One of the things I discover a lot in clients I work with, i.e., parents of adult children with substance use disorders, is a lack of self-compassion. In fact, I often find the exact opposite: guilt, shame, questioning whether or not they deserve to be happy, “beating themselves up” for their children’s illness and decisions, etc.
And, unfortunately, these parents are often also blamed and judged harshly by others as well: their children, friends, other family members, and even strangers who don’t understand how addiction works. This can make it extremely challenging to feel okay with themselves and know that they deserve both compassion and self-compassion. However; given the turmoil and grief that addiction can bring into their lives, these parents need compassion in large doses.
The practice of self-compassion, therefore, becomes essential in the face of this problem. We’ve all probably heard that we cannot give away what we do not have. Accordingly, self-compassion doesn’t just benefit ourselves; it is the way to greater compassion for our loved ones (with or without addiction), our friends, our neighbors, and for the whole world.
When I was a teenager, I was unexpectedly introduced to the practice of self-compassion when it wasn’t labeled as such. I read about the importance of NOT judging oneself harshly or criticizing oneself when attempting any kind of behavioral change or goal. This wisdom resonated deeply with me, and I incorporated it into my life then. And as a coach and psychotherapist, I have always integrated self-compassion practices into my work.
In recent years, a lot of research has been conducted on self-compassion. Scientists have found important benefits to having and/or cultivating it. And the especially good news that researchers have found is that anyone can increase their self-compassion with practice.
Many people believe that in order to motivate themselves to get things done, or to motivate others to change, they must be tough on themselves or others. Individuals often think that, if they are nice to themselves, then they won’t be motivated to change. What tends to happen, though, is that self-criticism erodes confidence and actually leads to a fear of failure and less healthy risk-taking. We humans need the safety of knowing that we will be okay with ourselves, should we fail.
Research now confirms that individuals with higher levels of self-compassion:
- Are better able to cope with difficult life situations (e.g., addiction in one’s family)
- Are more loving and supportive in significant relationships
- Take greater responsibility for themselves
- Have increased happiness, life satisfaction, and motivation
- Have lower levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and rumination
So, the practice of self-compassion can lead to significant improvements in well-being, as well as provide the opportunity for transformation and healing.
For the parents I work with, this means feeling less stressed, anxious, and depressed about the problems that come with addiction. Greater self-compassion can give them the ability to focus more on their own self-care, and it can motivate them to do the hard work of decreasing enabling and controlling patterns.
Equally important, it can help them to be more loving and compassionate towards their adult children with substance use disorders. And for most parents, this is a core and paramount value.
So, know that it is not only okay to be nice to yourself in good times and bad, but that it is useful: not only for yourself, but for your loved ones, and really for the whole planet.
May you be kind to yourself.