Acquiring the Skill of Compassion in Recovery

Recovery |

Compassion isn’t usually an ability we possess, especially for those who have experienced addiction. Sadly, addiction involves feelings of self-hatred and behaviors that are self-destructive. Addiction usually involves denial of your feelings, hurting yourself when you’re upset, and/or hurting others.

On the other hand, compassion asks for opposite feelings, such as love, understanding, and self-care.

Compassion is the experience of having empathy for someone, for having a sense of what it’s like to stand in their shoes. Compassion is not judgment; it’s understanding someone and accepting them for exactly who they are in that moment. It’s common within the drug and alcohol field to encounter someone who is judgmental towards those who struggle with addiction.

To this day, addiction continues to be seen as a personal flaw. Despite the research that supports addiction as a disease of the brain, many people continue to believe that addiction is the result of a personal failure. Thus addiction can often be accompanied by judgment. Furthermore, it’s easy for an addict to be judgmental towards themselves as well.

Compassion As a Tool in Recovery

For these reasons, compassion is a powerful skill to possess as a recovery addict. However, it must be acquired. It’s not always easy to be compassionate if you’ve always experience criticism. And it’s not easy to be compassionate if you have always been critical yourself. Compassion is a skill that we can learn.

It’s challenging to learn how to be compassionate if you don’t have it modeled around you, and especially if you’ve never had it modeled. However, there are some ways that you can begin to be compassionate towards yourself and others, if you choose. The following are a few ways to begin to cultivate compassion in your life:

Watch Movies

Sometimes, we need to hear the stories of others. We need to touch upon the dark circumstances they faced in order to have compassion for ourselves. Movies are an easy way to see the intimate experiences of others and how they overcame challenges.

Set Up a Support Network

Setting up your support network is something you might want to discuss with a drug counselor. In addition to addiction experts, you may want other recovering addicts who are a step or two ahead of you, those who have been through the difficulties you might be experiencing now.

This can support feeling compassion towards them as well as yourself. You might also experience among the people in your support network someone having compassion for you as you share your story.

Recognize That It’s Going to Take Time to Heal

Recovery isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take days, months, even years. Knowing this from the start can help bring compassion and tenderness towards yourself. Knowing that it’s going to take awhile can help build a sense of acceptance with where you are now.

Establish One Hour a Day Just for You

When you have an hour devoted to yourself, you might start to choose to do activities in that hour that are self-nurturing. This too can help build compassion for yourself. When we have moments in our lives that help “fill our cup”, so to speak, we are then able to be there for others as well.

For instance, if you’re in a 12-step community, you know that part of recovery is  supporting others in their process of getting and staying sober.

Compassion isn’t easy to remember to do. In fact, according to Lisa Najavits, author of Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse, judgment prevents growth while compassion facilitates it. If you’re used to criticism, experienced trauma, struggled with addiction, and/or grew up with criticism.

Compassion is what we must learn to do for our own healing and to help facilitate the healing in others.


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