Teaching Shame Resiliency Could Aid Addiction Recovery

By John Lavitt 09/22/15

Shame resiliency played a key role at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders.

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At the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), the key role of shame resiliency in addiction recovery was highlighted. Effective trauma resolution and addiction recovery work will not last if shame is ignored during treatment, and the mistaken choice to bypass shame can fuel an addiction in the long run. Rather, shame must be identified and addressed as one of the roots of addiction. Teaching clients shame resiliency will provide them with the tools needed to foster sustainable sobriety.

Healthy shame is often used in society as an agent of change. While healthy shame can help to move the moral compass and raise awareness, it is a dangerous game to play. The state often can degrade into the more lethal versions of the emotional state that include toxic shame, shame spirals, and shame webs. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging,” author Brené Brown said.

Certified eating disorder specialist Katie Thompson likened toxic shame to a funhouse mirror where the client possesses an image of one’s self that is distorted by abuse and abandonment. A shame spiral is the recycling of toxic shame, often accompanied by residency in victimhood. Shame webs are layered, conflicting and competing social expectations, and entanglement in a shame web causes the fear and blame that generates shame.

For a shame-bounded person, the addiction often "steps in" to protect them from the pain of cycling shame and numbs them to it. “While it protects, it simultaneously destroys,” Thompson said. "The addiction only reinforces their original beliefs rooted in shame, and as a result, the person loses connection, is isolated and cannot function in life."

This is where shame resiliency comes into play. It helps to stabilize addiction behaviors and process trauma in a more fluid manner. As Brown describes, "It is the ability to recognize shame when we experience it and move through it in a constructive way that allows us to maintain our authenticity and grow from our experiences."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.