and feel compassion toward others.

Here is a simple yet powerful compassion practice that you can try anytime, anywhere with anyone.


Just Like Me Compassion Practice

  1. Think about a particular person (known or unknown to you).
  2. Focus your attention on that person either in your mind or by looking directly at them.
  3. Repeat the following phrases (silently to yourself) slowly and with an open heart.


Just like me…this person (or their name) wants to be happy.

Just like me…this person (or their name) wants to understand him/herself.

Just like me…this person (or their name) wants peace and security.

Just like me…this person (or their name) has experienced losses, hurts and sadness.

Just like me…this person (or their name) has experienced fear, anxiety and anger.

Just like me…this person (or their name) faces challenges in his/her life.

Just like me…this person (or their name) wants to be understood and accepted.

Just like me…this person (or their name) wants to be loved.



Try using this practice with someone you know during or after a conflict experience.

Try using this practice with someone you don’t know while you are waiting in a lineup or at the airport.


If you would like to share your thoughts on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below.

1 Comment

  1. Sue VarleySue Varley05-13-2013

    Thx Ruth, I loved the compassion practice. I could tell, when I read them that saying these statements will make a big difference at the moment in time when we start judging people. Great stuff

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