Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Addiction, Recovery, Guilt, Shame, and Remorse

Every day in my work I deal with those who are struggling with overcoming addictions who are also suffering from guilt, shame, and remorse for their actions and consequences of behaviors engaged in while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. These emotions can be a barrier to recovery and need to be dealt with effectively for healing to occur. While many times we think about guilt and shame as being the same thing I see them as two different emotions that must be addressed differently.

In my view guilt is a healthy emotion and shame a negative one. To me guilt is the awareness of having done something that causes harm to someone else for which we are deeply sorry, wished we hadn't done what we did, would want to take it back, and want to not engage in the harmful behavior again. Guilt I see as best dealt with by openly acknowledging what we have done and experiencing the painful grief of remorse. I think of it as a positive emotion as it provides both the desire and motivation to make the changes that we need to make.

Shame I think of as an unhealthy emotion and one that is best dealt with by getting rid of it entirely. I view shame as that aspect of ourselves which wishes to hide our failings yet at the same time engage in self criticism and beating ourselves up. This emotion is toxic as it leads to no significant change in our behavior. We stay stuck in a cycle of self focus and do not turn ourselves away from ourselves to others. In a way it is a selfish and self centered emotion. To deal with shame and to rid ourselves of it I think we need to fully acknowledge our failings and then refuse to spend time in self criticism.

By recognizing the difference between these emotions we can then move more quickly to a healing place and recovery.

Thought for the day

" Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs".

Alcoholics Anonymous

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