There are many traits that are useful for everyone, especially anyone recovering from addiction. These traits include optimism, gratitude, and self-control, among others. One positive trait we tend to hear less about is compassion. Compassion is a concern for the suffering of others but concern for your own suffering is just as important and often neglected. Here are some of the ways compassion for yourself and others is crucial for addiction recovery.
There are many reasons people resist getting help for a substance use disorder. Many insist they don’t have a problem. Many that recognize they have a problem aren’t ready to quit drinking or using drugs. Many are afraid of the stigma, both the stigma of substance use and the stigma of having to ask for help.
Self-compassion may reduce the resistance people feel toward getting help. One study found that greater self-compassion in young men made them more willing to seek help for a mental health issue. Men are especially resistant to seeking therapy, often because of cultural expectations that men shouldn’t complain or talk about their feelings. However, young men who showed more self-compassion seemed to be less constrained by this masculine stereotype. Having more self-compassion may allow you to seek help when you need it instead of suffering unnecessarily.
We’ve long known that self-control leads to many positive outcomes. People with more self-control are better able to avoid impulsive mistakes and they are better able to do things that may be boring or painful at the moment but will pay off in the long run. Contrary to popular belief, addiction isn’t mainly the result of poor self-control but self-control does have a place in addiction recovery. It can help you stay on track and do daily maintenance such as going to meetings and making healthy lifestyle changes.
In the last few years, researchers have made a surprising discovery about self-control. While people long assumed that self-control was mainly a function of foresight and willpower, it may actually be a kind of compassion for your future self. It turns out that we imagine our future selves as different people and your ability to have compassion for the person you will be in the future increases your willingness to be kind to that person by doing helpful things in the present.
Strong social ties are crucial for a strong recovery. Having a strong sober network keeps you focused on sobriety, reduces your feelings of stress and anxiety, gives you more resources for dealing with life’s challenges, and increases your sense of accountability. The motivation for sobriety or anything else varies over time and having a supportive sober network can help keep you going when your motivation is low. In addition to the sober network comprising people you met in recovery or in 12-step meetings, it’s also good to have strong ties to supportive friends and family. The greater your sense of connection and belonging, the more resilient you will be in the face of challenges.
Compassion is one of the best ways to strengthen your relationships. Many people with substance use issues have a great capacity for compassion, having suffered so much themselves. This can be a great asset in recovery because it can help you connect with others. People like to know you care about their problems, so being willing to listen and support them is central to strong relationships.
Shame is a common issue for people recovering from addiction. Most people with substance use disorders have had negative experiences, such as trauma, childhood abuse or neglect, or mental health issues. Adverse childhood experiences are extremely common among people with substance use disorders and many of these experiences lead to deep feelings of shame. Many people with substance use issues also feel ashamed of their behavior during active addiction. Addiction changes your personality and may make you compromise your values in ways you feel ashamed of.
Just as we see our future selves as different people, we typically see our past selves as different people too. Since we’re now suffering the consequences of our past selves’ mistakes, it’s easy to heap scorn on our past selves. We resent our earlier bad choices, which are obvious with the benefit of hindsight. However, it’s important to extend compassion to our past selves and our present selves. Our past selves made the best choices available to them at the time, often as children dealing with pain the best they could. Extending compassion to that hurting person helps relieve the shame you feel now.
Finally, compassion for yourself and for others increases your feelings of wellbeing. It’s important in recovery both to regulate challenging emotions and to increase positive emotions. Self-compassion, or having a positive and caring view toward yourself in the face of your shortcomings, has been shown to increase psychological well-being and might be even more important than self-esteem.
Compassion for others increases our feelings of wellbeing too. Research in recent years suggests that compassion may be a hard-wired feature of the human brain. We are distressed when we see others distressed and we feel relieved when they are relieved. We also feel better about giving things to others than we do getting things ourselves. This is likely why volunteering has been an integral part of 12-step programs since the very beginning.
Recovering from addiction is about more than just abstinence or therapy. It’s about learning to live in a different way that is both healthier and more connected. Everyone takes a different path to sobriety and it can be hard to find the way. Hired Power can help you find a path that works for you and offer support to keep you heading in the right direction. To learn more about our unique addiction recovery services, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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