Shame and guilt are two similar emotions, but they are not exactly the same. Guilt is when a person feels badly about something they have done, while shame is where a person feels that they are inherently bad as part of their nature or personality. Shame can play either a positive or negative role in the addiction recovery process. Shame can spark a desire in a person to make a change in their life and can be the catalyst for positive actions. However, when shame is not overcome and continues to plague a person in recovery, it can hamper their progress and cause them to relapse.
When a person is unable to overcome their shame in order to make positive changes, they are afflicted by what is known as toxic shame. Toxic shame is where a person feels that they don’t deserve to have a better life. They may turn to addictive substances in order to comfort themselves. They will feel unworthy of healthy relationships, which will deprive them of the support system needed for recovery. When they do experience successes along the road to recovery, shame can keep them from feeling any of the pride or joy that should come from their accomplishments. All of these negative feelings associated with shame can cause a person to quit recovery early or relapse because of their feelings of helplessness and devaluation.
Low self-esteem is at the root of toxic shame. Placing a low value on oneself makes it difficult for an addict to forgive themselves and begin to move on. In order to overcome toxic shame and begin the recovery process, a person needs to work on their self-worth and self-esteem. Some ways to do this are:
- Talk About It: Sometimes just saying things out loud can help put them into perspective. Talk to a good friend or family member about how you’re feeling. You may also benefit from professional counseling as well.
- Focus on the Good: Identify positive things happening in your life and your good qualities. Develop positive self-talk that you can use when negativity comes creeping in.
- Write it Down: Keeping a journal is a good way to get your feelings out and then put them aside so you can move forward.
- Find Support: Don’t worry about what others might be saying about you at this point in your life. Disregard negative comments and surround yourself with people who are encouraging and loving.
The therapeutic community offered in addiction recovery programs is a great place for those who are struggling with toxic shame to find some relief. It’s helpful to see that there are others struggling with the same kinds of problems and that they are overcoming them. The professional help available in these rehabilitation programs will also help further your success at building self-esteem.