Theories and Models of Shame and Addiction
One of the most common emotions experienced by human beings is shame. Bradshaw (2005) defines shame as the agonizing feeling that arises from the consciousness of an improper or dishonorable action that an individual feels blamable for (p. 6). As soon as the individual convinces themselves that they are wrong and bad, they suffer from uncontrollable shame. This is unlike guilt whereby the individual only thinks they have only done something wrong, but do not think of themselves as wrong and bad. Unfortunately, sometimes the feeling of shame becomes so intense that the victim seems bound by it. According to Bradshaw (2005), "To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling, need or drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, needs, and drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core." (P. 17-18). This means that the feeling of shame can imprison an individual to the point of hating oneself, suffering from low self-esteem, loneliness, paranoia, depression, and looking for alternatives that they feel may appease their ego. These alternatives may be harmful because in some cases, individuals feel so bothered by the shame that they tend to look for solace from substance abuse. In this paper, I reflect on the aspect of shame and addiction in the context of a case study. The reflection is on the case of Kajo, a wife and mother of three who turned to smoking as a way of escaping from shame. The paper looks at how shame leads to addiction, how the harm can be reduced and the stages of change in alleviating shame and addiction.
The bio-psycho-socio-spiritual model of addiction which involves the physiological, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental factors is a very practical model for explaining addiction (Bradshaw, 2005, p. 12). All these factors, or at least most of them, play an important role in addiction. Substance abuse is one of the most common consolations that individuals suffering from shame turn to. In this course, I have learned that shame can easily lead to addiction. Kajo, for example, is a respectable woman, a church minister. However, the harrowing experience she went through during her childhood made her so ashamed that she turned to smoking as a way of escaping the misery. She was raped by her neighbor, and because she had not developed a close relationship with her parents, decided to confide the details of the rape case in her Sunday school teacher. Unfortunately, the Sunday school teacher almost raped her too, instead of helping her. This is what led to feelings of shame that were so intense that when some friends introduced Kajo to smoking, she was more than willing to accept the habit. The unfortunate event in Kajo's childhood resulted in low self-esteem that made her vulnerable to shame, smoking and, ultimate, addiction. The psychoanalytic attachment theory of shame could best be used to describe Kajo's behavior. According to the theory, if the attachment of a baby to its parents (especially the mother) is disrupted, the baby may feel unaccepted or unwanted (Bradshaw, 2005, p. 21). This feeling of worthlessness, as aforementioned, leads to low self-esteem. It is because of this feeling of worthlessness that Kajo could not tell her parents what happened to her since they were too busy to develop an intimate relationship with her. An individual who has a low self-esteem live in shame. In the process, the individual becomes toxically shamed and, as Bradshaw (2005) explains, lives in a defensive, secretive and guarded way while trying to be perfect although they will experience stagnation to a certain addictive behavior (p. 25). The individual feels unlovable, defective, guilty and not worthy to be loved. Kajo has even become antisocial. She likes to stay indoors where she can comfortably smoke.
Shame is a highly destructive and dangerous feeling. It makes one live in fear, blame themselves, fail to establish meaningful relationships with others, prevent one from seeking help, and leads to substance abuse and addiction. One thing I have realized from the concepts and models learned in this course is that although shame is a natural feeling that affects everybody in this world, it is so painful that many individuals will endeavor to avoid it. However, in some instances, it is unavoidable, and one has to overcome it. MatULj (2008) explains that in every addictive behavior, there is a spiritual void (p. 43). He suggests prayer, meditation or even communing with nature as some of the ways in which the spirit can be enriched, and consequently, have the spiritual void can be filled. There is some spiritual fulfillment that lacks in an individual, hence leading to shame and addiction. With this spiritual fulfillment, one can overcome shame and addiction. Unfortunately, many people, as aforementioned, believe that the easiest way out of shame is substance abuse. Smoking, for instance, seems to make Kajo relaxed, and for a while, forget the rape ordeal that she underwent as a child. However, beneath the confident face of a church minister, wife, and mother of three, are feelings of guilt and shame. The worst thing is that Kajo hides while smoking. She is not sure if her children know she smokes. This adds to her psychological trauma. Kajo only smokes at home and in the presence of her husband who is also a smoker. She finds solace in the fact that he cannot rebuke her or help her stop this behavior. According to MatULj (2008), every addictive behavior is connected to a certain hurt and, therefore, an addict does not view their behavior as self-harming as long as it can relieve them of their misery, albeit temporarily (p. 13). Although Kajo has tried to stop smoking, she has not been successful since she does not consider the behavior as seriously self-harming. Her husband does not make any effort to encourage her to seek help. She is forced to live a double-faceted kind of life. Apparently, Kajo is suffering from shame that may finally lead to depression. Unfortunately, she is not aware that her desire to please people and live a perfectionist life, only make her feel ashamed of who she is.
