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The Difference Between Kindness and Compassion

From a Radically Open DBT (RO DBT) perspective, we teach that kindness is our go to skill. This blog entry explores the difference between kindness and compassion and why RO finds kindness acts so essential to psychological well-being.

Kindness is a behavioral action that others can see (aka a “social signal”). It has the qualities of affection, warmth, and playfulness. When we are kind, we are able to admit our wrong doing and reconnect with others. Kindness models openness and humility. This allows us to question oneself and stay engaged with others to promote social connection. Kindness allows us to emphasize the wonderfulness of diversity while living within our own values. It also promotes us contributing to the well-being of others, without expecting anything in return.

Compassion is an inner experience. It can be directed toward another person or group, or it can be directed inward (self-compassion). Compassion is characterized by the qualities of sympathy, empathy, and concern. It emphasizes nonjudgmental thinking toward self and others, validation, distress tolerance, and acceptance of what is occurring. Compassion is oriented toward healing, alleviating suffering and acknowledging that all humans suffer.

Why RO Prefers Kindness
It would be wonderful if both kindness and compassion are present in any challenging situation, but from a stance of social connection, kindness is the word. Kindness allows for a two-way interaction, where compassion is just outward or inward and not necessarily action-oriented but more feeling-oriented.

For overcontrolled (OC) leaning individuals, sometimes compassion for others and self-compassion are not enough, because they fail to take into account our tribal nature, which is to act, not just to witness or feel.

Some examples of kindness acts are:
– Recognizing we are better when together, and joining with others
– Willing to suffer pain or make self-sacrifices for another person
– Recognize it is arrogant to expect the world to conform to our beliefs
– Hoping the best will come to others and celebrating with them when it does

RO DBT’s skill Kindness First and Foremost is all about being interpersonally effective and socially connected, which helps in one’s overall psychological health. For a list of kindness acts you can practice, check out RO worksheet 17.B (Lynch, p 373) in the RO DBT skills manual.

The Difference Between Kindness and Compassion

Hope Arnold

Hope is a Radically Open DBT Senior Clinician and 1-day trainer for Radically Open LTD organization. As a self identified overcontrolled person, she works to help her clients learn to relax, take themselves less seriously and be the person they want to be. Perfectionism, anxiety, rigidity, detailed focus, risk aversion and loneliness are some of the areas that overcontrolled people struggle to navigate. In her writing Hope uses humor and real life stories to help overcontrolled individuals make the changes that will bring happiness to their lives. Hope is licensed as a LCSW in Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. She has a private practice in Denver, Colorado.

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APA Reference
Arnold, H. (2020). The Difference Between Kindness and Compassion. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Jun 2020
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