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How Shame Impacts Addiction & Our Lives

shame-impacts-addictionWe all feel shame in our lives when we make a mistake, say something we regret or disappoint someone we care about. But for some people, shame can be downright debilitating, and for those struggling with addiction, it’s something that is dealt with on a daily basis.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Shame and guilt are often used interchangeably, but they are in fact two different emotions. Shame is a feeling that a person has about themselves, while guilt is a feeling that a person has about their actions or behavior. Guilt is almost always related to something that has happened.

A person who feels guilty made a poor decision and felt bad about it. Shame is much more pervasive. Instead of feeling bad about their decision, eventually coming to terms with it and moving on, they feel bad about who they are. They feel defective and inadequate. Guilt might motivate that person to correct their behavior and not make that mistake again, but shame causes you to turn inward and hide from others to minimize embarrassment.

In other words, guilt is a judgment about our behavior and shame is a judgment about ourselves.

How Shame Affects Our Lives

Shame chronic and pervasive, affecting almost every aspect of our lives:

  • It starts in childhood. Shame can be developed from an early age. Shame can be developed from an early age. When a parent or caregiver harshly tells their child how to act or scolds them for their playfulness, it creates shame. Soon the child begins to understand that they can’t fully act like themselves because their behavior isn’t good enough for their parents and other authority figures. Instead, they’re ashamed of who they are and modify their behavior.
  • It can lead to depression. Shame isn’t always obvious. Often it’s always present, driving us toward isolation and self-destructive behaviors without our knowing. A person who is dealing with shame might feel low all the time and not know why. Shame can lead to depression.
  • Trauma breeds shame. Traumatic experiences shape our identities at any age. A child who grows up in a family with an alcoholic will learn that they need to behave a certain way to make it in that toxic environment. Physical, sexual or verbal abuse can cause a child or adult to think about themselves as defective, that they deserved to be treated that way.
  • It zeroes in on shortcomings. Some people feel deep shame when they fail to achieve goals or when their lives are not as great as they imagined they would be. A person might be caught in a cycle of negative self-talk and have low self-worth, which seeps into their personal and professional lives, affecting every relationship and opportunity. When you feel this ashamed, it’s difficult to feel good in any environment because you view yourself as inferior and compare yourself to other people who appear successful.
  • It’s destructive. A person who is experiencing debilitating shame may withdraw from friends and family, their relationships and their job. It often stops people from trying to reach their potential because they feel like they’re defective in the first place, so why bother?

Shame and Addiction

For those struggling with substance abuse, shame can become paralyzing. It’s what can lead you to addiction, and it’s ultimately can keep you there. The constant feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy can make you feel like you aren’t worthy of respect or happiness. You feel ashamed of who you are and are mired in depression and hopelessness. These feelings can become so entrenched in your being that they prevent you from seeking help because you feel like you don’t deserve it.

The negative view you have of yourself is often untrue. It’s an illusion, something we’ve acquired over time. Treatment can not only help you recover from addiction but teach you how to identify your shame, find acceptance and rebuild your self-worth. By understanding the ways you’ve allowed shame to shape your life and adopting a different thought process, you can let go of the negative thoughts that don’t serve you. Shame is simply of no use.

Segue Recovery Support offers recovery services to keep clients engaged after primary treatment, and our Recovery Support Specialists can connect you with counseling services that can help you unpack shame and progress in your recovery. For information, contact us at 866.905.4550.