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Does Pain Cultivate Empathy?

“We are not a glum lot,” the authors of Alcoholics Anonymous wrote. They described the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous as a group of people who would “normally not mix.” “We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.” Despite the differences among the members, the authors emphasize, “…there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful.”

The authors explain that the fellows of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and by metaphor meaning anyone who is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, are like passengers on a ship being rescued from a shipwreck. “The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us. But that in itself would never have held us together as we are now joined.” Few people can understand the suffering, pain, and plight of living in active addiction to drugs and alcohol the way that an addict or alcoholic can. That “common peril” is what creates an innate and unique sense of empathy among individuals in recovery. Without that painful experience, addicts and alcoholics might not know how to support one another.

Empathy can be defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. Humans experience pain. We all experience some kind of pain in our lives whether it is physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. Every human being can humble themselves to realize that their experience of pain is no different from anyone else’s experience of pain. However, it helps when two people have suffered a very similar pain, like addiction. Out of that pain, empathy is born.

Can we be empathetic without pain? We have to be able to recognize our own pain first. We also have to be willing to recognize the pain of others. As addicts and alcoholics we turned a blind eye of denial to our own suffering and as a result ignored the suffering we caused others as a result of our addiction. Coming out on the other side of pain gives us the perspective we need to confront and resolve our pain. When we see others suffering we are no longer suffering, but have suffered. We can offer them our empathy because, due to our pain, we have the ability to understand and share their feelings of suffering.

Enlightened Solutions offers a clinical, holistic and 12-step approach to the road to recovery.  If you’re struggling with addiction and/or mental illness, our program is specialized in dual-diagnosis treatments. Don’t hesitate and contact us today.

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