Essential Recovery Tool: The Self Compassion Break

Self-compassion is gaining momentum in the addiction recovery field as an effective intervention with multiple benefits. Over a hundred journal articles point to conclusive results that self-compassion is “predictive of psychological well-being” (Dr Kristin Neff) in many areas.

You may be wondering, “what is self-compassion”? Dr Kelly McGonigal describes self-compassion as “being kind & supportive to yourself whenever you’re experience suffering.” It means learning to show yourself care and concern in the same way that you would with someone you love who is going through a difficult experience, whether it is the result of personal choices or challenging life circumstances.

Self-Compassion is a useful practice that supports recovery from addiction, trauma, and a shame-based identity. It is an effective tool for decreasing self-criticism, managing pain, and promoting positive change. Learning to respond to feelings and needs in a self-compassionate manner facilitates deeper connection with self and long-term healing. It has been shown that “compassionate mind states may be learned, and may alleviate shame, as well as other distressing outcomes, such as depression, anxiety, self-attacks, feelings of inferiority, and submissive behavior” (Vettese, 2011).

The abilities to connect with self and manage emotional states are foundational to long-term recovery. In the book Addiction as an Attachment Disorder, Flores (2004) writes that “until addicts develop the capacity to use their feelings as signals and to become emotionally intimate with themselves, they will continue to engage in their self-destructive and self-defeating behavior”. Self-compassion is a useful vehicle to deepen this kind of self-connection, with life-changing implications.

Learning how to find healthy comfort when experiencing distress or suffering is another key recovery skill. Many people in recovery experience intense levels of shame and are self-critical with themselves as a result. Self-criticism produces cortisol and inhibits change. Interestingly, self-compassion decreases cortisol and produces Oxytocin, which decreases cravings and leads to feelings of nurturance and safety. Thus, it is unlikely that true change will occur when self-criticism remains the default manner of relating with oneself, especially in times of failure and weakness.

There are many exercises that help people begin to relate to themselves with self-compassion. One of the most potent self-compassion exercises available is called “The Self-Compassion Break”. It offers a quick opportunity to implement the three components of self-compassion: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. Click on the following links to learn about the Self-Compassion Break in AUDIO or WRITTEN formats.

The Self-Compassion Break is so simple that it may easily be minimized or disregarded. However, when used in moments of pain or suffering, this exercise proves to be one of the most effective tools we have at our disposal for regulating emotion, connecting with self, and experiencing comfort in difficult times. As you practice the skill of self-compassion, may you experience deeper levels of peace, comfort, and healing as a result.

We would love to hear about your experiences practicing this self-compassion tool. Please take a moment to share what this experience was like for you (using either the contact form below or commenting directly on this blog post). We hope this experience leads to lasting change.

To see how self-compassionate you are, take the Self-Compassion Test

Self-compassion is recommended for all people, especially those in our LifeSTAR and LifeSTYLE Transformation programs.