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.


5 Dangerous Myths About Addiction

5 Dangerous Myths About Addiction

One silver lining of the opioid crisis in the US has been to bring the problem of addiction into the open. A lot of people have been personally affected by the opioid epidemic and their experiences have changed many people’s opinions about what addiction is and who struggles with substance use. Along with greater media coverage of the causes of substance use problems, attitudes are slowly changing.

However, there is still a long way to go and some of the persistent myths about addiction prejudice the public against people with substance use disorders and make people with substance use disorders less able or willing to seek help. Some common myths about addiction include the following.

“Addiction Is a Choice”

One of the most pernicious myths about addiction is that it’s a choice. This myth is dangerous because it implies that anything that happens to someone with a substance use disorder, whether it’s job loss, divorce, health problems, incarceration, or death, is their own fault. In this view, any sort of punishment is permissible and anyone who wants to avoid the consequences of substance use should simply quit.

In reality, it’s not so simple. While people who use drugs and alcohol typically choose to do so, no one chooses to become addicted. Many, and perhaps most, people who develop substance use issues begin using drugs and alcohol at a young age, sometimes even before adolescence, when they have little, if any awareness of the potential consequences. This behavior is often influenced by dysfunctional family dynamics, peer pressure, or nascent mental health issues, such as ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia. In short, addiction is typically influenced by forces beyond our control and once we realize there is a problem, it’s already very hard to quit.

“Addiction Is Caused By Lack of Willpower”

Similar to the belief that addiction is a choice, many people believe that addiction indicates a lack of willpower or even a weak character. They think that quitting is mainly about showing a little grit and toughing it out. As discussed above, addiction typically has deep roots, including childhood environment, mental health issues, and genes. People do try to white-knuckle recovery but they typically don’t get very far.

In order for recovery to last, you have to get at the underlying causes of addiction. This means treating any co-occurring mental health issues as well as addressing trauma, which is incredibly common among people with substance use disorders. Recovery also entails learning essential skills to regulate your emotions and behavior and improve your relationships. It requires a good support system and healthy lifestyle changes too. Most people need a bit of help to do all of this.

“Once an Addict, Always an Addict”

You’ve probably heard this saying and it’s problematic for two reasons. First, the language is stigmatizing. Labeling someone with a substance use disorder an “addict” is common but also counterproductive. It implies that addiction is the person’s defining--and perhaps only--characteristic. Indeed, it implies they are hardly even a person but rather something more like a drug-seeking missile. Stigmatizing language compounds the shame of substance use and makes it harder for people to seek help.

Second, this saying implies that recovery is not really possible, that no matter how much effort you put into turning your life around, you’re always just one drink away from unraveling. Such cynicism about recovery can make you reluctant to even try, much less persist when things get challenging. In reality, people do make lasting change with the right attitude and the right help.

“You Can Always Spot an Addict”

We all have some stereotype of someone with a substance use disorder, and while there are probably people who fit that stereotype, it doesn’t even come close to encompassing everyone with a substance use problem. If the opioid crisis has taught us anything, it’s that anyone can develop a substance use issue under the right circumstances. While you might suspect the guy begging for change under the overpass has a substance use problem, you might not suspect the lawyer who lives in a nice house or the grandmother who was in a car accident last year.

In fact, people who are professionally successful are often just as capable when it comes to hiding their substance use problem, at least for a while. Sometimes even friends and family don’t suspect someone has an issue. One of the reasons so many misconceptions about addiction persist is that it’s a largely invisible problem.

“Drugs and Alcohol Fry Your Brain”

If you’re old enough, you might remember the “brain on drugs” commercials of the 1980s. Although those commercials are typically remembered with derision, the idea that too much drugs and alcohol can fry your brain still persists. This can make it hard to recover because some people feel like the damage is done, that they’ve ruined their brains, and no amount of effort will make them whole again.

In reality, the picture is more complicated. In some extreme cases, such as early-onset dementia or Korsakoff syndrome, which typically only happens after decades of heavy drinking, brain damage is permanent. There is also some debate over whether the structural changes that often occur in your brain after a period of addiction are ever fully reversed.

However, we also know that brains are highly plastic, meaning the structure will change, depending on what we ask our brains to do. With persistent effort and the right help, you can train your brain to focus, to regulate your emotions more effectively, to weather cravings, and to feel better overall.

Many of the myths about addiction are the result of victim-blaming while others pass as “tough truths.” However, these can perpetuate the stigma of addiction and make it harder for people to get help. It’s crucial to remember that people with substance use disorders are first and foremost people and that they are often people in pain. What’s more, recovery is possible.