Recovery from Shame and Addiction
Societal issues such as the pressure to fit in, the acceptability of behavior such as alcoholism, and exposure contribute to the rising levels of shame and addiction. Fortunately for those affected by shame and addiction, all is not lost. They have a chance to recover if they are ready for a change. MatULj (2008) who believes in human goodness and decency asserts that no addict can recover in isolation (p. 54). They must seek connection with other human beings. As a physician, MatULj has recognized the fact that human beings are strong enough to recover, only if they are willing to accept change. He says that "It is difficult to convey the grace that we witness we who have the privilege of working down here: the courage, the human connection, the tenacious struggle for human existence and even for dignity. The misery is extraordinary in the drug gulag. But so is the humanity." (p. 90). This means that addicts are not a bunch of hopeless and desperate individuals: they are people who have the capacity to change for the better. However, it is important to note that for an individual to recover from addictive behaviors, they must be devoid of shame. Unfortunately, shame hinders recovery. This is because it prevents one from forging a strong and supportive network of friends; hence, the temptation to relapse back to shame addiction. Whenever Kajo tries to stop smoking, she finds it hard to do so and relapses back to the habit since she has no network of friends who can help her and her husband is not concerned since he is also a smoker and seems comfortable with his addictive behavior.
Addicted individuals must be ready to go through some steps for effective behavior modification in the process of overcoming shame and addiction. The models, theories, and concepts of shame and addiction reveal that any person can change for the better. Nelson (2004) explains that as an alcoholic, he initially found drinking fascinating since he thought it excited and soothed him but later realized that the more he drank, the thirstier he became (p. 33). He was living a lie and had to seek a more realistic way of living his life: spiritual living. Nelson goes on to explain that the spirit can teach us an immense amount in every thirst we experience, every desire in our lives (p. 34). This explanation clarifies the fact that spirituality is an integral part of the healing process. Bradshaw (2005) refers to it as spiritual awakening (p. 217). Spirituality, therefore, forms the foundation for other steps in the healing process. According to Mat (2008), meditation and communing with nature are aspects of spirituality in addition to prayer. Apart from that, a conducive environment is necessary for healing to take place. The environment that Kajo lives in, for example, is not conducive enough for her to stop smoking. As long as she smokes, the shame will live with her. Her inability to stop the addictive behavior may not necessarily be related to the shame of having suffered a rape ordeal in childhood. It is important to note that she never smokes in public; meaning that this is a behavior she can comfortably control. As a smoker, Kajo's husband has neither the moral authority nor the vivacity to help Kajo stop smoking. This explains why whenever she attempts to stop the habit, she relapses back to the same.
The first step towards recovery is the acknowledgment of the shame and addiction. One has to acknowledge the fact that they have a problem, and the problem is that they are suffering from shame that has led to a certain addiction. Kajo, in our case, must acknowledge the fact that the shameful ordeal that she faced during her childhood is something that she cannot change. She needs to accept that that was then and a repeat of her childhood is out of the question. She then needs to understand that her smoking habit emanates from the desire to hide the shame that has caused her to have a low self-esteem. She had no control over what happened and should, therefore, avoid condemning and judging herself. Paradoxically, it seems her husband exerts some coercive control over her, as (Fontes, 2015, p. 3) refers to the indirect control that some men wield on their partners. This is because as it seems, were it not for her husband's influence, Kajo would have stopped smoking. The Disease model of addiction could apply in this case. If Kajo acknowledges that she has a disease, it will do her good. Nelson (2004) admits that for him to begin the journey of recovery from alcoholism, his counselor kept on reminding him that he had to internalize the fact that he had a disease: a huge load of guilt and shame (p. 49). With that acknowledgment, there was no turning back. The journey to recovery had begun.
