Compassion for Self During the Highs and Lows of Holidays

Contributor: Brie Morzov, LCSW, and contributor for Addiction Hope

Healthy teen girl walking with a bike in summerThe holiday season can be an emotionally, mentally, physically stressful time. Pressures of family, friends, parties, gift exchanges, extreme consumption and traditions all culminate with often larger-than-life highs and lows during this season.

While some may find the holiday season a joyous time, those in recovery, especially early recovery may find this time to be intense with increased vulnerability of “doing” the holidays fully aware in sobriety.

Perhaps it’s the first holiday sober, it’s not unusual that in our culture holiday celebrations are laced with festive spirits along with the obligatory social encounters. So how does the recovering one maintain sobriety and serenity amidst the highs and lows of the holidays?

The answer may surprise you. Of course making plans that support recovery are important, but so often the holidays come with obligations that may not be ideal for recovery. And even more importantly, the holidays and subsequent rituals may trigger emotions and thoughts that can be dangerous and unavoidable.

Practice of Self-Compassion can create stability

So what can ease these holiday highs and lows? Dr. Kristin Neff is widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on Self-Compassion. She says, “With Self-Compassion we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give a good friend”.

In her research she identified three basic elements to the practice of Self-Compassion: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness” [1]. So often we have great compassion for the suffering of others. Our heart grieves for the misfortunes of others, this ability may be the greatest ability of the human spirit.

Man reading a bookHowever, what happens when we suffer? Are we kind to ourselves, giving to ourselves like we’d give to another in similar suffering?

Likely not. As an addict, one is more likely to crucify themselves rather than give kindness or grace. Self-Compassion means I show myself kindness, doing unto myself as I’d do unto others.

Or moreover, having compassion for self means I do unto self what I’d like to have from others. One may get frustrated by the lack of compassion from others, and so I have an opportunity to show myself the compassion and grace I wish to receive.

What is common humanity? How might that help? There is tremendous power in understanding the common plight of humanity, to know that we have all fallen short, all suffer, all need alike. Maya Angelou said “We are all human; therefore, nothing human can be alien to us.”

If we can gain a perspective that I am no better or worse than you, perhaps I can begin to let go of my self judgement along with letting go of the judgment of others too. And all the while being mindful.

Mindful of the state of self, others, the universe. Mindful of the eternal perspective, the Greater Purpose or Plan of my Higher Power. All of Self-Compassion’s three elements allow for one to rest within self, recognizing while the external world may be full of chaos, the internal world contains all one needs to find peace, serenity and satisfaction.

Self-Compassion is NOT…

Dr. Neff also clarifies that “Self-Compassion is NOT self-pity, self-indulgence or self-esteem” [1]. Self-Compassion does not mean I can wallow in my or other’s short-comings, wrong-doings or failings.

It does not mean I can feel sorry for myself that my family is too this or not enough that, or that my world isn’t what I want it to be.

facial massageSelf-Compassion means I stand strong, head up focused on the prize and goals of Greater Living. That I strive for inner-peace and security through self-acceptance and perseverance.

Self-Compassion does not mean I get to over indulge. “I deserve to indulge in this pleasurable, reckless or irresponsible behavior”.

A common thinking error for addicts that facilitates triggers into action. No one gains peace, joy or love by over indulgence.

These things are gained by pressing into and through difficulties and allowing such circumstances to make you stronger. One only becomes weaker when they give into irresponsible indulgent behaviors.

Finally Self-Compassion is not the same as self-esteem. This is a common error for people to think that “if they just had self-esteem or felt good about themselves everything would be ok”. Wrong!

What do I base my self-worth or esteem on? Is it my ability to perform, do good, do right, based on what? Self-esteem is subjective, fluid, and unstable. Recovery can’t ride on this.

Self-Compassion means I allow myself space to recognize my short-comings and rectify them, but not base my self-worth on my circumstances.

If addiction is an outer reach for inner security, then Self-Compassion is a tool which allows the addict to have to complete control over how they treat themselves. When I treat myself with tender loving care, the way my Higher Power does, then I further the serenity and stability of my recovery.

5 Ways to Practice Self-Compassion

Dr. Neff also identified five strategies to help one practice self-compassion: (More information on Dr. Neff’s research and Self-Compassion resources can be found at

  1. Golden Rule backwards: Treat yourself the way you treat others in pain
  2. Watch your self-talk and how you talk about yourself with others
  3. Comfort self with physical gestures
  4. Memorize compassionate phrases or affirmations to combat the negative self-talk
  5. Practice Guided Meditations (1).

The holidays may provide a perfect opportunity to practice the discipline of Self-Compassion. The increase in family and social contact can help one gain a deeper understanding of self and relationship patterns.

Praying Hands with Holy BibleThis season is an opportunity to reevaluate relationships, support systems, spirituality, and overall recovery program. It is critical for continued growth in recovery to use one’s therapist and/or self-help groups to identify triggers and process the highs and lows to find purpose and change.

Triggers are a gift, a holiday gift if you will, and one in recovery can process holiday triggers as means of personal growth and a way to strengthen one’s recovery program. The holiday season can and likely is very triggering to most addicts.

But being triggered can be an extraordinary opportunity to let go of my external sources for peace and security and press into my Internal Source.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How do you practice self-compassion? Did this come easy for you? If not, what tools did you use to improve your self-talk?

[1]: Neff, Kristin, Psy.D. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2015.

Brie MorzovAbout the author: Brie Morzov, is a Licensed Clinical Social Work in Oregon. She has worked in the field of addiction treatment and prevention for the past decade and continues to work as a therapist and author. She has a passion for helping hurting people heal and find their highest self.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 12, 2015
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.