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The Importance of Self-Compassion in Recovery

The Importance of Self-Compassion in Recovery
By: JC Shakespeare, LPC

One of the most challenging emotions that goes hand-in-hand with substance abuse or alcoholism is shame; conventional wisdom still associates a drug or alcohol problem with some sort of moral failing or character flaw.

As comedian Mitch Hedberg used to say, “Alcoholism is a disease, but it’s the only disease you can get yelled at for having.”

Getting stuck in shame is not conducive to recovery. Often, those of us with issues around addictive behaviors are our own worst critics, judging ourselves harshly and therefore locking in the very emotional state that can drive us to use. University of Texas professor Dr. Kristen Neff has been at the forefront of the self-compassion movement, and in this excellent TEDx Talk, she lays out the differences between self-esteem and self-compassion. Dr. Neff notes that self-esteem, long considered a bellwether for good mental health, is actually based upon comparing ourselves to others. In order to have good self-esteem, we need to feel special, or above average, whereas in self-compassion, we treat ourselves with kindness and respect, right where we are.

Cultivating a practice of self-compassion can be an important part of any recovery program, and several guided meditations on Dr. Neff’s website ( provide an easy way to develop such a practice. If we accept the premise that every human being is doing the best they can in every situation, given the level of consciousness they have in the moment, then we open the door to removing the self-judgment and criticism that lock us into the cycle of shame.

If you can find 20 minutes to watch this video, you will be on your way to adding an important piece to your self-care regimen. As Dr. Neff says, “Self-compassion is an idea worth spreading.”