chicago rehabPart 3 – Overcoming Shame and Guilt

As discussed in the two previous articles, trust can be strained or broken by an addiction.  Restoring the trust needed to rebuild relationships takes time.   The first two steps to restore trust are to be honest and have open, frequent communication.  The next two steps are for all parties to  accept accountability and set clear and healthy boundaries.  The final step is to understand and handle any shame and guilt.

Shame and Guilt:  With addiction and recovery, there can be feelings of shame and guilt for both loved ones and the recovering person. The recovering addict may feel ashamed or guilty for past actions and mistakes made while using.  This shame and guilt can make it difficult for the recovering person to be honest about past and current actions.  As mentioned previously, dishonesty can lead to further distrust.

Loved ones may blame themselves for not recognizing the addiction sooner or not acting sooner or more decisively to stop the person from using.  Loved ones must understand that the decision to stop using must come from the addict.  Attempts to control are often unsuccessful.  Loved ones may feel shame or guilt about how they responded or didn’t respond to the addiction and the addict.  They must work to understand their own shame and guilt as well as the shame and guilt the recovering addict may feel.

Frequently after an addict’s use comes to light, family members or loved ones who were not aware of the extent of the addiction may ask “If I didn’t know this, what else don’t I know?”  This doubt reinforces distrust of the recovering addict and can also cause the loved ones to doubt themselves and their own abilities.

Forgiveness:  Everyone must allow for forgiveness of self and others.  Shame and guilt can undermine the recovering person and contribute to shame-based thinking and behavior, including relapse.  Overcoming feelings of shame and guilt are necessary for a person to feel they are worth the effort of recovery and restore their self-esteem.  Loved ones should forgive themselves for any actions they took or did not take.  They should also work to understand the disease of addiction so they can better determine the extent that it was controlling the recovering addict’s previous behavior.  Both the recovering person and loved ones should avoid judgment, punitive recourse, and shaming as they work to rebuild their relationship and mutual trust.

By being honest and having more frequent and open communication, being accountable and setting healthy boundaries and by openly dealing with any shame and guilt, trust can be built more quickly and with more confidence.  Although requiring work, restoring trust is much better than living in a relationship of distrust and alienation, where fear and worry govern. The benefits to the relationship will be increased trust and closeness as well as increased self-esteem and self-belief.

New Hope Recovery Center is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Chicago.  We lovingly treat those addicted as well as their family and friends.  We understand that addiction is truly a family disease and that everyone affected must receive the support and guidance needed to heal from its consequences.  If you or someone you love has had their life negatively impacted by drugs or alcohol, please call us at 773-883-3916 or via email at