Pride is a level of respect for yourself, a belief in the value of your personal character, body, life, efforts or achievements. Everyone needs to have a sense of pride about themselves. Shame is a negative feeling about the self. The experience of shame may result in feelings that you are defective, incompetent, weak, inferior or deserving of criticism (Potter-Efron, R., & Potter-Efron, P., 1989). Guilt, on the other hand, is about doing harm or failure of doing. Guilty people may have gone too far and harmed others such as stealing money from their family. They may not have done enough such as failing to take care of and protect their children.
As you have learned, unmanaged negative emotional states are linked to relapse. Guilt and shame are negative emotions. The lifestyle of addiction leads to doing things we would never have done before and will never do again once the experience of addiction is over. Examples include: stealing money, wasting valuable years intoxicated, harming someone in anger, going to jail, performing sexual acts for money or drugs, making promises you never intended to keep, being manipulated or manipulating others. The possibilities are endless.
Using the “Guilt and Shame Stress Inventory Worksheet” at the end of this chapter, write your personal definition of guilt and of shame. Use only a couple words for each entry and record the things you feel most guilty about, and the things you feel most ashamed about. Write down those items where you feel both guilt and shame.
Guilt can be good. It can motivate you to take action and make amends. It can motivate you to change your behavior. It can motivate you to look at your value system and make changes there too. So, guilt can be good if it leads to positive action in your life (Potter-Efron, R., & Potter-Efron, P., 1989). Because guilt is most often found in doing or a failure of doing, it is most easily overcome by action. That’s why it’s a good motivator. You have begun your guilt inventory, so take a few minutes now and decide for which items it would be easiest to take action. For example: paying back money. That can be a pretty easy action. Other actions may be more difficult, like making amends to a partner or children. Decide what actions you can take to correct or make amends for each problem and end the guilt.
When guilt is managed ineffectively, you can overload yourself with responsibilities and attempt anything to make amends for all your past mistakes, however small or far in the past. You begin to worry about the possible negative consequences of every action you have ever taken. You begin to see only black or white, right or wrong in every part of your life. You may even become immobilized when you can not figure out how to make amends. It is important to be objective with yourself when you’re experiencing guilt and be sure your actions to make amends are based on sound and rational thinking. It is helpful to check out your level of guilt, and the decisions related to that guilt, with someone who is supportive and unbiased. It can be a friend, a counselor or person you trust and are confidant will give you quality feedback.
Think carefully about what actions you will take to make amends. Watch out for dysfunctional, all or nothing thinking, and get on with it. Remember, there may not be a way to clean up all the things you feel guilty about. If someone has passed away, they won’t ever see how you have changed. You may have to learn to accept what you have done. Often the person you will need to forgive is yourself.
Acceptance is when you realize some things can’t be changed and let it be. Acceptance does not mean you’re happy about it. It’s just that you accept something happened, you did it, it’s over, there is nothing more you can do about it now, and you have to let it be. Return to your “Guilt and Shame Stress Inventory Worksheet” at the end of this chapter and next to each guilt stressor you have identified add any strategies, including acceptance, that you want to use.