Empathy is an important quality to cultivate in recovery. It doesn’t get as much attention as some other qualities like humility, perseverance, patience, honesty, and optimism, but it’s just as important. Here’s how your recovery will benefit by learning to be more empathetic.
Service is easier if you care about others.
Part of working the steps involves going to meetings, listening to others, and being of service. All of that is tedious and doesn’t mean much if you don’t really care about what others are going through. Being of service and being part of the group is meant to get you out of your own head and connect with others. The more interest you take in someone else’s problems, the more you will benefit from participating. It doesn’t take more than listening and trying to imagine what others have gone through. Considering many people in the room will be in the same boat, it shouldn’t take too much imagination to empathise with them.
Empathy makes it easier to let go of resentment and anger.
If you really go deep on your searching and fearless moral inventory, you may discover that many of the people you are angry at haven’t behaved so badly. They just didn’t behave as you would have liked. Empathy is being able to say with complete sincerity, ‘Ok, if I were that person in those circumstances, I probably would have done the same thing’. When you reach that point, it just seems silly to stay angry.
If you can make empathy a regular part of your life, you will get angry less often and form fewer resentments. One of the main reasons we get angry is that we expect other people to be better, or at least better toward us. It helps to acknowledge that everyone, you included, is doing the best she can, even if it’s often not very good. If we can appreciate where other people are and where they’re coming from, and accept them as they are, we won’t be so offended by the gap between our expectations and reality.
Empathy makes it easier to make amends.
If you are going to apologise to the people you’ve hurt and try to make amends, it helps to understand their point of view. This is not always easy. When we’ve hurt someone, we often prefer to think the other person was in the wrong. It’s not easy to admit that we were wrong. Thinking about things from the other person’s perspective makes the situation less oppositional. It’s also a way to let her know you really do understand what you did wrong and are sorry. Even if you don’t have the whole picture, a sincere desire to understand someone else’s perspective can go a long way. Repairing those relationships will not only help your recovery, it will make everyone better off.
Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 19, 2021