Addiction is a disease that not only affects the physical body, but also crushes the soul. Feeding the disease requires a preoccupation with obtaining and consuming substances. This is often accompanied by deceitful and irresponsible behavior, taking a toll on relationships, family commitments and careers. It is easy to blame the individual for bad behavior – lying, cheating and stealing, as well as angry outbursts – rather than putting the focus on the disease that creates those behaviors. The addicted person is generally not proud of those behaviors. Being shunned by family, friends and society only contributes to greater shame and self-blame.
It is difficult to have compassion for people when presumed poor character is confused with the disease characteristics that undermine it. Compounding this is the common belief that people choose to become addicted, based on weakness, lack of will power and poor judgment. Again, looking beyond myth, science informs us that there is a genetic predisposition for addiction, as well as a range of environmental factors, especially those that occur in early childhood.
Feelings of shame that are become normal to the addict have shown to have a detrimental effect to chances of recovery. Research has consistently demonstrated that whilst guilt can have a positive association with self-forgiveness, shame negatively associated the capacity for self-forgiveness.
Overpowering negative emotions can derail efforts at achieving sobriety. A few therapy-informed techniques can help you stay on course. Many of our feelings are simple reactions to specific events that we perceive as pleasant or unpleasant. After the event is over, the related feeling usually fades away. We can easily see that our emotions are fleeting and impermanent.
Shame does not work this way. The hallmark of shame is a constant awareness of our defects. Without realising it, we become continual victims of shame-based thinking. Every day, we focus on our failures. Every day, we re-convince ourselves that we are defective. Our thoughts become riddled with judgment, regret, and images of impending failure.
There are many thoughts that therapy can bring up to help challenge our internal feelings of shame, judgement and abandonment. When working through specific areas of our lives we may be asked to question our negative thoughts and replace them with more accurate reflections of the self.
Is this thought really true?
How do I know it’s true?
What is the evidence for this thought?
What is the evidence against this thought?
Can I think of any times when this thought has not been true?
Is this thought helping me or hurting me?
What could I do if I let go of this thought?
What’s the worst that could happen if I let go of this thought? Can I live with that?
Working with a therapist who is committed to understanding and promoting recovery can create shifts in the way we regard addiction. Understanding that we need to take fault out of an addicts life and replace it with responsibility can mark a positive step in this direction.