Friendship, Empathy, and Being Present for Others

Two men talking outside.

Friendship, Empathy, and Being Present for Others

During active addiction, friendships are often based on those in your life who will enable your substance use. In recovery, you learn to build healthy friendships by giving empathy for others and truly listening and hearing what they say, and receiving the same support in return. Being present for others is a skill that you will learn and develop as you work in therapy. This skill takes practice to master and implement into your everyday relationships. These skills will help you develop friendships that will be mutually fulfilling and truly lasting.

The Desire for Fulfillment

As with anything else in life, doing what you have always done will keep getting you what you have always gotten. This concept is true with friendships as well. When your friendships are based on enabling one another in unhealthy behaviors, those friendships are not likely to extend much beyond those experiences. When the action is stopped, the relationships often stop with it.

When you are ready for deeper, meaningful, and fulfilling relationships that are built on mutual trust and understanding, the friendships prior will no longer matter. As your relationships become healthier, the desire to engage in negative behaviors is diminished. These healthy friendships can help you feel fulfilled and happy with your choices moving forward.

Purpose of Empathy

The Oxford English Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of one another.” A lack of empathy is common among those with substance use disorder. There is debate as to whether a deficiency in empathy is one of the common genetic factors inherent in those susceptible to substance abuse, or whether the substance abuse fosters less empathy in those involved. Either way, if you struggle to empathize with others, you are certainly not alone.

The recovery process has a strong focus on empathy. Exposure to group therapy and situations in which you may need to consider the needs and feelings of other people can strengthen your sense of empathy. While everyone’s experience with substance abuse is unique, the shared experience of addiction and the treatment process can help you relate to others and begin to understand some of what they are going through.

Developing Empathy for Others

When you develop empathy for other people, you are putting aside your thoughts and feelings and considering the feelings of someone else. This can be challenging, particularly if it is a new experience for you. Developing empathy means that you allow yourself to see the world and situations from different perspectives other than your own. This skill can help you create a deeper connection with others and build long-lasting relationships moving forward.

Not everyone experiences life in the same way as you do, and the more you become aware of other viewpoints, the more you will be able to empathize with them and their specific experiences. This will help as you seek to build strong friendships with others and build a support system.

Learning to Be Truly Present

Another challenge in building fulfilling relationships is to learn to be truly present for others when they are with you. Sincerely listening and paying attention to what they say is one way to demonstrate that you are being present and supporting them. Listening is not just hearing the words they say, but being able to understand the meaning behind the words and trying to understand their feelings.

Being present literally can mean you are physically present for other individuals. Call them when you say you will call them. Be there when you tell them you will be there. Communicate with them if you have an emergency and cannot fulfill your commitment, but make the people you care about a priority in your life and show up for them. Keeping your word on this matter will show that you have the best intentions for them and your friendship.

A Reward for Hard Work

Building friendships that are worth keeping is not always easy. Healthy friendships do not just happen on their own, they are the result of both parties being committed to working through any difficulties and still showing up for one another. Friendship takes work to achieve and commit to, but has many benefits once achieved. Developing empathy is an important skill to have to create these friendships.

The best reward for all of your hard work is to have a friend that works just as hard for you as you do for them. Their commitment to building a friendship means that they will have empathy for you, too, and that they will listen and be present for you. Not only will you be able to have fun together like in previous friendships, but you will have deep and lasting friendships that are mutually fulfilling. These friendships can greatly benefit your recovery success and lead you to a better lifestyle as a whole.