It is sometimes suggested that the world would be a better place if humans demonstrated more compassion for each other. This is a reasonable claim, and there is no doubt that compassion can improve interpersonal relationships. Those who are recovering from an addiction are likely to find that cultivating compassion will boost their progress in sobriety. It will allow them to move away from the obsession of self that is a characteristic of life in addiction.
> A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Compassion is a Latin word that which can be translated as meaning suffer together with. It can also be described as a feeling of empathy for the suffering of other people. It is an emotion that is encouraged by many philosophies and religions. An individual who acts out of compassion will be doing something to alleviate the suffering of other people.
Not only is compassion praised as a laudable human quality, but cultivation this emotion can be a great asset for the individual. The benefits of compassion include:
* It is suggested that those individuals who practice have a 100% increase in the hormone DHEA which is believed to counteract the aging process. This emotion has also been shown to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) so this indicates that the individual will be less likely to suffer from stress related illness.
* Those individuals who experience a high degree of compassion for other people tend to be happier in life. This may be because they are less self absorbed and so don’t spend as much time focused on their own issues.
* When people are considered compassionate they will be much admired by most other humans. This means that they will have no problem developing lasting friendships.
* Such individuals can make a difference to the world because their actions help people. It can often by the case that the good they’ve done in the world will long outlast their life span – in other words they leave their mark on the world.
* When people feel compassionate it means that they become less argumentative and confrontational. This means that they have less conflict to contend with generally because they are not constantly knocking heads with other people.
* The person who cultivates this emotion will tend to sleep much better at night.
* It leads to improved mental health.
* It is necessary for people to develop this emotion if they wish to progress along any type of spiritual path.
Those people who are recovering from an addiction will benefit a great deal by becoming more compassionate. This is because the personality traits that make the individual more prone to addictive behavior often include self obsession and disregard for other people’s feelings. One of the goals in recovery is to deal with the character flaws associated with the addictive personality and developing compassion will certainly help with this. Other benefits of cultivating this emotion in recovery include:
* It will give the individual an ability to develop a much deeper relationship with their family and friends. They can then begin to make up for all those years when their selfish behavior caused suffering for these people.
* When the individual breaks away from their addiction it will also often mean letting go of their social network. By developing compassion they will find it much easier to make new friends because this is a highly attractive personality trait.
* It means that the person will be better able to understand the point of view of other people because in order to be compassionate they will also need to develop empathy.
* It makes the individual more open to the thoughts and opinions of other people. They will not automatically get defensive when they find out that other people think differently from them or share an alternative worldview.
* It will mean that the person will be in a much better position to help other people in recovery. This type of service not only benefits the other person’s life but also strengthens the recovery of the one doing the helping.
Frederick Buechner demonstrated the closeness of compassion to empathy with his comment:
> Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.
Empathy can be described as the ability to identify and understand another person’s situation, feelings, and motives .It occurs when one person tries to imagine what it must be like to be in another person’s shoes. It differs from sympathy because the individual who is emphasizing is really trying to understand where the other human is coming from – it is not just identifying with certain feelings. Feeling sympathy for somebody is the same as feeling sorry for them, but empathy is more about trying to understand what it is like to be them. The development of compassion always leads to an increased ability to emphasize with other humans.
There are steps that people can take in order to cultivate compassion in recovery such as:
* Practicing a technique such as loving kindness meditation. This is where the individual actively tries to promote this emotion during meditation and this then begins to influence their daily life.
* Learning to listen empathetically. This means that the listener temporarily puts aside their own beliefs, biases, judgments, and ideas so they can really focus on what the other person is saying.
* It is vital that the individual can learn to respect differences of opinion and belief, and to not take this as a personal attack.
* It is good to focus on the similarities that all humans share rather than the differences.
* The individual can make a commitment to doing at least one compassionate action each day. Eventually the individual will begin behaving this way automatically because they will have noticed how much it benefits their life.
* The principle of charity means always trying to interpret what the other person is saying in a positive light. This is particularly important with online communication when it is far easier to become misunderstood.
* It is vital that people also develop compassion for themselves. Sometimes people can have expectations for themselves that are unobtainable, and this means that their inner dialogue can be overly self critical.
The Dali Lama has said:
> All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.
One of the most powerful tools for developing compassion is loving kindness (metta) meditation. This was originally a Buddhist practice but it has now been adopted by people of different faiths and backgrounds. The person meditating deliberately invokes feelings of compassion. They then create internal images of different people and direct compassion towards those individuals. The mediator may use words such as may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free from suffering. The first image they will create will be that of a loved one and they will send feelings of loving kindness towards the mental image of that person. They will then do the same for somebody who invokes no strong feelings before finally sending loving kindness towards the image of a person they dislike. This type of meditation also usually involves sending loving kindness towards the self. There are different versions of this meditation but they all involve basically the same thing.