People who wrestle with addictive behaviors are usually quite familiar with feelings of shame. Although they are not able to be tangibly seen, it can be a constant companion for many battling addiction. Shame puts people at greater risk for relapse. Knowing the markers of shame can be helpful in releasing it and coping with shame-based behaviors.
Shame vs. Guilt
Guilt is a natural feeling that follows a poor choice. Shortly after the incident, a person feels badly for how they behaved. This is what guilt is, when you say things you regret and made a mistake. Shame is the feeling of being inadequate or defective as a person. Common mistakes are interpreted as a sign of incompetence or lack of intelligence. Guilt has a built-in motivation to repair an error in behavior. Shame usually results in self-loathing, feelings of inferiority, and persistent thoughts of not measuring up. Guilt propels a person to engage with others to right the wrong and may lead to isolation from others.
Why Shame Feeds Addiction
Addictive behavior almost always has a shame element. Normal life stressors such as work, financial worries, and relationship problems can feed addiction. These stressors become overwhelming and prompt strong emotions, including anxiety or depression. Self-medication with alcohol, drugs, food, or other addictive behaviors are used as a way to cope. The more this cycle is repeated, the less control a person feels over their life and the more hopeless it becomes. The inability to handle life’s pressures without addiction can be overwhelming. Shame can have a vice grip on a person’s life until they seriously question whether they have the ability to break free.
Ways to Combat Shame
The good news is that shame is not the final word. People can work to reclaim their life if they will do the work:
- Identify shame. The first step in doing this happens when it pops up. Shame occurs at little and big moments. Being objective to know what caused shame to pop up can help recognize it for what it is and refuse to feed it with negative self-talk.
- Accept limitations. Another important way to combat shame is to accept limits as a human being. Nobody is perfect and never will be. Mistakes are made but shame tells us our lives are a mess and we will never be enough. We must focus energy on repairing mistakes and mending them.
- Redefine self-worth. When the cycle of addiction has a long history, it is easy to define oneself as a person with addiction or unworthy. Shame anchors people to the past and defines self-worth by all the missed opportunities and failed attempts.
It helps to challenge the thoughts as they pop up and listen to a positive voice when it is challenged and questioned as it arises. Shame only disappears if it is pushed back against by challenging distorted thinking. Over time this will replace those negative thoughts more easily and lead to a more positive-thinking mindset.
Serenity Oaks provides a safe space to explore old notions of shame and blame in your life that may have led to addictive behaviors and patterns. We aim to provide a space where you can find out how and why you have struggled with addiction. Our therapeutic and medical support are just one of the tools we provide to help set you up for success in recovery. Call us to find out how we can help you get started: 844-720-6847.