Here’s a closer look at the relationship between shame and addiction, along with why addressing shame is a critical part of the recovery process.
The Cycle of Shame and Addiction
Everyone experiences shame at some point in life. Unfortunately, it can be a particularly crippling emotion. Writes Brené Brown in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me: “When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed.”
For recovering addicts, the impacts of shame are often amplified. Why? Because addicts are already plagued by feelings of guilt, isolation, unworthiness, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. Continues Brown, “Shame is like a prison. But a prison that you deserved to be in because something is wrong with you.” In other words, while many emotions can be viewed through the lens of how a person feels, shame is construed as a reflection of how a person is.
Not only can shame be immobilizing for addicts, it can actually lead them to relapse, according to a study published in the Association for Psychological Science’s (APS) journal, Clinical Psychological Science. Explains APS: “People who feel shame may blame themselves for negative events and view their ‘bad’ behavior as an unchangeable part of who they are. Thus, shame may actually be a risk factor for certain behaviors rather than a deterrent.”
In fact, researchers determined that the amount of shame displayed by recovering alcoholics directly correlated with whether they would relapse and to what extent. Furthermore, the study also associated shame with other psychiatric symptoms and worsening health over time.
Given everything that is now known about shame’s status as a barrier to recovery, it is particularly important to acknowledge and treat it. Luckily, there are several ways to help addicts release their shame and embrace healthier emotions.
For starters, placing the focus on courage rather than shame can be a positive step. Fear and shame are directly interlinked; focusing on the courage it takes to seek addiction treatment helps addicts let go of fear and the shame that goes along with it.
Cultivating a sense of connection can also help addicts keep shame at bay. One of the underlying factors associated with shame is an addict’s sense of loneliness, isolation, and disconnectedness. Recovering addicts who discover communities and the sense of connectedness that goes along with them acquire another valuable defense against shame.
Similarly, addicts who are shown compassion and empathy are also in a better position to overcome feelings of shame, while at the same time becoming more capable of showing compassion and empathy to others.
One other key takeaway from research is that it points to the critical role of treatment—as opposed to shame-based punitive measures—in helping people overcome their addictive behaviors and move forward with their lives.
We’re Here to Help
If you’re looking for a St. Louis drug rehab program designed to address the physical, social, and emotional aspects of addiction recovery, contact us at Harris House today.