Shame is a common feeling among people with substance use issues. Many substance use issues begin as a way of self-medicating emotional pain or other symptoms of mental health issues. People who were victims of abuse or trauma, especially as children, often carry a deep sense of shame, even though what happened to them was not their fault. People who have struggled with substance use for a while may have done things as a result of their addiction that they’re ashamed of. Shame is common but it’s also corrosive. Recovering from addiction means dealing with shame at some point. Here are some tips.
Our natural reflex when we feel shame is to cover it up. We don’t want to look at it, much less talk about it. Unfortunately, burying shame only makes it more powerful. It adds fuel to our deep belief that there something fundamentally terrible about us that we must hide from everyone else. The way to begin to deal with shame is to confront it. This is incredibly hard. It starts with a willingness to observe and explore your feelings of shame, rather than ignore or bury them. When do you feel shame? What causes that feeling? What beliefs are attached to that feeling?
The next step is dealing with shame in therapy. It’s really hard to talk about shame, even in perfect confidence, but once you open up about it, you will start to feel better. Therapy is a chance to open up in a non-judgmental environment. Your therapist has no doubt heard everything and won’t be shocked. He or she can help you look at your shame in a more objective light. In group therapy, you will soon discover that other people have had some of the same experiences and share some of the same feelings.
Distinguish between guilt and shame.
It’s important to distinguish between guilt and shame. Guilt is the feeling that you’ve done something bad but shame is the feeling that you are bad. Guilt is useful because it constantly prods us to improve our behavior. Almost everyone feels guilty sometimes, often for good reason. Shame is destructive because it’s paralyzing. There’s no point in changing your behavior because if you feel like you’re inherently awful, then nothing you do will matter. Everyone does good things and bad things but no one is inherently good or bad.
Finally, practice self-compassion. When feelings of shame start to arise, notice the thoughts that come with them. Typically, these thoughts are extremely self-critical. We often talk to ourselves in ways we would never talk to other people. Instead of castigating yourself, try a little exercise. Think about how you would talk to a best friend, a close relative, or a child you care about. Imagine what you would say if that person was struggling with the same feelings of shame. Try extending yourself the same respect and see how you feel.
Shame is just one of the difficult emotions you’ll have to deal with in addiction recovery. Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California is a unique treatment program that helps men recover from the mental, physical, and emotional problems caused by substance use. Call us today at 855-202-2138 to learn more.