Compassion: The Missing Ingredient in Recovery

Therapist holding a patient hand in a session

When it comes to substance use disorders, compassion is often the missing ingredient in the recovery process. Some people see addiction as a moral failing, and those struggling with addiction are often seen as weak or flawed. This attitude can be very damaging and can hinder recovery. However, compassion can help break down the barriers that prevent people from seeking help. In this blog post, we will discuss compassion’s role in addiction recovery.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” As the definition indicates, compassion as a noun is simply a feeling that connects us to others. Compassion is what allows us to recognize and share in the suffering of others, helping us to understand that we are never alone in our suffering. 

While it is true that we cannot singlehandedly or entirely alleviate the suffering of every single person we feel compassion for, we can act compassionately in a way that, at the least, doesn’t make their suffering worse. 

But being compassionate is more than something we have, feel, or embody. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and world-recognized spiritual leader, “compassion is a verb.” Compassion is something that we do. Compassion is, at its root, a way that we live. The Dalai Lama once said, “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.”

How Can Compassion Help a Loved One’s Recovery?

There are many reasons why compassion is so important in addiction recovery:

  1. It can help to break down the stigma that surrounds addiction. When we see those struggling with addiction as human beings worthy of our compassion and support, we can start to chip away at the negative judgments that fuel the stigma of them seeking help.
  2. Compassion can help create a sense of connection. When we feel connected to others, we are more likely to seek out help and support.
  3. Compassion can motivate us to take action.

When we see someone suffering, we naturally want to do something to ease that suffering. Compassion is a powerful emotion that can fuel positive change in ourselves and the world around us.

How Can Compassion Help Your Own Recovery?

The Dalai Lama poses an important question to us. Is it enough to feel compassion, or are we tasked to act on our compassion? If we can view compassion as a verb, we can view compassion as a way to live, not just as a way to feel. Living compassionately means living with a sense of kindness, softness, and understanding for all people and all experiences of all people. We may not be able to empathize with all people, meaning we may not relate precisely to their experiences, but we can still act compassionately toward people.

Compassion as a lifestyle connects us first to ourselves and second to others. By living compassionately and acting on our compassion, we remove the barriers between ourselves and others that can cause us to feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood. Through compassion, there is a high level of understanding which transcends the details and differences of everyday life- we become one race of humans, on an equal playing field, deserving and worthy of one another’s kindness and consideration. This allows us to be of service however we can and fuels our connection to others. 

If you are struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone. There are people who care about you and want to help you recover. Seek out treatment from a compassionate provider who can offer the support and guidance you need to heal. And if you know someone who is struggling, reach out with compassion. A kind word or gesture can make all the difference.


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