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The Return of Empathy in Sobriety

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. In active addiction, we lost our capacity to feel empathy. Addiction causes a person to place more importance on drugs and alcohol than relationships and other people’s feelings. We often harmed people without even recognizing the weight of our actions. Selfishness and self-centeredness overtook us. In sobriety, however, these feelings return and we begin to fully care about others.

Twelve Step recovery programs believe that one of the greatest effects of addiction and alcoholism is the selfishness that results. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains, “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.” Our lack of empathy creates a vicious cycle of harming others and reacting to their retaliation.

Peg Streep, in a 2017 Psychology Today article entitled 6 Things You Need to Know About Empathy, explains, “Empathy isn’t just the engine for closeness and prosocial behavior; it also puts on the brakes when we are behaving badly and become aware of the pain we’re causing. Those of us who’ve had the misfortune of being intimate with someone high in narcissistic traits, combined with impaired empathy, know the devastation that can ensue. When there are no brakes and an excess of self-interest, you end up with scorched earth.” Often, our lack of empathy in active addiction caused damage to our relationships, leading us deeper into addiction as a means of coping with our consequential loneliness.

According to the Positive Psychology Program, “To put it another way, according to that way of thinking, empathy can be broken into at least two parts: *feeling* the way someone else feels, and *understanding* how someone else feels. In other words, empathy is made up of being able to put yourself in someone else’s position both intellectually and emotionally.” In a sense, our newfound ability to feel empathy is evidence of our personal, spiritual, and emotional growth. As we continue on the path of personal, spiritual, and emotional development, we find that we become less interested in ourselves and more interested in what we can do for others. The sense of altruism and helpfulness that results from our empathy allows us to remain spiritually fit and maintain our happiness, joyousness, and freedom in sobriety.

Your life doesn’t have to be held back by the chains of addiction. You can make the decision to seek help today and begin building a brighter future. Resilient House, located in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, brings together the highest quality behavioral health and addictions specialists, holistic experts, and spiritual guides to help clients develop all the tools necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety. For information about treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431