Guilt and shame

The Role of Guilt and Shame in Addiction

It happened again. You said you wouldn’t drink too much at the family gathering, but you did. As you start to sober up, you see the hurt and disappointment in your spouse’s eyes. You hate hurting people you love, but you can’t seem to stop your behavior. You feel guilty about your behavior and ashamed of who you are. The feelings of guilt and shame are so painful that you drink again to stop the emotional pain, which causes you to feel guilt and shame. The cycle starts again.

What are Guilt and Shame? Where Do They Come From?

Although many people use the terms “guilt” and “shame” interchangeably, they are not quite the same emotion. According to Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., writing in Psychology Today, guilt is “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc….” Guilt relates to others. Shame, on the other hand, relates to the self and how we feel about ourselves. Shame is the feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with us, that we are damaged or flawed.

According to information published by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), feelings of guilt develop in children between the ages of three and six years of age. Feelings of shame can develop in children as young as 15 months. Guilt stems from the knowledge that we have done something objectively wrong. Shame stems from the feeling that we are inherently damaged. Shame may arise in early childhood when our negative emotions are denied. Some caregivers don’t allow children to have negative emotions, perhaps because the caregivers were never taught how to handle negative emotions themselves. At any rate, when we are children we learn that these negative feelings are unacceptable. So we suppress these feelings and may begin to use addictive behaviors to cover up the emotional pain.

Results of Guilt and Shame

Shame can cause us to fear rejection, which in turn can cause us to avoid people. Shame can also lead to mental health problems, including depression and substance abuse. Many people who struggle with an addiction, be it to drugs, alcohol, gambling, turn to addictive behavior because of their fundamental shame, and then develop shame because of the addiction and guilt over the behaviors caused by the addiction. Shame has also been linked to violence, aggression, bullying, depression, and eating disorders. Shame can also lead to relapse in recovery, which leads to more shame over the relapse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40% to 60% of people will relapse in the first year following treatment.

Guilt, however, can lead to positive change. Guilt can lead us to make an effort to atone for the hurt that we have caused other people or to fix the problem that we have created. We can learn to change the destructive behavior that caused the problem and can reconnect us to people in our lives.

How To Conquer Shame 

Shame is a very self-destructive and soul-destroying emotion and can keep us trapped in our addictions. Fortunately, shame can be overcome. A recent article in Psychology Today had several techniques to help overcome shame. When you are experiencing strong, negative emotions, spend some time to sort out what you are feeling. Is it guilt? Shame? Remember, shame is a way you feel about yourself, the feeling that you are inherently flawed. Guilt is feeling bad because your behavior had a negative impact on someone or a situation. Make sure that what you are feeling isn’t unhealthy guilt, which has been described as feeling guilty because you failed to live up to an unrealistic ideal. When you have sorted out what you are feeling, then you can choose an appropriate response.

1. Separate yourself from what you do

 You have value as a human being on this planet apart from your work or your economic status. Learn to recognize what triggers your feelings of shame, which are usually centered around your emotional vulnerabilities. For example, if you have children, you may feel shame when your parenting abilities are called into question.

2. Connect with people

When you are feeling ashamed, don’t go it alone. Seek help from a sponsor, therapist, support group, family members, friends, or the idea of a higher power. Although it may seem like it, you are not alone in this struggle.

3. Think of your road to recovery like that of an athlete in training

 If a champion athlete loses a game, they are likely to be very disappointed but will be back in practice the next day. Likewise, if you have a relapse, view it as a setback rather than a failure, and get right back into your program.

4. Treat yourself with compassion

As you would to a friend who was suffering. Lastly and perhaps most important, forgive yourself.

Shame is a powerful force that can trap people in addictive behaviors. For an addiction treatment program to be successful, a recovery plan needs to be developed to meet the needs of the whole person, not just the addictive behavior. The underlying guilt and shame and other underlying issues need to be addressed as well. At Enlightened Solutions, located near New Jersey’s southern shore, we offer a wide range of healing options and a custom treatment plan for each client. We offer group and individual talk therapy within the framework of the 12-Step philosophy. In addition, we offer a variety of holistic treatment modalities including yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, art and music therapy, sound therapy, equine therapy, and horticultural therapy. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction and looking for a treatment facility that will address the needs of the whole person, call (833) 801-5483.


The Shame Spiral: How Guilt and Shame Fuel Addiction

The Shame Spiral: How Guilt and Shame Fuel Addiction

The conversation around addiction and addiction treatment has been a multifaceted and complex one over the years. While some would assert that addiction is a disease with genetic predisposition, others maintain that addiction can result from severe trauma. With all of the differing causes and manifestations of addiction, one thing many addicts have in common is the prevailing sense of shame that consumes them- both shame for their addictive behaviors and the pain they cause, and shame for the traumatic events that may have contributed to their addiction in the first place.

Addiction can take on many forms, including a dependence on, and dangerous overuse of, alcohol and narcotics, gambling, love and sex, cigarettes, etc. It can also be an over-reliance on seemingly innocuous things such as work and exercise. Addiction can involve anything one might use in self-destructive ways in order to escape his or her pain and fear.

Human nature has some universal truths, and shame is one of them. Guilt has to do with remorse for particular incidents, while shame morphs that guilt and remorse into an all-encompassing sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. Shame can come from anywhere. A parent or caregiver might blame a child excessively for the family’s troubles and convinced him that his behavior was the cause. An addict may have experienced abuse or neglect in childhood, leaving her feeling generally unloved, unsafe and unworthy. Similarly, trauma can come from many sources, from the shock and destabilization of a car accident, to the feeling of abandonment that can come from divorce, separation or death. The pain of being deeply ashamed of oneself can lead an addict to want to run from that pain, choosing a drink or a lover or some other unhealthy behavior instead of safer tools for healing.

Once on the shame spiral, it can be heart wrenchingly difficult to remove oneself. An addict carries shame from his childhood, for example, then engages in addictive behaviors to numb himself from the pain; he hurts himself and others more and more in the process, as shame is compounded exponentially over time. When an alcoholic feels ashamed, her instinct is to drink to feel better. As an addict runs from her shame rather than confronting it head on, she instinctively escapes the pain with the rush of the high from her drug of choice, and thus the shame cycle repeats itself.

The path to healing is different for every addict. One tool for healing everyone can add to their toolbox is simple but not easy, and it involves healing on the spiritual, emotional and mental levels. Forgiveness. Radical forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness, for yourself and for all of your mistakes and wrongdoings. Forgiveness for those who hurt you, for those who may have contributed to your struggle with addiction over the years, for those who traumatized you and caused you pain. Forgiveness. It feels so much better than the bitterness and resentment. Worlds better than the relentless self-loathing of shame. As you strengthen and heal yourself, place your hand on your heart and meditate on forgiveness.

Forgive yourself. Let Enlightened Solutions help. We provide therapy, mentoring, and friendship. Call (833) 801-LIVE today.