Don’t Let Shame Run Your Life (Or Fuel Your Addictions)

Don’t Let Shame Run Your Life (Or Fuel Your Addictions)

“I’m unworthy.”

“I’m a bad parent.”

“I’m a failure.”

“I’m a lost cause.”

Do these thoughts seem familiar to you? If so, it’s likely you’re experiencing shame, one of the most toxic emotions. Shame is insidious; when it’s given residence in your psyche, it can lead to all kinds of emotional, mental, and physical disorders and disease – including addiction.

Shame is also inconspicuous. You may have struggled with how you feel and what you think about yourself for a long time, without pinpointing shame as the reason why. It works in the shadows, beneath the level of consciousness, yet it is incredibly hard to shake. Over time the feelings become entrenched; even the encouragement of a loved one or counselor is may not change your mind.

So, are you supposed to live with these feelings your entire life?

Absolutely not.

Take a moment to learn about shame and how it influences your mental and physical health. In order to move forward, you’ll need to “get beneath” the shame and find the underlying issues. With the proper perspective and some self forgiveness, you can banish this toxic emotion so that it doesn’t run your life — or fuel any addictions.

What is Shame?

According to, shame is “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another.”

So there are three components of shame:

  • Emotional pain
  • Awareness of failure
  • A judgement about the failure

For example, if you’ve ever driven a car while under the influence, you might feel ashamed and believe this event makes you an irresponsible person because that has been your past judgement about people who drive under the influence.

Shame vs Guilt

We often use the terms “shame” and “guilt” interchangeably, but they’re actually two different things.

Here’s a simple way to understand the difference:

Guilt is recognizing that what you’ve done is bad, whereas shame is the internal belief that you are bad.

Shame works like this: I have a set of “rules” that good people would never do; I break that rule; therefore I must not be a good person.

Shame’s Impact on Health

So what happens when we allow shame to build up in our lives without doing anything to work through these emotions? Internalized shame can develop into a mental or emotional issue, such as depression or anxiety. Then, if left untreated, these can progress into physical ailments, such as heart disease, a weakened immune system, or any other of a multitude of physical ailments.

We now know that we can measure the toxicity of our different emotions, and shame is the most toxic of the emotions that humans experience. So it goes without saying, good holistic health depends on one’s level of awareness of Shame, and one’s ability to process shame triggers in a healthier way. Getting treatment for those underlying triggers or causes of the shame is the first step toward healing.

Can Shame Lead to Addiction?

Not only can shame lead to addiction, it’s one of the primary causes. People don’t like to feel emotional pain, and shame is one of the worst. So it’s natural to find ways to numb that pain. Many turn to mood-altering substances, but there are lots of ways to numb out: food, gambling, sex, working, relationships, gaming, social media – we can use almost anything. Whatever helps to suppress the feelings of shame.

For a little while, numbing works. We feel better, temporarily. But, it wears off, and we’re back to where we started. At the next memory of our shame, we remember (consciously or subconsciously) that we didn’t feel all that stuff when we were using our drug of choice.

And the cycle begins and continues. Until the drugs or alcohol is replaced with something healthy, the cycle is very hard to break.

Removing Shame from Our Lives

So, how does a person remove the oppressiveness of shame in their lives?

One way is to reevaluate the rules we set – and can potentially break – which allow the feelings of shame to accumulate in our lives.

How? First, we examine those rules and say, “Is that true for me going forward? No? I don’t want that rule anymore.” Then we know it’s time to modify that rule going forward. It’s a very powerful process for changing our mental beliefs about the world around us.

Second, it really comes down to self-forgiveness. Give yourself permission to fail. Think of your past failures as being the best you could have done given your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual condition at that moment in time.

Does that mean you’re not accountable for your actions?


But instead of drowning in shame and self-punishing, reframe your belief system and forgive yourself. If the rule is still important (e.g. people shouldn’t drive drunk, good parents shouldn’t yell at their kids, etc), take positive actions instead: make amends if necessary; invest in yourself to change a bad habit or pattern; commit to starting daily meditation; get counseling…whatever it takes to not let shame run your life.


Images Courtesy of iStock