Everyone experiences shame from time to time but it can be one of the most difficult emotions that people want to avoid more than any other. Shame is very different from guilt which is mainly a moral judgement about your own behavior.
When someone feels ashamed it is more a judgement of themselves and their inferiority or failure. While guilt can motivate you to correct whatever you have done wrong, shame can be an overwhelming sense of inadequacy.
For most people shame is a fleeting emotion that they can recover from and return to normal in a short period of time. For people with mental health problems like depression and addiction, shame can be a very core emotion that they struggle with more often than the average person.
Coping with Shame
Addicts may have such a deep sense of shame that the feeling even lingers beneath their consciousness and grows into other problems and behaviors. People with more overwhelming shame can feel that they are not worthy of love, respect, success or happiness.
Shame becomes paralyzing and the more shame a person experiences the more likely they are to deal with problems of chronic depression, hopelessness and despair. Addicts who feel shame frequently are often looking for an escape from this feeling. They turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to stop themselves from being ashamed of who they are.
Being intoxicated helps them to forget their problems and temporarily feel a sense of confidence from a chemical high. The problem with addiction is that it can perpetuate feelings of shame because the addict feels that they must hide their substance abuse and they feel shameful about their problems. Shame is often at the center of an addiction as well as mental health and behavioral issues.
Behaviors Stemming from Shame
When someone experiences shame it can lead them to have other problems that contribute to mental illness. People who feel shame often can develop other issues such as perfectionism, low self-esteem and people pleasing.
These kinds of behaviors stem from their feelings of shame and can also be at the core of chronic depression. Shame can create a lot of fear and anxiety that can make it difficult to have close relationships with others as they may always feel that they are unworthy of friendship or even love.
People may begin to sabotage themselves in relationships because of fears that they are not loved and they may engage in the strategy of "leave before they leave me." They may have fears that once someone truly knows them they will be disappointed by who they are.
Shame can make people afraid to be themselves and they may begin to "people please" and act in whatever way they believe a specific person is looking for from them. They become afraid to express who they really are and don't speak their mind.
The behaviors that stem from shame can build into problems with depression and addiction because they prevent people from developing a healthy support system. Their troubles with maintaining close relationships with people can leave them isolated and they will end up dealing with their issues alone.
In order for people with mental health and behavioral issues to recover they need to find effective ways to heal their feelings of shame. They need a safe environment where they can be vulnerable to express themselves and receive acceptance and empathy.
In a healing environment people can begin to reverse their feelings of shame and start to change some of the negative beliefs that they have about themselves. With professional counseling and a support group people can be relieved of the shame they carry and work toward better mental health.
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