“…self-compassion is all about transforming myself into a ‘low-maintenance’ human. Those of us who fall into addiction are ‘high-maintenance’ people because just staying afloat in life requires so much of our inner-resources.”
I’m putting together an eBook for people interested in using mindfulness to overcome addiction problems. I’ll share the chapters on here as I write them. Here is part ten in the series – you will find links to earlier posts at the end of this one.
It is our tendency to run away from discomfort rather than towards it that is the real driving force behind addiction. It is the thought ‘I can’t deal with this’ that makes alcohol and drugs such an attractive proposition. The Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once described our discomforts as being like little infants in need of our attention – the problem is that most of us habitually fail to offer soothing to our pain and instead try to ignore it or avoid it.
We search the world looking for someone or something to fix our pain not realizing that the solution must come from us. Learning to soothe our own pain is a vital skill if we hope to develop serenity –it is our baby who is crying, and it is our duty to attend to these cries.
Self-Compassion Requires Acceptance and Kindness
If we are in pain, it is the wrong time to engage in any self-loathing or self-recrimination – this will just make us feel worse so we are unable to cope and more likely to run away. We also need to avoid entertaining thoughts such as ‘it shouldn’t be like this’ because it is what is. Effectively dealing with our discomfort requires acceptance and kindness.
Acceptance is sometimes misunderstood as a fatalistic attitude towards life where you don’t do anything to improve your situation. The acceptance we are talking about here only applies to those things that can’t be changed – i.e. things that have already happened.
If I’m feeling sad at the moment, it would be illogical for me to think ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’, yet this has been my response to negative emotions for years. Sure, I can do things to improve my mood, but there is nothing I can do to change the way I’m feeling right now – it is what it is. My best response is to accept it as the current condition of my brain with the understanding that it is only temporary. I definitely don’t need to feel bad about feeling bad, as this will just make me feel worse.
The most basic way we can show kindness to our suffering is to give it our attention. By sitting with this discomfort, rather than struggling against it, we get to see that it isn’t such a big deal. Our stories about our pain are always much worse than the actual pain itself.
I used to suffer from bouts of depression every few months and these continued even after I quit drinking until a couple of years ago. These episodes would last few days and my response to them was to hide away from the world in my bed. The first time I suffered from depression was back in my early twenties when it was induced by alcohol and amphetamine abuse. Somehow along the way, I started to associate depression with low mood, and this meant that experiencing low mood could be enough to send me into a downward spiral into depression.
I remember it was a Sunday afternoon, sitting in my garden here in Rayong, when the dreaded low mood hit me again. I felt so fed up with these episodes of depression, and it was happening so often it was impacting my ability to provide for my family. I decided to just sit with the low mood – something that should have been obvious for me to do before after years practicing mindfulness.
My usual reaction to low-mood was revulsion but on that Sunday I approached it with curiosity and kindness – I wanted to know what this low mood was all about. I noticed that there was a feeling of low energy in my body and an overall sense of sadness, but there was nothing there that was worthy of my previous resistance. I sat with this low mood for less than an hour before it disappeared (I wasn’t trying to make it disappear because I didn’t mind it any longer), and I now have no problem experiencing low mood or sadness.
Won’t Self-Compassion Increase Self-Absorption?
I used to cringe at the mere mention of self-compassion – it sounded so selfish and hippy-dippy. If the path of mindful recovery requires less of an obsessions with self, surely self-compassion is a step in the wrong direction?
I now understand self-compassion is all about transforming myself into a ‘low-maintenance’ human. Those of us who fall into addiction are ‘high-maintenance’ people because just staying afloat in life requires so much of our inner-resources. There is all this stuff we need to do to protect ourselves from the world, and it is this that drives our self-obsession.
The saddest thing is it requires far more effort to avoid our pain than it does to face it. Those things we don’t want to face are never dealt with, just brushed under the carpet, and maintaining this state of denial becomes a full-time occupation. We keep ourselves ‘safe’ by building a fortress around ourselves never realizing we have put ourselves in prison run by a brutal guard (our self-hatred).
Self-compassion reduces our self-absorption by giving us the ability to soothe our discomforts instead of hiding from them. We become like fearless firefighters – whenever we a fire, we run towards it with our extinguishers on full-blast. Pain is dealt with as it arises, and there is no longer a need for us to be in a constant state of siege. The job of staying afloat in life now requires far less effort as we start to open up to the world.
How Developing Self-Compassion Improves Our Relationships with Other People
The way we respond to the suffering of others can provide insight into our habitual responses to our own pain. If we feel uncomfortable in conversations where people are discussing their emotional pain, it’s probably because we have the same attitude towards our own suffering. We may believe these ‘cry babies’ should ‘just snap out of it’ because this is the ineffective response we offer to our own inner discomfort.
By learning to soothe our own pain, it greatly increases our ability to empathize with other people. We begin to realize that we are all in the same boat – we are all doing our best to get by even when our best is pretty diabolical. We’ve done unhealthy things in an attempt to escape our own pain, so we can better understand when other people do the same. Ultimately, self-compassion is the path towards compassion for all living beings.
Other Posts in This Series
Part 1- The Mindful Path from Addiction to Serenity
Part 2 – Why Mindfulness Makes the Perfect Replacement for Addiction
Part 3 – How Mindfulness Works
Part 4 – Mindfulness versus Addiction Cravings
Part 5 – Mindfulness for the Ups and Downs in Recovery – Part 1
Part 6 – Mindfulness for the Ups and Downs in Recovery – Part 2
Part 7 – How to Mindfully Find Your Life Purpose – Part 1
Part 8 – How to Mindfully Find Your Life Purpose – Part 2
Part 9 – Mindfulness with Compassion is Where the Real Magic Starts to Happen