Shame and Guilt Among People in Recovery

Addiction can be a major cause of shame and guilt. Whether you regret the choices you made or the things you said while under the influence, thinking back on what happened may make you ruminate about the worst parts of your past. Research shows that shame and guilt are associated with depression symptoms among those in recovery. To remain sober and build a better life, you must learn to cultivate improved self-esteem. Here are our tips for managing shame and guilt in recovery.

Research Highlights Prevalence of Shame and Guilt

Experts from The San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group and The Wright Institute partnered to analyze patterns of shame, guilt, and depression among people in recovery from substance use disorder. Their study was relatively simple in design. A sample of 130 participants were given measures to assess shame and depression: The Test of Self-Conscious Affect and The Beck Depression Inventory. When compared to a control group of non-addicted individuals, those in recovery scored higher in proneness to shame and externalization (projecting one’s feelings onto others).

Interestingly, male participants also ranked higher in levels of detachment. Shame is an especially serious concern for men because of the societal role of masculinity. This concept pushes men avoid showing weakness and strive to present an ideal image of “what a man should be.” When they fall short of these incredibly high standards, men experience deeply held shame. This shame remains unaddressed, and as a result, men may isolate themselves from others and avoid thinking about their emotions. This is a recipe for depression.

The Depression Connection

It may not surprise you to learn that shame, guilt, and depression are closely related. Many people experience their first depressive episode as the result of a negative life event. Maybe they’ve ended a marriage, made a major error at work, or gotten into trouble with the law. These shame-charged experiences connect new neural pathways in the brain. Essentially, the brain learns how to transform shame into depression, usually through negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk is exactly what it sounds like: the process of thinking (or even saying) judgmental, cruel things to yourself. This usually happens in the wake of a shameful experience. Examples include:

  • “I can’t believe I did that. I hate myself.”
  • “No matter how hard I try, it never works out.”
  • “I can’t do anything right.”
  • “It’s all my fault.”

When you think these thoughts over and over again, they take up a lot of space in your mind. If you find yourself wandering down these well-worn patterns of thought, you may be on your way to a depressive episode. This is because the shame-fueled words above have a serious impact on your state of mind. They alter your beliefs about yourself, vaporize your self-esteem, and make you feel powerless to change your situation. This is why it’s so important to learn to manage feelings of shame and guilt – before they drag you down.

Overcoming Feelings of Shame and Guilt

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to alleviate the shame and guilt that linger long after you’ve found sobriety. Read on for The Last Resort’s time-tested recommendations.

Work with a therapist. A trained mental health counselor is more than just a person to vent to. Therapists can help you to identify and process painful memories. The act of changing one’s thoughts is accomplished through specific therapeutic modalities, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. A counselor can also give you the guidance you need to make amends with those you’ve hurt in the past.

Speak kindly to yourself. Stop the negative self-talk! It can be easy to beat yourself up over tiny mistakes, but that’s a recipe for low self-esteem. Instead, try to speak to yourself the way you would an old friend. If you wouldn’t say it to a loved one, don’t think it about yourself. Self-compassion is crucial to lasting recovery.

Seek forgiveness. You may be surprised by how much others want to see you again. Sometimes, all they’re waiting on is an apology. Ask them for forgiveness, make amends, and then forgive yourself for the past. From that point, you can all move forward together.

Attend meetings. It may be easy to think badly about yourself, but seeking out the company of peers can help. When you spend time with others in recovery, you may hear stories that make you feel less alone. Additionally, AA and NA meetings are judgment-free zones. You can share your feelings without worrying about rejection from others.

Help for Men with Substance Use Disorder

If you feel ashamed of your substance use, help is available. The Last Resort offers the care you need to overcome addiction, break the cycle of shame and guilt, and build a better future. Our evidence-based approach to treatment is holistic – your mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual health will all be addressed during your stay with us. To learn more about our programs for men in active addiction, contact our admissions team.