Fostering Self-Compassion in Recovery

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If you are in recovery from addiction, you likely understand the role your emotions and mindset play in your ability to make healthy choices consistently. For example, increasing your motivation for recovery has obvious value. Despite this, you may be overlooking the importance of fostering self-compassion in recovery.

It is vital to understand the benefits of self-compassion for your sobriety and mental health. Fostering self-compassion deepens your self-awareness. This helps you broaden your understanding of your addiction and other life circumstances. It can also help you get back on track faster after a relapse. For these reasons and more, strengthening your self-compassion as you heal from substance abuse and its effects is paramount for lasting recovery.

Understanding Compassion

An article by Clinical Psychology Review explains that compassion consists of five elements:

  1. Recognizing suffering
  2. Understanding the universality of human suffering
  3. Feeling for the person suffering
  4. Tolerating uncomfortable feelings
  5. The motivation to act or acting to alleviate suffering

When we foster compassion for others, we are placing ourselves in their shoes. We choose to understand what they are going through. This can help us support them. Compassion gives us insight into how to ensure that the person feels our emotional embrace as they work to navigate the hardship that they are facing.

According to an article by Frontiers in Psychology, compassion has immediate and long-term health benefits for both parties, the giver and receiver. Compassion positively impacts relationships, improves resilience, and is associated with greater emotional well-being.

Understanding Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is the ability to turn compassion inward. In other words, it is the ability to practice inner kindness and understanding when we experience hardship or make mistakes.

According to an article in Human Development, self-compassion has three main components:

  1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment,
  2. A sense of common humanity versus isolation, and
  3. Mindfulness versus overidentification

Similar to the health benefits of compassion, there are incredible health benefits that can result from fostering self-compassion. As the aforementioned article in Human Development explains, "Higher levels of self-compassion are linked to increased feelings of happiness, optimism, curiosity and connectedness, as well as decreased anxiety, depression, rumination and fear of failure.”

The Value of Self-Compassion in Recovery

Developing compassion for others is a critical step in your recovery process from substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction. However, fostering self-compassion is just as important. It can reduce your risk of relapse and strengthen your confidence about maintaining long-term sobriety.

If you struggle with fostering self-compassion, do not be discouraged. Learning the benefits of self-compassion for recovery can encourage you to practice it.

Another article from Frontiers in Psychology highlights more of the benefits of fostering self-compassion in recovery. First, self-compassion can facilitate emotional regulation. Recovery from SUD can be an emotional rollercoaster. Uncomfortable emotions can result from cravings, triggers, and other stressors. You may attempt to hide or alter these emotions. However, doing so will only worsen your symptoms over time. Conversely, self-compassion enables you to sit with and process your emotions without actively trying to change them.

Another benefit of fostering self-compassion in recovery is decreasing the toxicity of shame. Feelings of guilt and shame are all too common when working through the effects of substance abuse. Fortunately, self-compassion can reduce the intensity of these feelings and potentially remove them entirely. Self-compassion reminds you that you are part of a flawed world, working to be a better person every day.

How to Foster Self-Compassion

Incorporating daily practices into your treatment to enhance self-compassion can motivate a more sustainable and worthwhile recovery. Fortunately, there are many ways you can foster self-compassion. Here are some examples.

#1. Offer Yourself the Same Understanding You Give to Others

The next time you find yourself offering verbal comfort to a loved one about something they are going through, write it down. Journal any specific verbiage that you use. The next time you feel distressed, revisit these notes. Give yourself the same comfort that you provided your loved one.

Learning how to offer the same understanding to yourself as you give to others can be a challenging process. However, understand that with time and practice, you will get better. As with any other mindset, you can increase your self-compassion through intentional practice.

#2. Accept and Let Go of the Past

Every day is a new opportunity to blossom into the person you want to become. Remember, even with setbacks, you are always moving forward. Additionally, remember that having unconditional positive regard for yourself is key to breaking negative cycles.

If you find yourself revising mistakes from your past, allow yourself to let go. You are no longer the version of yourself that you were when you made those mistakes. Remind yourself that you did your best with the resources, knowledge, and level of healing that you had when you made mistakes.

#3. Build Confidence in Your Sobriety with Goal Setting

Another way to foster self-compassion during your recovery is through goal setting. Setting realistic, achievable goals can help you focus on your healing rather than on your past mistakes or setbacks.

Every month, create new goals that you hope to achieve. Additionally, create two smaller goals every week that will help you get closer to your monthly goals. Breaking goals into smaller components can increase your confidence and self-esteem because they help you make and notice progress.

#4. Utilize Holistic Treatments

Self-compassion can also be increased through holistic therapies and treatments.

Holistic therapies aim to improve your overall well-being, offering expressive outlets for your thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, can help you deepen your self-awareness and self-esteem. Meanwhile, fitness and physical therapies can increase your mind-body connection which can increase your emotional regulation skills.

Self-compassion is the experience of practicing inner kindness and understanding when we experience hardship or make mistakes. Fostering this attitude in recovery is necessary, as it can strengthen personal resilience to persevere beyond stressors and challenges. However, increasing self-compassion takes intentionality. It requires individuals to take time to turn inward and reflect. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga can help. Pathways Recovery Center is a residential treatment facility that understands the importance of self-compassion in recovery. We prioritize the use of unconditional positive regard in treatment and aim to instill this skill in all of our clients. Further, we can incorporate holistic therapies into your treatment that work to foster self-compassion. Call (888) 771-0966 to learn more.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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