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It’s not uncommon for people to experience feelings of guilt and shame as they navigate treatment and recovery. While guilt can sometimes serve as a motivator during the recovery journey, shame generally hinders the process. It often makes it harder for people to recover from addiction, and may even perpetuate someone’s active addiction. Though it can be motivating, guilt can still become overwhelming at times. So, individuals must learn how to manage these feelings of guilt, shame, and other complex emotions that sometimes accompany the recovery journey. 

Thankfully, you can learn to manage feelings of guilt and shame through therapy, group work, or creative expression to name a few things. More importantly, you won’t have to learn to manage these emotions alone. West Coast Recovery Centers can offer the tools necessary for managing these emotions while seeking addiction treatment. Contact us to get started today. 

What Are Guilt and Shame?

Throughout the course of our lives, we all experience a wide spectrum of complex, human emotions. These range from happiness to sadness and everything else in between. Part of our development as young children is learning to manage and regulate emotions. However, throughout adolescence, teenage years, and well into adulthood, it often feels like there’s no mastery of this particular subject matter. 

Emotions can be excellent motivators, but some are more complicated than others. Guilt, in particular, is an emotion that many of us struggle with. We generally experience guilt when we do something wrong or commit an offense. For example, hurting a loved one makes us feel guilty. While the guilt doesn’t feel good, feeling it is a good sign because it means we have a moral compass. Guilt helps us differentiate between right and wrong and motivates us to do the right thing when we may be at fault. 

Shame is another complex emotion we’ll all experience at some point. It’s a painful feeling of distress typically caused by something we do wrong. Some also describe shame as a feeling of humiliation or embarrassment. Many try to hide things they’re ashamed of, which is normal. However, if left untreated, shame can cause many problems for one’s mental health and overall well-being. 

It’s understandable why some people use the words guilt and shame interchangeably. Admittedly, both evolve out of a perceived wrongdoing. However, they’re quite different when put under the microscope. Let’s look at some of those differences now. 

Identifying the Most Significant Differences Between Guilt and Shame

Though many of us may confuse guilt and shame, understanding their differences can make all the difference in improving one’s mental health. Research describes guilt and shame as “self-conscious emotions.” They both involve “negative self-evaluations and feelings of distress.” Shame and guilt often coexist and are brought on by our perceived failures. 

Despite the coexistence of shame and guilt, there’s one main difference between the two. Guilt describes a negative feeling about something you did wrong. Shame goes much deeper by extrapolating what you’ve done wrong and turning it into the belief that you’re fundamentally wrong or immoral. In other words, guilt focuses on specific actions or mistakes, while shame focuses on behaviors or negative opinions about oneself. 

How Could Unmanaged Shame Prevent You From Seeking Addiction Treatment?

Emotions are powerful. Because they’re powerful, they have the potential to influence how we think and behave. Emotions are natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re always healthy. For example, shame can cause a great deal of pain and stress to a person’s mental and emotional well-being. It can even hinder their addiction recovery or prevent them from seeking treatment altogether. 

Shame is rooted in cultural expectations, trauma, low self-esteem, or harmful stereotypes. It causes people to feel inadequate and worthless. Shame may also cause a person to continue hiding their addiction. It may also cause them to fear treatment because of how others will perceive them against stereotypes. 

If left unmanaged, shame can cause further dependence and low self-esteem and lead to the development of other mental health conditions. Sitting in this shame without addressing it leads to more dependence, pain, and harm.  

What Influence Could Guilt and Shame Have On Your Recovery Journey?

The first step toward pursuing your freedom from active addiction is overcoming the feelings of guilt and shame preventing you from seeking treatment. Shame and unhealthy guilt can hinder your recovery journey by: 

  • Causing you to question your self-worth 
  • Lowering your confidence and self-esteem 
  • Keeping you quiet and fearful of speaking up about your struggles 
  • Harming your mental, physical, and emotional well-being 
  • Hindering your relationships with friends, family, and yourself 

Despite these risks, you can start managing feelings of guilt and shame in recovery today by: 

  • Understanding these complex emotions and recognizing the difference between them 
  • Accepting yourself, your struggle with SUD, and your past mistakes 
  • Remembering that your mistakes don’t define you or your self-worth 
  • Making amends and asking for forgiveness from people you hurt in the past 
  • Discussing your recovery and guilt and shame with friends, family, peers, and your therapist 
  • Living in the present by practicing mindfulness and gratitude for how far you’ve come 

Don’t let guilt and shame keep you from a life of sobriety. These unmanaged feelings may make you feel like you don’t deserve a life free of active addiction, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone deserves sustainable sobriety and the chance to become the person they want to be. Take your first step toward becoming that person by seeking treatment with West Coast Recovery Centers today. 

We all experience a wide range of human emotions throughout the course of our lives, including guilt and shame. Some of these emotions are positive, others are negative, but in any case, learning to manage them is critical. People sometimes use guilt and shame interchangeably. However, guilt describes a negative feeling about something we’ve done wrong, while shame describes a negative feeling about ourselves because of what we’ve done wrong. Guilt and shame can lead to substance use disorder (SUD) and prevent people from seeking treatment. It can also hinder the recovery journey. West Coast Recovery Centers can help you overcome guilt and shame. To begin your recovery journey and overcome guilt and shame, call us at (760) 492-6509 today. 

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