Compassion is vital to our recovery. Compassion helps us to manage distress and channel feelings in positive actions. We encourage you to accept support and accept compassion from a therapist, pastor, friends, family, and The Hyacinth Fellowship. Such support is strongly associated with better psychological outcomes.
Of special importance is self-compassion and self-forgiveness. How would you treat a friend or family member in your situation? You would be gentle, loving, and patient. Can you extend this same love and kindness to yourself?
Self-compassion does not mean excusing ourselves of responsibility, minimizing the seriousness of what happened, indulging our desire to numb pain through substance abuse or other distractions, denying difficult feelings such as guilt or grief, or treating ourselves as victims and asking others to take care of us.
Self-compassion means accepting ourselves while we are in pain. Dr. Kristin Neff, who has spent her career studying and teaching self-compassion, describes 3 components. You can learn more about these in her book or website.
- Self-Kindness. This means replacing self-judgment with understanding. It also involves comforting ourselves, just as we would comfort a friend in distress. If you’re having trouble with this, the first step is just to notice how we talk to ourselves. Instead of telling yourself that you deserve your guilt and shame, can you simply acknowledge that you are suffering? Can you remind yourself that, as Dr. Neff, says, you are a valuable human being worthy of care?
- We are all in this together. You may feel all alone in your despair and anguish. Even if we are not ready to accept compassion from others, we can acknowledge that suffering is universal. Dr. Neff writes, “If we can compassionately remind ourselves in moments of falling down that failure is part of the shared human experience, then that moment becomes one of togetherness rather than isolation.”
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply being aware of reality. It means recognizing, acknowledging and accepting our pain instead of avoiding or judging it. Dr. Neff and many others offer dozens of exercises to learn mindfulness, but they all start with noticing and accepting.
Psychologist, teacher, and author Dr. Tara Brach has written a guide to the practice of “Radical Compassion.” There are 4 elements, which you can remember as RAIN.
- Recognize what’s going on. This means staying aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they occur.
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. You don’t have to fix or avoid anything.
- Investigate with interest and care. Allow yourself to be curious and to ask questions about your bodily sensations, feelings, and needs.
- Nurture with self-compassion. Be kind to yourself in the midst of your despair and suffering.