Shame & Addiction

By Steve Greenman, MA, LPC, NCC

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
C.G. Jung

Most of us have at one time or another felt embarrassed, guilty or shamed about our actions. When I was a therapist at an addiction treatment center, we focused on the difference between guilt, shame and embarrassment.

Embarrassment was regarded as a low level emotional response that could resonate from positive or negative situations.

Guilt is a higher level of negativity to actions. It’s associated with how others may make us feel about ourselves with the focus on the negative.

Shame is when we incorporate our value as a person to such a depth that we deem ourselves unworthy and lose self-esteem and self confidence.

Brene Brown, a noted researcher on guilt and shame, describes the difference between the terms. Brene’s research suggests that guilt can be adaptive and helpful – “it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”

She describes shame as: “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

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