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What is Self-Compassion and Why is it Important to People in Recovery?

One of the effects of years battling with addiction is that it can leave people feeling full of self-loathing. This can include thoughts such as "I'm not good", "I always fail at everything," or "I don't deserve a better life." Such thinking can keep individuals trapped in addiction or prevent them from making much progress in recovery. In order to overcome this type of self-loathing, it is necessary to develop some self-compassion.

What is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is not about feeling sorry for yourself or becoming narcissistic. It does not mean pretending you are perfect or ignoring your faults. It is simply about being able to look at yourself, acknowledging both the good and bad and still being able to accept who you are. It means offering yourself the same level of compassion as you would offer to somebody you liked.

It is possible to see self-compassion as being made up of three separate components: acknowledging that all humans are the same, self-kindness, and mindfulness. Knowing that all humans suffer and make mistakes can make it easier to accept your own suffering and mistakes. Self-kindness means developing an attitude towards yourself that is positive rather than bullying and overly critical. Mindfulness is all about accepting the present moment without resistance and bringing your attention to it.

Difference between Self-Compassion and Self-Pity

It is important to understand the differences between self-compassion and self-pity because the former is going to benefit your sobriety while the latter could destroy it. Self-pity is all about seeing yourself as a victim, and it is a very disempowering way of looking at the world. Self-pity is also often used as a means to manipulate others, or used as an excuse for bad behaviour. Self-compassion is about accepting who you are at this moment - it also means accepting any consequences you have to pay for bad behaviour.

Why is Self-Compassion Important for People in Recovery?

Staying sober can be a real struggle if you do not develop some self-compassion. It can mean that every time things go wrong, your negative inner dialogue can make things feel much worse than they are. This type of thinking could drag you deep into depression or cause you to feel anxious a lot of the time. There is also a high likelihood that lack of self-compassion will open the door for self-pity, and you could then use this as a justification to relapse.

It may have been lack of self-compassion that allowed you to fall into addiction in the first place. If you cannot even rely on your own thinking for support and self-soothing, it is understandable that you would be tempted to turn to alcohol or drugs. If you go back to this way of living after you become sober, it could just suck all the joy out of your new life. By developing self-compassion, you will be able to experience the world in a much better way and you will be able to self-soothe as you need to without having to turn to new maladaptive behaviours such as comfort eating or workaholism.

How to Develop Self-Compassion in Recovery

It is not possible to prevent negative self-critical thoughts from appearing in your mind, but you put effort into adding thoughts that are more positive. You can think of this work as planting seeds, so if you do it enough the positive thoughts will soon overwhelm the negative ones. Your conditioned reaction to bad things happening may be to criticise yourself, but you can turn this around so that you are offering yourself some self-compassion instead.

One of the most effective tools for developing self-compassion is a technique known as metta meditation (aka loving kindness meditation). If you practice this daily for a few months, it can begin to soften your heart towards yourself and others.

If you really struggle to show yourself any type of self-compassion, this indicates that there are some underlying issues that need to be dealt with. In this situation, the best advice might be to spend some time with a therapist.

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