Healing Shame: The Core of Addiction and Codependency

Addiction and co-dependency share a strong connection: shame. Shame is much stronger than guilt. 

Unlike guilt, which is rooted around specific actions, shame makes a person feel inherently wrong. This feeling of wrongness can lead to feelings of being unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving of kindness, success, and happiness.

People with substance abuse issues are prone to experiencing shame, and co-dependent family members or partners are also often plagued by this intense emotion.

Understanding shame’s influence on addiction and co-dependency is vital toward successful recovery on every level.

By addressing the root causes of shame, people can learn to forgive themselves and others, set healthy boundaries, and begin making positive choices for themselves and in their relationships.

What is shame?

depressed man thinking of memories

Shame is a powerful, intense emotion that focuses on a person’s sense of self-worth. As a self-conscious feeling, shame reinforces negative self-views and beliefs. 

Shame is not the same as guilt, though the two tend to exist together. 

Guilt is regret and remorse over actions and consequences. A person can feel guilty about substance abuse because, morally, they feel it is wrong. 

Disappointing a loved one or even oneself can lead to a sense of guilt. 

But guilt tends to inspire action — a person apologises when they feel guilty, or they commit to not repeating a mistake.

When someone is unable to fix a problem, correct a mistake, or resolve their guilt, it can manifest into shame.

Shame can be something people inherit as they grow up. If their emotional needs were not adequately met, or if they suffered trauma or abuse, they are more likely to struggle with chronic feelings of unworthiness and shame. 

The more shame people feel, the more likely they are to engage in negative behaviours.

The difference between an addicted person and a co-dependent person lies in how they express and hide their shame.

An addicted person uses substance abuse to mask and numb their shame.

A co-dependent person tries to resolve their shame through constant self-sacrifice.

In both cases, shame is self-destructive and a barrier to recovery. It prevents people from being truly vulnerable, from reaching out to get help, and from giving themselves the support and love they deserve to heal.

Addiction and Co-dependency

Healing Shame Addiction

Co-dependency is a part of dysfunctional relationships where one person relies on another for emotional validation and a sense of worthiness.

Addiction and co-dependency tend to influence each other; people who have co-dependent tendencies also struggle with low self-esteem, low self-worth, chronic shame, and difficulty expressing their emotions.

They may make excuses for a family member or loved one’s addiction; they might protect them from any consequences of their substance abuse, making it easier for addiction to worsen.

This is because the co-dependent person is afraid of being abandoned. They do not have the confidence to stand up to their loved ones, and, in a way, being the only person who can enable their addiction brings them a false sense of worthiness. 
Co-dependent people tend to take on a “saviour” role in relationships that involve addiction. They will self-sacrifice and do anything to “rescue” or “save” the person, but their actions only tend to make the substance abuse more convenient and, in turn, more destructive for everyone involved.

Signs of Hidden Shame

Healing Shame Addiction 5

Shame is not always transparent, and people will go through great lengths to avoid facing their own shame.

Shame is painful. It fuels a deep-rooted sense of unworthiness that is uncomfortable and difficult to acknowledge.

Whether it’s through distraction by substance abuse or unhealthy relationships, hidden shame fuels addiction and co-dependency.

Below are some signs of shame that people with addiction and co-dependency tend to share:

  • Thoughts such as “I am a failure,” “No one would ever love me,” and “Everyone is going to leave me in the end.”
  • Feeling powerless to voice your opinion, or thinking your feelings don’t matter.
  • Expecting the worst for yourself in every situation.
  • Repeating abusive patterns in relationships.
  • Wanting to withdraw and hide from others.
  • Fear of being seen as the “real you.”
  • Idealising others
  • Being frequently taken advantage of
  • Letting yourself be abused or used because you don’t think you deserve any better
  • Escaping shame through relationships, sexual behaviours, or substance abuse
  • Rejecting others or pushing them away before you get too close. 

Shame can manifest differently depending on someone’s personality and life experiences. While some people turn inward and isolate, others become co-dependent “people pleasers.”

People pleasers will subject themselves to abuse, mistreatment, and harm in a desperate search for approval.

Unfortunately, with core beliefs rooted in shame, no amount of approval or validation ever feels like enough.

Someone may receive positive feedback from someone, but shame always has a reason why it’s not really true. This can, in turn, cause them to seek out people who directly or subconsciously confirm their shame-based feelings.

People who make someone feel worthless, unlovable, and never enough actually feel more comfortable and familiar to a person who struggles with shame.

So, the key to healing is learning how to heal shame.

How to Start Healing Shame

Healing Shame Healing

Shame can be something a person has lived with their entire lives. Healing, therefore, takes more than just one day. But every moment someone chooses themselves over shame is a step in the right direction.

Combating shame and learning to heal can look like:

  • Addressing negative beliefs and destructive behaviours that reinforce them.
  • Making a list of positive values, and doing things that boost self-worth and self-esteem
  • Learning to practice self-forgiveness and set new, positive goals for the future
  • Developing mindfulness, and learning how to practice self-acceptance
  • Building emotional awareness, and learning how to cope with negative feelings in constructive ways
  • Gaining the confidence to set boundaries and choose healthy people and environments that make you feel good about yourself 

Overcoming Shame

Healing starts with a safe environment. Shame thrives on chaos and self-sabotage. Someone needs to feel secure where they are to begin unpacking all the ways shame appears in their lives.

Therapy is an excellent place to begin exploring shame, especially in the context of addiction and co-dependency.

Programmes designed to treat the whole person are best for recovery; bespoke treatment that reflects each person’s unique life story and personality can open the door for more natural, lasting healing.

Treatment modalities such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) help people identify negative beliefs that reinforce their shame. They learn, gently, how to change these beliefs, reframe them, and choose more positive actions that uplift and empower their recovery. 

Shame is not always a single person’s issue, either. Many families with co-dependency struggle with shame, and it is important for them to learn how it affects both themselves and their relationships with one another.

Family workshops help people overcome shame and addiction together, finding strength in bond and shared desire to heal. 
If you are interested in our addiction and recovery programmes, please contact Camino Recovery today. We would love to support you on your journey of self-discovery and healing.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

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