Shame is a common emotional response in adult children of alcoholic parents. When children grow up in a home filled with an unspoken addiction, it often creates a strong sense of vulnerability, helplessness, and feelings of inadequacy. Other homes in which shame can easily develop are when children grow up with depressed parents, abuse, oppression, or a death in the family.
Having to hide anything is the quintessential element of shame. Whether it’s your thoughts, feelings, mood, or the very essence of who you are, if you’re hiding a part of yourself, you’re likely experiencing shame. According to Marilyn Sorenson, PhD, author of “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem” and clinical psychologist, guilt is a feeling of having done something wrong while shame is the feeling of being something wrong. Shame penetrates down the very core of who you are.
Shame is one of those underlying contributing factors to addiction that eventually needs addressing. In fact, among common relapse triggers – such as loneliness, lack of support, and multiple diagnoses – there appears to be one primary emotion or belief that keeps the self-destruction habit of addiction going – shame. Considering the fact that addiction is a pattern of self-harm, drug addiction treatment then must include an exploration of the reason for that self-harm. Typically, self-harm develops out of one or two reasons, both of which are related to one another. The first is attempting to cope with difficult emotions and not knowing how to do so. Perhaps a parent was an alcoholic and they modeled a dysfunctional way to deal with intense emotions – keeping them repressed and out of sight so that they didn’t have to be experienced.
The second is reason for the self-destruction of addiction is a belief in unworthiness. Somewhere there is a part of the self that feels shame or rejection. The choice to drink, to deny the voice that wants more air, to continue to drink or use drugs is a choice of self-harm. It is a self-abusive habit, and in a way, it’s an attempt to destroy a part of you that feels worthy of rejection. Shame and self-hatred are directly related to the destructive choices of addiction.
Additionally, over time, as the addiction becomes more and more a dominant force, denial of life strengthens. The life force inside becomes more and more anesthetized. Meanwhile, the self-destructive habit gets stronger. Alongside this, with sobriety comes one of the most difficult issues to face: shame and unworthiness. Once an individual can face this, with the help of drug addiction treatment, and turn those feelings into love and self-acceptance, the addiction is more likely to come to an end.
Creating a life of sobriety means addressing the underlying issues, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and building strong support networks. Of course, these are all important aspects of drug addiction therapy. In fact, drug withdrawal treatment will frequently include medication to facilitate the drug detox process as well as group and/or individual therapy to address the addiction’s underlying issues. Other parts to drug addiction therapy include Motivational Interviewing, behavioral therapy, and possibly participation in the 12-step model.
It’s true that even if all these problems are addressed, it’s true that there still might be a return to old habits and relapse. Yet, when all issues – emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual – are resolved, including shame, relapse will likely disappear. And although, there might still be a few steps backwards, the overall recovery process will be forward moving, creating a long-term, enduring life of sobriety.
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