As much as we want it to be easy, pornography recovery can be a challenge, one often riddled with setbacks and relapses. You don’t have to be an addict to know how hard it can is, or from experiencing self-loathing when you have setbacks.
Self-attacks born out of frustration, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are common for those struggling out of the darkness of pornography use. Therefore, for all of us who have struggled with recovery in one form or another, we need to cultivate self-compassion while we do this important work.
Compassion: To Suffer Together
Psychology Today describes how compassion means “to suffer together.” It goes on to say that compassion is the feeling that arises when we are faced with anothers suffering and feel compelled to relieve it for them. It means leaning into the pain of another person, empathizing with their suffering then taking action by offering help. Perhaps you walk by a homeless person sleeping outside in the freezing cold, or a stranger on the bus bursts into tears and their pain suddenly becomes your own. In these instances, say experts Kristen Neff and Oliver Davidson, by stepping out of our usual mindsets and placing ourselves in another’s position, we start to see them as simply humans in pain, our hearts instantly resonating with theirs.
What might happen if we were able to feel this way toward ourselves when we are in pain?
Extending Compassion to Ourselves
Self-compassion is compassion directed at ourselves, and is critical to our own recovery from pornography. It requires self-kindness and an acknowledgement of our shared humanity. Neff and Davidson say that setbacks and difficulties are a natural part of life, and that rather than criticizing ourselves, we should be kind: ”When noticing a behavioral tendency that has been a source of frustration or embarrassment in the past [approach the imperfection] in a kind, understanding manner.” Remembering that setbacks are human helps us to feel less isolated and reminds us that all people fail, make mistakes, and feel inadequate. Saying things to ourselves like “I am such a loser” or “because I went back on my word I don’t deserve to be happy, peaceful, fulfilled,” causes us to feel alone, anxious, and solves nothing. In fact these thoughts often cause us to cycle back through the destructive behaviors that made us feel terrible in the first place.
Self-compassion, on the other hand, allows us to take a deep breath and extend sympathy to ourselves–to opening our hearts to our own suffering. Self-compassion does not mean making excuses for behavior we know is wrong. It simply helps us remember that we deserve love as we learn to change our habits.
One of the most useful tools we have in learning self-compassion is developing a practice of mindfulness. Explained by psychologists in the field of recovery, mindfulness is simply the concept that our minds magnify whatever we put our attention on: If we focus on what is wrong with our lives and ourselves, we will feel miserable. If we focus on what is positive and what we can change, we will feel more hopeful.
If you suffer a relapse or break a promise to yourself or others, take a minute and a few deep breaths and try to simply pay attention to the negativity you are feeling about yourself. Neff and Davidson remind us that those negative thoughts and feelings are just that–thoughts and feelings–which must change in order to move forward with recovery.
Notice the negative thoughts and then try these mindful steps:
- Take a few deep breaths
- Acknowledge the mistake
- Acknowledge that pornography is addictive and therefore difficult to overcome
- Respond to your thoughts and feelings as you would someone you love
- Give yourself permission to move forward in your recovery
By disallowing yourself to become carried away by negativity through a practice of mindful self-compassion, you are helping your recovery.
Self-compassion can help alleviate our shame, depression, and self-attacks when we mindfully remind ourselves that we are not alone and that we are worthy of kindness and love, even when we make mistakes. Practice mindfulness next time things go awry and keep your chin up–you can do this!