Tuesday, December 18

Understanding Shame and Addiction

Shame is a much misunderstood and neglected emotion.  Yes, it lies at the core of so much human suffering in particular addiction and more specifically sex addiction.

Even parents that are not abusive to their children shame them routinely.  Little Jo goes to mother after she was cheated at playing a game with friends and mother says "You're not really angry, you're just tired.", or a boy is told by his father "Real boys don't cry; be strong, take it like a man" (Of course he's only three!!)  In each case, the childn's experience is shamed and thereby disavowed, misidentified and eventually repressed. It is lost to conscious awareness, no longer freely available for expression.

Shame is not embarrassment; embarrassment in an outgrowth of shame as is shyness, social isolation and self-hating inner thoughts.  Shame is frequently tied to the failing of ideal (not realistic) self and that ideal is a perfectionistic one that seeks to compensate, or undo, the parental shaming that occurred in childhood.
Shame strikes deepest into the human psyche; it is a sickness within the self, a disease of the spirit.

Shame is the most deeply disturbing experience of the self by the self.  Shame is crucial to the development of identity, conscience and to a sense of dignity.  Shame is equally central to the development of self-esteem and intimacy.While guilt is a bad feeling about a particular behavior which can be atoned for and changed, shame tells us that WE are inadequate, unworthy, less than human, outside the human experience.

And because it is WE who are intrinsically bad, there's nothing that can be done about it, giving rise to despair.  There is a type of shame as a feeling that functions simply to increase awareness and passes rather quickly, another type of shame, sometimes called "internalized shame" or "toxic shame" means we have accepted "badness" as our essential identity.  It becomes internalized and magnified to the point that it now progressively captures and dominates the self.  It becomes a cancerous growth on the human soul.

Is Shame The Cause of Addiction?

It is not true that shame is THE cause of addiction.  While shame is central to much that causes human suffering, it is not the only source of disturbance and dysfunction.  The principal cause of addiction is the experience of intolerable negative feelings, shame included.  The addict first becomes dependent on a "mood changer" that lessens the intensity of unwanted feeling states.  While any combination of feelings may be involved, shame, or a derivative of it, is usually predominant.  It's important to understand that shame usually functions on an unconscious level, so you may be feeling all sorts of things without attributing them to shame.

Therapy helps connect that dots and name the real culprit which is often that you have an unaccepting
 and even self-hating relationship to yourself.

In addition to primary shame, the shame that comes from childhood and thus precedes the development of addictive dependency, there is also secondary shame, the inevitable shame about being addicted to anything, never mind sex.  Sex addicts are controlled by their addiction which intensifies shame and also adds further fuel to the addictive process to escape the shame of being addicts!!!


Ken said...

Great article, Dorothy! I'm a former addictions counselor! To get out of the pit of shame, obviously, I have to stop the addictive process from continuing! What stops it? What can break that cycle? Ah, now, there are many options, right?! Like many 'trauma' experiences, it's embedded in our bodies! "The body knows the score."

Dorothy Hayden said...

Yes, of course it is.

It's on my never-ending "to-do" list to write more about shame and addiction. It's HUGE. Thanks for the comment.