5 Tips for Improving Self-Compassion

Hands holding red heart showing compassion
by Nikki Seay on 16 September 2014 in Life in Recovery | updated on 18 July 2016

“I’m such a loser.” “I can’t do anything right.” “I’ve ruined my life.”

These are just a few of the common themes running through the mind of a person in recovery from substance abuse. Whether it’s called self-judgment, self-attack, or a serious case of low self-esteem, it all boils down to one menacing recovery barrier: self-hatred. At its most extreme, self-hatred can lead to relapse and other self-destructive behaviors. If lasting sobriety is the goal, learning to be kind and supportive to yourself during times of suffering is the only way to get there.

Avoidance is the Enemy

This kind of message causes addicts to turn on themselves – to believe they must be bad, unworthy, shameful, and worthless individuals.

Experts tend to agree that one of the most influential factors of addiction is avoidance. Addicts learn to skirt around, downplay, negate, or suppress their own feelings. They scramble to get away from their true selves, convinced that what they are feeling is wrong, inaccurate, unwanted, or unacceptable to society. This kind of message causes addicts to turn on themselves – to believe they must be bad, unworthy, shameful, and worthless individuals. In truth, their initial addictions could be to self-hatred.

Addicts are commonly caught up in the feelings of self-loathing, even after becoming sober. In fact, self-hatred can grow to feel so natural that the person does not even notice it anymore. This creates a steady mental stream of self-criticism, negativity, and unrealistic expectations. Most recovering addicts don’t realize the monumental impact of this negativity, at least until they learn how to embrace self-compassion.

Self-Compassion as a Recovery Tool

When used as an addiction recovery tool, self-compassion has shown to help people overcome cravings, deal with the stresses of early recovery, and better manage their emotions. It involves being mindful, but the practice also boosts self-esteem, reduces self-criticism, and allows the person to feel more comfortable in his or her own skin – qualities that are essential for lasting sobriety.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, “compassionate mind states may be learned, and may alleviate shame, as well as other distressing outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, self-attacks, feelings of inferiority, and submissive behavior.”

When used as an addiction recovery tool, self-compassion has shown to help people overcome cravings… and better manage their emotions.

The Science Behind Self-Compassion

Not only does self-compassion provide an emotional boost during the recovery process, it’s also proven to be physically helpful. A study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology reveals that self-compassion decreases the body’s cortisol levels – a.k.a. the “stress hormone” – and promotes the production/release of oxytocin, a neurological chemical that decreases drug cravings.

How to Develop Self-Compassion

You can develop self-compassion skills by following these five rules:

  • Acknowledging mistakes, then letting them go
  • Remembering you are exactly where you need to be right now, don’t rush through life
  • Choosing to focus on self-growth rather than self-improvement
  • Speaking to and treating yourself as you would a dear friend
  • Cutting yourself some slack, giving yourself permission to move on to better things

Learn more tools to help you succeed in the addiction recovery process

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