When loved ones are struggling with substance use disorders and addiction, finding empathy can be difficult. Substance misuse and addiction impacts all facets of life, including important and intimate relationships. Still, having empathy for your addicted loved one could be a vital key to their healing and recovery. And it could be an important part of rebuilding relationships in sober living.
What Is Empathy?
You may be familiar with the term ’empathy’ but not really sure of what it means. It is different than sympathy, which many find far easier to muster when someone is struggling with a substance use disorder. Whereas sympathy is genuine hope for someone’s plight to be better (1), empathy goes further.
When someone has empathy for their addicted loved one, they are able to put themselves in their loved one’s shoes and try to see life from their perspective. Empathy allows your friends and family to understand that you’re struggling. It allows them to see that you don’t want to be putting themselves or you through any of this.
When this empathy occurs, and your friends and family experience empathy, it can be a pivotal piece of recovery for you.
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Why Is Empathy So Important To Your Addicted Loved One?
If you’re struggling with dependence on drugs or alcohol, you know first-hand the shame and guilt that comes with using. You know that your cravings are real. You’re not just giving in to them because you’re choosing to do so. You don’t want to be dishonest in your relationships, but the embarrassment you may feel prevents you from sharing your dependence.
And you also know that when you’re struggling with addiction, you honestly have a hard time seeing past what your body and brain tell you that you must have. It’s hard for you to reach out for help because you’re ashamed you even need it in the first place. You fear the reaction your friends and family members will have when they find out you’re struggling.
The irony of empathy when dealing with an addicted loved one is that friends and family members do have a hard time putting themselves in your shoes. Just as you find it hard to believe that drugs or alcohol have such a hold on your life, they have a hard time too. They don’t have the chemical and physical cravings driving them as you do. They may have heard the old, “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves,” line so many times, they believe there’s nothing they can do to help you.
It’s understandable that having empathy for an addicted loved one can be difficult. You may have damaged the trust and intimacy of your closest relationships. Your friends and family may find it hard to see things from your perspective. They’ve probably heard about how ‘enabling’ you can make your dependence worse, not better.
But having empathy for an addicted loved one may make all the difference in your recovery, and may even save a life (2). As Dr. Brene Brown says (3), empathy drives connections, and that can help fuel your desire to achieve long-term sobriety.
Ocean Hills Recovery: Empathy and Understanding Go Hand In Hand
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance misuse or dependence, it can be heartbreaking.
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You may believe that ‘tough love’ is the only way to make the break, but that’s simply not true. In fact, research shows that empathy, particularly in therapists (4) and counselors, can make a tremendous difference in the success of recovery and treatment. You’re not just a statistic to be treated; you’re a real person with real hopes and dreams. You don’t want strained relationships, and we know your friends and family don’t want that either.
At Ocean Hills Recovery, we know that addiction affects your brain and prevents you from making rational choices you’d otherwise make. We know that you’re not just a statistic; you’re a person who wishes that your life was different and your relationships restored.
We know you didn’t choose this life, and you never dreamed you’d find yourself here. At Ocean Hills Recovery, we know that talking about success in numbers is only meaningful if each number represents a real person. That’s why we combine compassion and experience to help you break the chains of your addiction. We offer a customized approach to rehabilitation and recovery that we call Collaborative Recovery. We’ll help you gain a sense of compassion toward yourself and give you skills to make the transition into a life of sobriety and restored relationships.
Replacing Shame with Empathy & Compassion
We know that replacing the shame of addiction with empathy and understanding is key to your self-esteem. It can even give you the motivation to recover. Our beautiful facilities in Dana Point, California, offer a relaxing and encouraging environment. Here, you can face the truths of your substance misuse in a caring way. Admitting you need help can be isolating and leave you worried about what others think of you. But at Ocean Hills Recovery, you have a full team of professionals walking with you every step of the way. We want to help you break the cycle of addiction once and for all. If you’re ready to take that step, don’t hesitate to contact us today.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.