Lessons in Self-Compassion: Be Kind to Yourself for a Better Recovery


self-compassionFor many people in recovery, self-compassion is a real challenge. Most of us want to be kinder to ourselves, but our self-critical, perfectionist tendencies often stand in the way. What’s more, many people confuse self-compassion with a get-out-of-jail-free card. Self-compassion doesn’t let you off the hook for your mistakes, but it does give you the ability to accept your mistakes, learn from them and try again.

What Is Self-Compassion?

The word compassion means “suffer with.” Perhaps the easiest way to understand self-compassion, then, is to think about the tenderness and understanding you would offer a loved one who is suffering. For example, would you ignore, judge or beat her up? Or, would you try to ease her worries and comfort and reassure her?

“Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself,” writes self-compassion researcher and expert Dr. Kristin Neff. “Instead of just ignoring your pain with a ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality, you stop to tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now,’ how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”

Unlike self-esteem, which can rise and fall with our successes and failures, self-compassion is a consistent attitude and kindness toward our whole self. According to Dr. Neff, there are three main elements involved in self-compassion:

  • Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
  • Common humanity vs. isolation
  • Mindfulness vs. over-identification with thoughts

How Does Self-Compassion Help Your Recovery?

Self-compassion can set the stage for better health, relationships and lower levels of anxiety and depression. Self-compassion will allow you to recognize when you’re suffering emotionally during recovery and allow you to be gentle and patient with yourself as you work through the various stages of recovery. It will also prevent anger, isolation and false expectations from standing in your way of full recovery.

People who have self-compassion are able to recognize that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience. In other words, you’ll realize that you’re not the only one struggling to overcome a substance use disorder.

Self-compassion can also increase mindfulness and decrease self-judgement. You’ll be better able to observe your negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity.

Practicing Self-Compassion

Certainly, it’s easier to extend understanding and compassion to others than yourself – but there are many ways to practice this important recovery and life skill.

  • Write a letter to yourself. Think about a difficult time or something you don’t like about yourself. Describe and acknowledge the situation and/or feelings – without judging or blaming yourself. Give yourself permission to move on to better times.
  • Give yourself encouragement. The next time you do or say something that causes internal suffering, cut yourself some slack. Think about what you would tell a friend – and direct that compassionate response toward yourself.
  • Practice mindfulness. Focus on where you are in life and in recovery, without dwelling about the past or worrying over the future. Observe your thoughts, feelings and actions without trying to suppress or deny them.

BRC’s Commitment to Healing

Our warm, supportive, community-driven environment can help you develop self-compassion as you develop the skills necessary to experience a joyful, fulfilling and productive life in recovery. To learn more about our programs and addiction services, call today: 866-461-1759.