Dealing With Guilt & Shame in Recovery

by May 31, 2019SUD Resources2 comments

Dealing with Guilt & Shame in Recovery

People who battle with addiction or have family members who struggle have witnessed how much it hurts. It hurts the person who struggles, but it also hurts the people around them. It can break up families, ruin relationships, break down self-confidence, and cause problems in all areas of life. After a relapse, one can experience a ton of emotions.  In the aftermath of a relapse, some experience guilt and shame. But, you don’t have to let shame and guilt take over. Some are able to overcome or remove feelings of guilt and shame.

Shame vs. Guilt: What’s the Difference?

Did you know that there’s a difference between guilt and shame? It seems like people usually speak about these in the same light, though they are different. They are both common feelings which can come from addiction or drug abuse.

When people feel guilt, it means that they regret the choices they’ve made. Guilt is a remorseful feeling. But, it’s also a responsible feeling. People who feel guilty about something will do what it takes to make things right. Guilt isn’t necessarily a good thing, though. It can cause people to feel an unhealthy amount of regret for things they can’t control. It may also make them feel terrible even after they’ve done everything they could do to make amends. Experiencing forms of guilt is kind of like saying to yourself, “I’ve done something really wrong. I’ve made a bad choice.”

Now with shame, it’s more of a feeling of humiliation. It can bring embarrassment, sadness, heartache, suffering, etc. When a person feels shame, they can become isolated. So instead of trying to fix things like some people do when they feel guilty, people experiencing shame try to avoid things and life itself. They just run away from the issue. Shame can make people feel like they are just hopeless. So, they decide to just escape. Having shame is kind of like saying, “I’ve done something really wrong and I’m a horrible person.”

Guilt can bring the voice of,  “You did something bad and you know it,” and them Shame says, “You are something bad and those around you know it.”

There is a difference there. Shame and guilt are parts of addiction and recovery that are quite common but can be repaired with time and work. If one dwells in these feelings though, the creation of self-doubt can lead to furthering relapse or causing it to reoccur. It is important to try to become more self-aware of your feelings and work on them.

How To Deal with Guilt during Recovery

Guilt can tear you up inside. It is a problem that some people fight for the rest of their lives. It can sneak its way into your world, grab a hold of things so tight, making you feel drained and burnt out emotionally. Guilt is just another layer on top of a struggle that is big enough on its own.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Guilt

It’s normal and appropriate to feel guilty when you have done something wrong. If you have hurt someone, done something that goes against your personal values, or have done something you promised you’d never do again, guilt is the appropriate response.

In fact, if you didn’t feel guilty for doing wrong, it could be a sign of much deeper psychological issues such as Antisocial Personality Disorder:

Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes called sociopathy, is a mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference. They show no guilt or remorse for their behavior. – Mayo Clinic

If it is inappropriate guilt, try to let it go. Realize there are some things you just can’t control.  If it is appropriate guilt, make an effort to change the behavior that causes you to feel the guilt. Once you stop doing those things or taking actions that cause you to feel remorseful or sorry, the feelings can go away or not have a chance to show themselves.

Guilt is ok when it is warranted for the right reasons but when it consumes you and your emotions, it can get in the way of your healing & recovery process.

How To Deal with Shame during Recovery

Shame and substance abuse aren’t a good mix, though they commonly occur especially in early recovery. When someone feels shame, they may look for a way out to escape the feeling and go to something that masks the feelings to get away from the world for a while. Substance abuse is one way people achieve this, even if it’s for just a short time.

Shame and recovery can be just as dangerous. Shame can keep you from getting back to helping yourself and moving forward. It may thwart the motivation or progress being made during recovery as you will continue to feel like a “bad person” who needs to escape or deserves to be hidden away. But once you can free yourself from those feelings, you can get back on track to the good life that recovery brings. There are ways to unlock the struggle door, opening a way to remove shame and get back towards your freedom from addiction or substance abuse.

Forgiveness is the key!

Being able to forgive removes the shame and feeling that you can move on. Forgiving ourselves or others and releasing that choking experience of guilt is crucial to overcoming a relapse or pushing through on your journey of recovery. It’s important to forgive others too, as when you do so, you let go and accept. It may not make things right or just, but it means you are willing to let mistakes that happen, happen and you don’t want to feel responsible for the things you can’t control.

Forgiving the people in your life that have wronged you helps you heal. Perhaps you need to make amends for things you’ve done wrong to them as well; and, if so, making amends can be a freeing experience. If you can’t make direct amends or forgive them in person, write about it or journal your feelings of forgiveness.

Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest part. We are the seasoned critics, we have lived our whole lives trying to look inward and identify who we are and what we are doing feeling all the mistakes on the deepest level.

Remember that no one is perfect. Not your best friends, your favorite aunt, or even your most loved celebrity. Everyone has flaws and everyone makes mistakes. It’s ok! Just don’t give up on becoming a better you, that is what’s important.

  • Speak and think positively. You are valuable and you can get past the shame of your past.
  • Forgive yourself. Let others forgive you. It’s the way to healing and freedom from self.
  • Don’t punish yourself. Make things right. Make Amends. Hold yourself accountable for your choices. But, don’t be so hard on yourself it becomes negative explosions.

The rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield, it’s easy to look back but looking ahead and staying positive is always worth it. Life can be amazing, just keep progressing and make adjustments along the way.

If you are struggling with guilt & shame or would like to talk with someone about getting help please contact us, we are here to help!

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