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Forgive Yourself: How to Break the Shame Cycle in Recovery

shameRecovery is full of emotional challenges as you come to terms with accepting your past, making amends, feeling your feelings, forgiving yourself and rediscovering your new sober self. While you’re dealing with a host of toxic emotions on your journey toward sobriety, one of the most destructive ones is shame. What is shame? It’s that pesky voice in your head that says “I’m a bad person and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well just continue behaving badly.” Shame can shut you down and stop you from moving forward and making positive changes. It’s incredibly painful and has been linked to low self-esteem and poor self-image as well as addiction and depression. While you may be struggling with shame during recovery, this unhealthy emotion has likely been bubbling up for years. Experts say that shame can stem from childhood neglect or trauma (physical, emotional or sexual abuse, bullying). It may have even contributed and fueled your addiction. Many people turn to drugs or alcohol to suppress these feelings and then find they’re unable to stop using, which results in more of the same. 4 Tips for Overcoming Shame The good news: shame doesn’t have to sabotage your recovery efforts. Next time you’re struggling with negative feelings, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Treat yourself like a friend. What would you tell a friend if he told you that he wasn’t good enough or didn’t deserve a chance at a happy, sober life? Now say these words to yourself. This exercise can help you forgive yourself, which can help stop shame in its tracks.
  2. Acknowledge and share it. When you believe you’re flawed or unworthy of love and happiness, the last thing you want to do is tell people about it. But hiding your shame just gives it more power. “When we bury the story, we forever stay the subject of the story,” writes shame and vulnerability researcher and author Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW. “If we own the story we get to narrate the ending.” Plus, blocked or repressed emotions can put added stress on your mind and body, resulting in mental ills as well as heart disease, intestinal problems, headaches, insomnia and autoimmune disorders.
  3. Question your feelings. Should you be ashamed? Or should you just feel guilty? There is a difference. Experts define shame as “I am bad.” Guilt, on the other hand, means “I did something bad.” Although guilt is painful, the ability to recognize that your own actions were harmful and to feel remorse are signs of emotional health. Writing in a journal can help you untangle your emotions and better understand what you really should be feeling.
  4. Learn your triggers. Shame is most often fueled by negative self-talk or telling yourself that you’re not enough. For example, you might think to yourself that you’re not good/tough/caring/successful enough. Think about the times in your life when you’ve felt this way – and what could help turn those messy emotions into positive messages.

Managing Emotions and More During Recovery At Spearhead, we’ll help you learn how to identify and cope with shame and other toxic emotions that can harm your recovery. To learn more about our gender-specific treatment, call today: 888-483-0528.