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The Importance of Self-Compassion in Recovery

Self-Compassion in Recovery

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. The American Psychiatric Association explains substance use disorder as a complex, neurological “condition in which there is uncontrolled use of substance despite harmful consequence.” Individuals that struggle with addiction are essentially compelled to prioritize satisfying drug cravings above all else. Those caught up in substance abuse often make poor choices and hurt others in the process. Sometimes, treatment can bring up shameful memories and negative thoughts about those actions. Part of the recovery process is to cultivate and implement healthy habits that align with one’s recovery goals and improve one’s mental health and emotional well-being.

What Is Self-Compassion?

Self-compassion is defined as “compassion directed inward, relating to oneself as the object of care and concern when faced with the experience of suffering.” Kristin Neff, Ph.D., one of the leading researchers in this field, explains that self-compassion is comprised of the following three central components:

  1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment: being kind and understanding toward oneself rather than being self-critical.
  2. Common humanity versus isolation: seeing one’s fallibility as part of the larger human condition and experience rather than as isolating.
  3. Mindfulness versus overidentification: holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in mindful awareness rather than avoiding them or overidentifying with them.

When these interrelated elements combine and mutually interact, we can cultivate a self-compassionate frame of mind when encountering personal mistakes, failure, perceived inadequacies, and/ or various experiences of life difficulty. Self-compassion plays a crucial role in the recovery process for individuals overcoming addiction.

Self-Compassion In Recovery

In addition to increasing treatment outcome, there are a variety of benefits to practicing self-compassion for those recovering from substance use disorder:

  • Research indicates that self-compassion is strongly associated with psychological well-being. More specifically, experts assert that “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.” 
  • A 2021 paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology, asserts that self-compassion induces a feeling of security and calmness as it produces a chemical response by activating the parasympathetic system, which triggers the release of oxytocin (commonly known as the “love hormone”). This creates a sense of emotional safety, even in the face of uncertainty, which in turn lowers stress and stress-related behaviors.
  • According to Michigan State University, “practicing self-compassion helps us to accept our own humanness and imperfections with kindness and increases people’s motivation to learn, to change for the better and to avoid repeating past mistakes.” 

Empirical literature proposes that self-compassion appears to reduce psychopathology through lessened automatic and negative thinking, reduced avoidance of negative emotions, decreased entanglement with negative emotions, and greater emotion regulation skills, all of which can promote and support long-term recovery.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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