Shame and guilt are common emotions, and we’ve all experienced them many times. Most people deal with them successfully, but for those with a substance abuse disorder, guilt, and shame can fuel their addictions.
Shame vs. Guilt
Some people think that guilt and shame are the same thing, but they aren’t. Guilt is defined as feelings of deserving blame for one’s actions, while shame is the belief that one is inferior or unworthy because of actions, thoughts, or experiences. More simply put, you feel guilty about your actions, and feel shame about yourself because of your actions — the difference between “I screwed up” and “I am screwed up.”
Shame, Guilt, and Addiction
Shame and guilt are deeply intertwined with addiction. Some became addicts because they self-medicated to cope with shame or guilt, others feel shame and guilt because they became addicted, and some feel ashamed or guilty about how they have lived while addicted. Addicts tend to act in negative ways, leading to more guilt and shame and pushing them deeper into addiction.
Shame and guilt make recovery more difficult, so developing coping skills is a key step on the path to sobriety. Those in recovery must learn to forgive themselves and deal with their guilt positively, otherwise, the patterns of addiction may continue.
When a person enters addiction treatment, they detox and then address the causes of their addiction through therapy and support groups. This helps them change their perceptions about themselves, and remove the negative emotions and thoughts that are driving the addiction. Shame and guilt can be difficult to process during recovery since, for the first time in a long while, the recovering addict is clear headed enough to look at their past actions. It makes the journey of recovery more challenging.
How To Overcome Shame & Guilt In Addiction Recovery
Conquering shame and guilt is a hard step to take, but it can motivate people to a faster and easier recovery, help them see life differently, and help them forgive themselves more easily in the future. There is no foolproof way to do it, but you can start by trying the following suggestions.
1. Understand your emotions. You most likely will feel ashamed and guilty about your addiction and the damage it made you do to yourself and those around you. It is easy to be critical of yourself and your actions when you weren’t sober, but dwelling on these emotions is counterproductive and self-destructive. You did not choose to be an addict. Addiction is a disease, and your experiences and actions were the symptoms.
2. Accept your past, your actions, and yourself. Remember that you are human — and not perfect. Beat back the shame and guilt by making a sincere effort to fix the mistakes you’ve made, and undoing some of the damage. Accepting the consequences of your actions may take time, but it is vital to healing.
3. Forgive yourself. Make peace with your former life, and realize that you have made a conscious decision to change. Only the choices you make today matter. As time passes, you will find it easier to come to grips with who you used to be and to accept who you are becoming.
4. Live in the present. Don’t dwell on past mistakes. Focus on what your life is today, and where you are in recovery right now. See each new day as an opportunity to learn and grow. Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for staying in the moment, managing negative emotions, and focusing on the positive.
5. Remember your self-worth. You cannot change the past, so learn from your mistakes and do your best to live a better, healthier life. Take care of yourself so you can be there for the others in your life. Keep the promises you’ve made to yourself and to others. Rebuild trust in yourself so that others can trust you as well.
6. At the same time ask others to forgive you. It is a challenge that takes time, effort, and emotional maturity, but it is one of the best things you can do for your mental health.
7. Build — or rebuild — positive relationships. Spend time with people who care about you and accept you for who you are. Establish healthy new relationships and repair damaged old ones. Even getting a pet can be a source of unconditional love, and they have been proven to boost mental health and mood.
8. Talk about your recovery with your family, friends, or therapist — anyone who will listen without judgment. Don’t keep it a secret — it is not a shameful thing. Talking about your journey helps you take back control of your life. Being open and honest about your feelings is a great way to process them and move on.
9. Turn guilt into motivation. Channel that emotion into positives. Reduce your shame by apologizing to those you’ve hurt, donating some time to help others, or even just admitting the problems to yourself.
10. Seek help if necessary. If your feelings are too overpowering to deal with alone, talk to your doctor or counselor. Don’t look to the past mistakes of drugs or alcohol to cope with them. A therapist can help you identify and treat the underlying causes of guilt and shame so you can go on to a full recovery.
Pervasive feelings of shame can keep you from achieving full recovery, but only if you let them. You can’t travel back in time and undo the past, but you can make a fresh start, and live a positive and meaningful life.
Let Us Help You Overcome Shame and Guilt
Shame and guilt are common emotions, but it is important to address these emotions in a healthy way since they can become overwhelming. Individuals living with addiction challenges often use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, this fleeting relief can seem helpful, but it ultimately furthers their addiction instead of resolving the core issue. With proper treatment and recovery options, individuals suffering from addiction can start to recognize the roots of shame and guilt and find more productive strategies to manage them. From acquiring psychological support to developing new strategies for confronting negative thought patterns, there are numerous steps toward complete mental health recovery.
Let us help you overcome your shame or guilt without turning to addictive substances – our professional team is ready to collaborate with you on your journey toward positive progress.