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Dealing with Shame and Guilt As a Result of Addiction

When clients first come in for treatment, they initially have some confusion over the concepts of SHAME and GUILT.  They report having feelings of both but are unclear on just how they differ.

“Guilt says I’ve done something wrong; shame says there is something wrong with me.  Guilt says I’ve made a mistake; shame says I am a mistake.  Guilt says what I did was not good; shame says I am no good.”  (Bradshaw, 1988)

Guilt is a feeling that everyone is familiar with.  It can be described as “a bothered conscience” or “a feeling of culpability for offenses.”  We feel guilty when we feel responsible for an action that we regret.

Shame can be defined as “a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.”  Others have distinguished between the two by indicating that “we feel guilty for what we do.  We feel shame for who we are.”

Although shame is an emotion that is closely related to guilt, it is important to understand the differences.  Shame is often a much stronger and more profound emotion than guilt.  “Shame is when we feel disappointed about something inside of us, our basic nature.”

Both shame and guilt can have intensive implications on our perceptions of self and our behavior toward other people, particularly in situations of conflict.   An essential part of recovery is identifying and working through both of these deep-seeded feelings.