Many people with substance addiction struggle with feelings of shame and guilt. Some of them may feel they have disappointed family and friends with their choices, lies, and deceptions. Others may regret breaking promises they could not keep. Perhaps some feel guilty that their attempts to get sober have been fruitless. Because of the widespread stigma about addiction, almost every recovering individual struggles with feelings of shame.
These negative yet powerful emotions have damaging effects on people’s emotional and mental health. Shame and guilt almost always fuel substance addiction. These emotions can drive people to escape reality and disengage with loved ones further.
Are All Feelings of Guilt and Shame Bad?
When a recovering individual decides to get sober and repair relationships with family and friends, sometimes guilt can be a strong motivator. This guilt drives a strong sense of responsibility to make up for past actions. An attitude of honesty and seeking reparations can promote healing. When a person uses guilt to motivate positive change, it is not all bad.
However, guilt that is built on stigma and shame can be damaging. These feelings make people feel bad about themselves, not just about their actions born out of illness. People who drown themselves in an ocean of guilt and shame do not plan for the future. Also, if the guilt discourages continuous treatment, it can become a debilitating factor that hampers recovery progress.
Analyzing the Condition, Not the Person
Shame comes from a self-conscious judgment about a personal moral failing. Many people with addiction experience a sense of shame because of the pervasive attitude in society that defines a person by their condition. For example, even health professionals often refer to a person with the condition of addiction as “an addict.” However, such terms perpetuate stigma and judgment. For this reason, many people advocate for using person-first language.
Person-first language changes terms like “addict” to “someone struggling with addiction” or “substance abuser” to “someone in recovery from substance abuse.” Acknowledging personhood rather than defining someone by their condition eliminates stereotypes based on negative impressions about them. This principle also applies to people with chronic or rare illnesses and people with disabilities. The language we use matters; it can either inform or break down stigma.
Foundational Beliefs About How Addiction Forms
Shame is also shaped by foundational but incorrect beliefs people hold about how addiction works. Many people think addiction is due to a person’s weak willpower. They tend to blame the person for their addiction.
However, though a person’s initial engagement with substances may be a conscious choice, their chance of becoming addicted is determined by a range of factors, such as genetics, trauma, family history, and environmental factors, not a weak will or lack of desire to change.
For example, people who grew up with parents who used substances are at high risk. Some people develop an addiction to medications that were prescribed for legitimate reasons. Other people use drugs or alcohol to cope with intense grief and loss. Acknowledging someone as a person with a condition is a more compassionate approach than tying someone’s identity to a condition they have no control over.
Breaking the Cycle of Harmful Words and Feelings
Negative feelings of guilt and shame are counter-productive to recovery. Dwelling on these emotions only pulls people farther away from help and healing. Additionally, practicing self-forgiveness is essential. Once a recovering individual extends self-forgiveness, they can begin anew.
It takes humility to let go of shame and guilt. Many things in life are out of our control. The past is one of them. Holding onto things in the past is not healthy. Recovering individuals must let go of the past and strive to live soberly in the present.
Addiction Does Not Define People
A past addiction does not define who someone is. Instead, they can view themselves as someone experiencing growth after healing from a disorder. Addiction is an affliction, like other chronic illnesses. Deciding to seek treatment gives someone all the reason in the world to see themselves as a good person who deserves love.
If an individual surrounds themself with people who value them, those loved ones can help change perspectives. There may be toxic people who try to impose shame on recovering individuals. Instead of interacting with them and giving brain space to their harmful words, individuals should interact with supportive family and friends who are understanding, forgiving, and compassionate.
More Practical Tips for Overcoming Shame
Individuals in recovery can benefit from keeping a recovery journal and writing down negative thoughts that are bothering them. This can be a space where they dialogue with their inner self. Over time, they may notice patterns of triggers and helpful tools. With this knowledge, they can strengthen their recovery.
Many self-care methods help individuals stay in the present. For example, meditation is a powerful tool to alleviate negative emotions while focusing on the present. Different types of meditation, such as breathing techniques, mindfulness, and loving-kindness meditations, can help a variety of people. It takes time to build self-compassion, but with persistence, it can become a reality for recovering individuals.
Do you know how to end your feelings of shame about your past addiction? Caring for your emotional and mental health is just as important as caring for your physical health. Feelings of shame can trigger a relapse. Luckily, you are not alone in this journey; shame and guilt don’t have to define you. If you or a loved one have been facing difficulties with emotional health or substance abuse, Laguna Shores Recovery offers evidence-based treatment and a dedicated team of professionals to guide you through recovery. Give us a call at (866) 774-1532 today. A positive perspective starts with getting connected to treatment and a strong community of peers in recovery.