Compassion is an important quality to possess and to cultivate. This abstract word that describes a virtue means “to suffer together.” A longer definition might describe compassion as the result of seeing someone suffering, realizing they do not deserve it, and wanting to help them because you know you would want help if it happened to you.

As you can see, compassion is not easily defined but most people have some idea of what it is. Most of us like to think of ourselves as compassionate beings, and we are. Some people are more compassionate than others, but most human beings at least have some compassion for others.

There is a great deal of compassion in the recovery community because so many people within the community have suffered deeply themselves. Whether it is other people in recovery, or counselors, therapists, and doctors, the goal of everyone in the community is to find help for themselves and for others. Addiction is suffering. Recovery is the alleviation of that suffering, Everyone is working together to get everyone to that happier and pain-free, addiction-free place. Many therapists and counselors are recovering addicts themselves, and they know first hand that there is a solution to the problem, and a light at the end of the tunnel.

Developing Compassion for Others

Compassion is something small children often seem to have a lot of, but for some, it seems to lessen as they get older. People begin to worry mostly about themselves and their own problems, and while some people remain compassionate throughout their lives, others begin to turn inward. A lack of compassion can be a real problem for an individual on a personal basis and even more so on a larger scale.

Until recently, people didn’t talk much about cultivating compassion and there was some question about whether or not compassion was something that can be learned. One study, completed in 2013 by the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that compassion can be learned and taught.

In this study, researchers trained young adults in compassion meditation. This type of meditation involves participants sending compassionate energy to those who are suffering by imagining a time they saw someone suffering and then wishing that person’s suffering was relieved.  They also repeated phrases such as “may you be free from suffering” and “may you have joy and ease.”

After practicing, the participants played a game to measure if their compassion and altruism improved. They played this game on the computer and gave out money to one of two players: the victim, or the dictator. They watched as the dictator gave the victim some money, and then decided how much of their own money to give to balance things out.

The study found that people who had done the compassion meditation were more generous with their money, and in turn more caring, for the victim character, than those who had not.

They also did brain scans and found that those who showed the most compassion during the game also showed the most signs of changed brain chemistry in the brain scan.

Mindfulness and Compassion

In the above study, it seemed that compassion (also known as lovingkindness) meditation can be effective in helping people become more compassionate.  Another thing that can really help is with mindfulness.  Mindfulness is, in short, simply the art of paying attention. People who are mindful notice the world around them and the feelings within them. They are fine tuned to their own emotions and the emotions of others. They focus on the present moment, and as a result, they can more clearly see when problems arise, and can deal with them swiftly and effectively.

It may seem simplified to say this, but our attitude can greatly effect our perception of things, and in turn, our lives.  People who focus on the bad things in their life tend to attract more bad things.  If someone in recovery is focused on all of his or her failures, that person will continue to fail. However, on the other hand, someone who is focused on positive things will begin to experience more positive things in his or her life.

Mindfulness helps practitioners to focus on their feelings and emotions and determine which way to go. Through mindfulness, one can begin to practice self-compassion, which will help them to eventually become more compassionate in general.


Although we should all be compassionate to others we encounter and love in this life, we also need to be compassionate towards ourselves. Many people can easily be kind to others but are horrible to themselves.  People say terrible things internally that they would never say to another human being.  This is extremely detrimental to the self in so many ways.

In order to build self-compassion, one must forgive themselves for past mistakes. Practicing self-care of any kind is also helpful. Many recovering addicts are self-loathing and may not even realize they are doing it to themselves.

The negative self-talk becomes such a pattern internally that it ends up feeling normal.  It isn’t.

If people in recovery are going to succeed on their journey to a happy and healthy drug and alcohol-free life, they need to be compassionate towards themselves. They need to be conscious of self-criticism, negativity, and unrealistic expectations they place upon themselves. They need to treat themselves as they would treat others in order to develop the strength they need to stay on this difficult road.

In order to achieve this, people trying to develop compassion must accept their past mistakes and then let them go. They need to remember that theye are right where they are supposed to be and there is no rush to hurry forward. Focusing on self-growth rather than self-improvement can help, and taking breaks from the hecticness of life as needed is vital, too.

Once someone develops compassion for themselves, then they can achieve so much. The confidence that comes from feeling self-compassion can b the fuel needed to get to the next level, and then the sky’s the limit!

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