What Does Radical Empathy Mean for Recovery?

By April 10, 2022July 31st, 2023Addiction Treatment
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Radical empathy practices imagining what life feels like to someone else. 

When we have radical empathy for recovery, we understand that addiction serves a purpose in a person’s psychological ecosystem. Addiction has a raison d’être, a root cause that is far more tenderhearted and touching than we might realize. 

Radical empathy knows of the existence of this very good reason for your addiction. What is it? 

A protective, life-enhancing, life-supporting, and positive intention: to survive against the odds.

Addiction Manages PTSD Symptoms 

Addiction shows up where the soul has been harmed. Addiction manages the PTSD symptoms that go along with living with a broken self. It makes life livable (ish). 

Therefore, when radical empathy looks at addiction, it sees it for what it actually is: a strategy to make it through something that would otherwise represent a serious danger to the psyche’s chances of being here at all.

Psyches can be busted and broken. We are resilient but not indestructible. We need protection, ways to keep ourselves together. 

Even though addiction is no friend – in fact, it creates many, many very serious problems – your psyche was trying, in its own way, to keep you alive for the future, when it developed this pattern.

Forgive yourself, if you can, for making a deal with the devil. For what you chose to do and what kind of a bind you were in, that required you to make that contract. That set you up for walking the demanding road to recovery, now.

Radical Empathy is The Key out of Prison

The key out of the prison of addiction is to deeply self-approve, understand, and accept that addiction represented a solution for you. It met a need. And even though you don’t want to have a binding deal with the devil anymore, you must understand that the need itself was and always will be valid. 

A need for safety, for help managing PTSD symptoms, for experiencing an inner world that isn’t haunted by misery and demons every single waking moment, is completely human and not too much to ask of life. 

When you choose to have empathy for a human in such need and pain, that she would take substances into her body in a way that – deep down at least – she knows isn’t normal, you can begin to heal and find a better solution for the pain and necessity behind that choice. Radical empathy is the key out of addiction’s prison. 

Radical Empathy Acknowledges Psyche’s Needs

For parts of your psyche, it was, and is still, a matter of survival, of making it to the future. We often fail to acknowledge the very difficult, monumental job that psyche has to do. 

Psyche, sensitive and impressionable, has to somehow stay intact in the face of overwhelming, full-gale forces whose natural, unavoidable effect on the soul is to shatter it.

To prevent further fragmentation, further splitting into parts and pieces, the soul will grasp at all kinds of things that it wouldn’t, under safer, better circumstances.

Radical Empathy Works

Radical empathy means understanding that self-judgment doesn’t really cure anything. How often have you told yourself you should be like this, or you should be like that? Does it lead to change?

Most often, should-ing only leads to the appearance of change, to get someone or something off our backs. 

Perhaps it would be fine if shaming, blaming, and judgment actually worked, but all of these approaches have been proven time and time again to have zero impact on causing addiction to go away (in fact, the absolute opposite). 

Empathy, by contrast, is effective. It’s only in a space of true neutrality, in the light of true kindness, that we often open enough to see what’s really going on. 

When radical empathy embraces and surrounds us, we crack open and let life see the splinters in our soul. Soaked in empathy, these can, at last, be extracted from our psyche’s depths. 

Radical Empathy Leads us into a Positive Future

Radical empathy has a firmness – it doesn’t mean we consent to harm. It doesn’t mean letting us do bad things to ourselves, now that we know better. It means we understand the whole addiction cycle, the shape of the space it sits inside. 

Radical empathy has a path and a plan for us. It helps us know there is a future in which we not only survive but flourish. A future in which the holes in our soul become places where spirit plants its seeds, spirit-seeds that sprout into lush, fresh life. 

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