We all know that guilt is a necessary part of our ethical compass. It’s a normal and healthy emotion that helps us recognize when we’ve made a mistake. It’s our conscience telling us we need to make things right.
As a powerful motivator for change, guilt guides us in a forward direction. Yet even if we only aim to travel north, we can look down at our ethical compass and see all the points — north, south, east, and west.
All other points are still instrumental in helping us find our way. They represent the past mistakes we choose not to repeat or the choices that could easily take us down another wrong path.
Does Shame Have a Place in Addiction Recovery?
Shame can also be considered a compass — the key difference being that it only has two points. Like north vs. south, often these points are polar opposites; are we good or bad? Worthy or unworthy? Capable or incapable?
Shame can manifest as a deep sense of worthlessness and disgrace, sometimes leading us to believe there is something innately wrong with us. When coupled with self-blame, shame can be incredibly debilitating, as it not only robs us of our self-worth but also keeps us from moving forward.
Unlike the guilt that reminds us of why we wish to break free from the cycles of self-destructive behaviour, shame can keep us trapped within them. If we believe that we are fundamentally flawed or unworthy, why would we believe that we deserve anything better?
In other words, guilt is a feeling we experience when we have done something wrong, while shame is a feeling we experience when we believe we are wrong. Still, if shame carries the potential to transform how we view ourselves, is it possible for shame to also have a transformative effect on our behaviour within the framework of addiction recovery?
Processing Difficult Feelings in Recovery
To recover from addiction, we need to learn how to deal with our feelings in a productive way. Here are some ways to start processing difficult feelings:
1. Acknowledge your shame. The first step is to acknowledge that you are feeling ashamed. This can be difficult, as it means admitting that you’ve made mistakes or have a problem. But it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. It’s not something you should be ashamed of.
2. Talk about your shame. Once you’ve acknowledged your shame, it’s important to talk about it. This can be with a therapist, a friend, or a journal. The goal is to get the shame out in the open, so you can start dealing with it.
3. Challenge your shame. After you’ve acknowledged and talked about your shame, it’s time to start challenging it. Ask yourself why you’re feeling ashamed. Is it because of something you did that was out of character? Is it because of the way you see yourself? The better you understand your shame, the more effectively you can begin to let go of it.
4. Practice self-compassion. One critical aspect of overcoming shame is self-compassion. This means showing yourself kindness and compassion, despite your mistakes. Remember that you are not your addiction but a whole human being.
5. Seek professional help. If you find it difficult to deal with your shame alone, seek professional help.
Avoidance and blame – whether toward yourself or others – are not the answers. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please reach out for help. At Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic, we are here to help you with your recovery. Visit our website or give us a call today.