At Enlightened Solutions, we know that addiction isn’t something anyone chooses. Few people realize how they got into their particular mess and they rarely know how to get out. That’s where we come in. We use a variety of evidence-based methods to address the root causes of addiction and lay the foundation for a long recovery. To learn more, call us today at 833-801-5483.

Dismantling the Shame Around Addiction

Dismantling the Shame Around Addiction

Of all the emotions we contend with throughout the course of our addictions, shame may be the most limiting and debilitating. Shame keeps us locked in cycles of self-deprecation, self-hatred and judgment. We find it impossible to forgive ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are shameful, immoral people rather than seeing ourselves as growing and learning from our mistakes. We don’t see our missteps as the normal part of our evolution that they really are. We create a self-image based on our shame, and we reject ourselves. Our self-hatred blocks our recovery and makes us seek refuge from our cruelty in our addictions.

Dismantling the shame around addiction is a crucial step in the self-acceptance process. We can consciously choose to shed the stigma surrounding addicts and addiction. We can reject the notion that addiction is not a real thing, that addicts use it as an excuse for immorality and recklessness. We can recognize just how destructive an illness it is and have compassion for ourselves in our struggles. We can see how pervasive and all-consuming addiction can be and commend ourselves for the strength in coping with it. We can choose to be proud of ourselves for not giving up on ourselves and our quest for recovery. We can see our healing and recovery as accomplishments, rather than seeing our addiction as a source of shame.

The shame we feel internally has a lot to do with our culture’s perception of addiction. Addiction is depicted in the same negative light as criminal behavior, homelessness and poverty, all of which are shunned and judged. As a culture we don’t lift up our most vulnerable populations. We don’t seek to uplift, encourage or love them. We reject them from the mainstream culture, making them outcasts. When we shame and shun people, it only causes them to sink lower into the depths of their pain. It exacerbates their existing problems. They become more depressed, more addicted, more likely to act out. The answer is to give more energy and attention to the people who need it, and to give them more love, not less. We can see all of our challenges as testaments of our strength, as special characteristics that add to our uniqueness. We can view our society as comprised of differing personalities, all coping with different and unique struggles that add to their growth and progress.

When we commit to seeing all of us as equal rather than judging people and placing them in hierarchies of goodness, status and morality, we open ourselves up to learning from each other and sharing in the beautiful experience of life. Dismantling shame in ourselves and in our culture is a gift we can give not just to the people living with addiction but from everyone else who can stand to learn from our experience and wisdom.

At Enlightened Solutions, we believe that every addict can recover. We provide the supportive community, care and healing modalities to help you regain your self-love. Call (833) 801-LIVE today.

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.

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Understanding The Important Role Of Toxic Shame In Addictive Behaviors

Toxic: poisonous
Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior
Toxic Shame: painful feelings of humiliation or distress which can feel like a poison

Toxic shame is venomous. Getting caught in a spell of toxic shame can feel like getting stung by a stingray or a bee. The pain is timid at first, then rapidly spreads and intensifies until it feels like it’s taken over everything. We can’t see past the pain. Such is the same with toxic shame.

Role of Toxic Shame
Understanding toxic shame as playing an important role in addictive behaviors is important. Shame and guilt, both of which can be toxic, are driving factors in addiction. Addiction is in many ways a symptom of obsession and compulsion. We obsess over the painful feelings of humiliation and distress which were given to us somewhere in the past. Eventually, that obsessive thinking becomes too painful to bear, compelling us to take part in a familiar behavior. Addictive behaviors of any kind, from substance abuse to eating disorders, are often coping mechanisms to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Even if they don’t start that way, they usually end up that way. Substances, along with non-substance reliant behaviors, produce a feeling of euphoric relief. Surging levels of dopamine help calm the anxiety, panic, pain, and negativity produced by toxic shame.

According to Shannon Bradley-Colleary, an online 12 step coach who often works with individuals in codependent relationships, “toxic shame is always learned in childhood.” The “consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” which comes with shame has to be learned. When we are young, we learn best from our parents. Shannon writes that “one or both of our parents either neglected us, or abused us, or made us feel we were somehow wrong or that we should never express or even have negative emotions.” In such homes, difficult feelings like anger, sadness, or fear are often shamed, rejected, and ridiculed. This isn’t because there was anything wrong with our feelings or why we were feeling them. Unfortunately, that is the message we receive. Truly, we had people in our lives who were insufficiently prepared to handle such feelings coming from a child. Most likely, they were ill-equipped to handle those feelings themselves.

Healing shame and codependency or other manifestations of shame is important for recovering from addiction and other addictive behaviors. Enlightened Solutions uses a range of clinical, 12 step, and holistic healing treatments to aid the grief process, create new coping mechanisms, and heal the pain of toxic shame while supporting recovery. For information on our partial care programs of treatment, call 833-801-5483.