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The Shame Spiral: How Guilt and Shame Fuel Addiction

The conversation around addiction and addiction treatment has been a multifaceted and complex one over the years. While some would assert that addiction is a disease with genetic predisposition, others maintain that addiction can result from severe trauma. With all of the differing causes and manifestations of addiction, one thing many addicts have in common is the prevailing sense of shame that consumes them- both shame for their addictive behaviors and the pain they cause, and shame for the traumatic events that may have contributed to their addiction in the first place.

Addiction can take on many forms, including a dependence on, and dangerous overuse of, alcohol and narcotics, gambling, love and sex, cigarettes, etc. It can also be an over-reliance on seemingly innocuous things such as work and exercise. Addiction can involve anything one might use in self-destructive ways in order to escape his or her pain and fear.

Human nature has some universal truths, and shame is one of them. Guilt has to do with remorse for particular incidents, while shame morphs that guilt and remorse into an all-encompassing sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. Shame can come from anywhere. A parent or caregiver might blame a child excessively for the family’s troubles and convinced him that his behavior was the cause. An addict may have experienced abuse or neglect in childhood, leaving her feeling generally unloved, unsafe and unworthy. Similarly, trauma can come from many sources, from the shock and destabilization of a car accident, to the feeling of abandonment that can come from divorce, separation or death. The pain of being deeply ashamed of oneself can lead an addict to want to run from that pain, choosing a drink or a lover or some other unhealthy behavior instead of safer tools for healing.

Once on the shame spiral, it can be heart wrenchingly difficult to remove oneself. An addict carries shame from his childhood, for example, then engages in addictive behaviors to numb himself from the pain; he hurts himself and others more and more in the process, as shame is compounded exponentially over time. When an alcoholic feels ashamed, her instinct is to drink to feel better. As an addict runs from her shame rather than confronting it head on, she instinctively escapes the pain with the rush of the high from her drug of choice, and thus the shame cycle repeats itself.

The path to healing is different for every addict. One tool for healing everyone can add to their toolbox is simple but not easy, and it involves healing on the spiritual, emotional and mental levels. Forgiveness. Radical forgiveness. Unconditional forgiveness, for yourself and for all of your mistakes and wrongdoings. Forgiveness for those who hurt you, for those who may have contributed to your struggle with addiction over the years, for those who traumatized you and caused you pain. Forgiveness. It feels so much better than the bitterness and resentment. Worlds better than the relentless self-loathing of shame. As you strengthen and heal yourself, place your hand on your heart and meditate on forgiveness.

Forgive yourself. Let Enlightened Solutions help. We provide therapy, mentoring, and friendship. Call (833) 801-LIVE today.