How to Show Compassion When Helping the Addict in Your Life

When someone in your life – like a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend – continues to choose drugs or alcohol over everything else, you inevitably reach a point where you become resentful, angry, and maybe even a bit apathetic. After all, if they continue to destroy their life, why should you have to sit there and deal with the negative repercussions their lifestyle yields?

The point is well taken, but what if you’re looking at addiction through the wrong lens? Your loved one’s addiction isn’t about you and your feelings. While you certainly get dragged into the mud with them, to make the situation about you is shortsighted and ignorant. The addict is the one going through the situation and to shun them is doing everyone a huge disservice.

What an addict really needs is compassion. At first, this may seem like a strange idea, but it’s actually the best thing you can provide.

Why Do Addicts Deserve Compassion?

In order to understand the role of compassion in dealing with addicts, it’s important that we start by recognizing the causal factors that often drive addiction.

Most people automatically jump to the conclusion that addicts are bums who have made choices to seek out self-destructive pleasures at the expense of relationships and responsibilities. In other words, they’re selfish, hedonistic individuals with a serious lack of willpower. But this isn’t usually the case. While it’s possible that you’ll run across an addict who fits this description, most addiction stems from one of two things: genetics or traumatic events.

“Addiction does not always begin when addicts begin to abuse a substance; sometimes addiction can be traced back to family history, as well as genetics,” Drug Treatment Finders explains. “Studies show that those who suffer from addiction carry a similar gene that medical experts believe contributes to addictive personalities. Additionally, those who have multiple family members who have suffered from substance addiction will have an increased chance of developing an addiction themselves.”

But what about addicts with no genetic history of addiction? In many cases, the root of addiction can be traced back to a specific event, or series of events. Examples include child abuse, neglect, loss of a job, a failed relationship, or the death of a loved one. And when you combine a genetic predisposition to addiction with a particularly traumatic event, the likelihood of drug or alcohol abuse skyrockets.

When you begin to view addiction through this lens, it’s much harder to resort to resentment, anger, or apathy. Instead, you begin to realize that compassion is a much more appropriate response.

How You Can Show Compassion

Let’s not foolishly act like it’s easy to show compassion to an addict. Even when you recognize that their addiction may be rooted in uncontrollable factors like genetics or trauma, you still have to deal with their hurtful behaviors. But with some discipline and practice, you can choose compassion often.

The following tips will prove enormously helpful.

1. Empathy Over Sympathy

The terms are often used interchangeably, but sympathy and empathy are actually two different things.

Sympathy objectifies the individual and turns them into their own problem. For example, a sympathetic statement would sound like this: “You drink two bottles of wine every night? That sucks - I bet that makes you feel really terrible in the morning.”

Empathy shows understanding and puts you on the same level as the individual you’re talking to. An empathetic statement would look like this: “I know what it feels like to want to give up something and feel like you aren’t in control. I was a smoker for 20 years and went through a similar situation.”

Make sure you’re choosing empathy in your interactions with your loved one.

2. Do Activities Together

If your only interaction with your loved one involves you scolding them or cleaning up after their messes, it’s really hard to show compassion. You should consider doing constructive activities together. Whether it’s planting flowers in the yard or going to museums, the act of being together while focusing on something other than the problem is very helpful.

3. Share Your Own Flaws

Your loved one knows you aren’t perfect, yet you sometimes make it seem like you are. By sharing your own flaws – even just little mistakes – you level the playing field and lend more credibility to your relationship.

Stop Making It About You

When a loved one’s addiction affects you financially, emotionally, relationally, or even physically, it’s easy to shift your focus away from them and turn it towards yourself. How dare they, you whisper under your breath. But when you remember that addiction is rarely a hedonistic choice, but rather the direct or indirect effect of uncontrollable factors, you can stop making it about yourself and instead give them the one thing that’s needed most: compassion.

The Christian Post