The counselors and spiritual leaders
The second thing that the addict needs to do is to recognize the fact that their addiction does not define them. One needs to realize that they are not a substandard, horrible loser simply because they have shame and addiction clouding their life. They should not allow shame and addiction to overshadow the strengths they have. Mat (2008) recognizes that in every human being, there is a certain goodness and decency that even the larger society cannot ignore (p. 55). In this case, every addict must realize that they have strengths and weaknesses, just like a normal human being. Since shame and addiction may be a weakness like any other, they should not allow it to define them. Instead, they should focus on the strengths and appreciate that no individual is perfect. If Kajo understood this, she would stop isolating herself and get more involved in the church ministry, keep herself busy and recognize the great potential that is within her. She needs to understand that her vulnerability to rape, and later smoking are part of human challenges over which one may not have any control. Everyone makes mistakes at a certain point in their lives. The good news is that whatever the case, the image of God in us is never destroyed (Nelson, 2004, p. 33). Despite our imperfect nature, God still loves us.
The next thing that is crucial for any addict is to understand that they are not alone. This recognition helps in letting go of the shame that causes addiction to substance abuse and other destructive behaviors. Isolation does not help. One cannot recover in solitude Mat (2008, p. 54). There is power in people. Kajo makes one big mistake. She avoids friends and prefers to stay indoors where she can comfortably smoke. Unfortunately, this explains why Kajo has not been successful in her attempt to quit the addictive habit. For one to recover, they have to exhibit the readiness to change by realizing that no man is an island; hence, interacting with people and learning from them.
The next step requires the addict to look for help. For healing and recovery to take place effectively, one must be willing to reach out for assistance. Although shame can hinder an addict from seeking help, it should not be an excuse for failure to seek help. A willing addict can reach out to people who understand the pain of shame and addiction. These people, who may include counselors and spiritual leaders, are always willing to encourage, guide and motivate an addict towards recovery. In the course of my studies, I have learned that there is nothing that is impossible. Kajo's case, for instance, is very easy to solve, if only she is willing to look for help. Unfortunately, she is too ashamed to do so. Her double-faceted kind of life makes things worse. She does not want anyone to know her secret smoking habit.
Strong relationship between shame and addiction
Finally, one needs to forgive themselves for each wrong step they may have taken, that led them to their addictive behavior and kept them in it even when they knew that they were doing the wrong thing. One has to heal their memories, love themselves and change their self-image (Bradshaw, 2005, p. 167). One can only do this by forgiving themselves and making a choice to change. Kajo must realize that at the time her friends introduced her to smoking, she had no other tool to overcome the shame and depression associated with the rape ordeal she went through as a child. She did the best she could have done at the time. However, time has come for her to forgive herself, avoid getting entangled again (Fontes, 2015, p. 215), re-evaluate the shame-inducing event, revisit her beliefs about herself, change and live an honest and straight-forward life.
There was a lot to learn both from this course and the case study. One thing that is clear from the information gained is that there is a strong relationship between shame and addiction. The models, theories, and concepts of shame and addiction have revealed that shame is a painful and deeply personal emotion. Shame is what causes an individual slip into any addiction, as they try to avoid or forget it, albeit temporarily. In the process, self-esteem takes a dip and recovering it requires a lot of resilience and determination. I have also realized that some things are beyond our control and only spiritual interventions can help. One may judge and condemn themselves, only to realize that this does not help. Each time they promise themselves to quit an addiction but then relapse, they feel disappointed, hopeless, and powerless. However, the good news is that it is possible to change. One only needs to take a few steps. They may seem difficult at first, but as soon as they begin the journey to recovery, with an unfaltering willpower, all will work out well. They need to accept their strengths and weaknesses, and finally, forgive themselves for effective recovery to occur.
Bradshaw, J. (2005). Healing the shame that binds you: Recovery classics edition. Health Communications, Inc..
Fontes, L. A. (2015). Invisible chains: Overcoming coercive control in your intimate relationship. Guilford Publications.
MatULj, G. (2008). In the realm of hungry ghosts. Toronto, ON: Random House of Canada Limited.
Nelson, J. B. (2004). Thirst: God and the alcoholic experience. Westminster John Knox Press.
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