Six Ways to Release the Shame That’s Holding You Back in Recovery

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It’s toxic in the way it poisons self-perception.

It’s isolating in the way it creates the feelings of disconnection.

It’s paralysing in the way it prevents us from feeling and healing.

Shame is an ugly word with uglier feelings attached, and its primary goal is to hold people captive. Shame has an enormous amount of power – the power to impede progress, to erode self-esteem, and to halt the ability to build a life in addiction recovery.

In the context of recovery, shame often stems from guilt around past actions. This happens when people internalise their mistakes, allowing them to define their self-worth. They may believe that their actions define who they are as a person, leading to a pervasive sense of inadequacy or unworthiness.

The cycle reinforces the belief that they are fundamentally flawed, the shame intensifies, and the downward spiral continues. The intertwined web of shame and guilt can become a significant barrier to recovery.

However, shame doesn’t need to be the end of your story. It doesn’t need to hold the final word. If shame is getting in the way of your recovery, keep reading. Here, we will explore six ways to release the shame that’s holding you back.

1.  Embrace self-compassion

Shame tends to thrive in lonely places, devoid of self-compassion. Those in recovery may find themselves trapped in a cycle of self-blame, perpetuating feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. Often, these individuals are their own harshest critics, holding themselves to unrealistically high standards.

To break free from this cycle, you must first be kind to yourself

Think about it this way: self-compassion means treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend facing similar struggles.

Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion, identifies three core components of this practice:

We are naturally hard on ourselves, especially if we think we should be farther along in growth than we are. However, harsh self-judgement holds us back. Learn to embrace a gentler, more understanding perspective as if you are helping a friend.

Recognise that no one is perfect, and progress trumps perfection. 

Fostering a shared sense of humanity means understanding that you are not the only one struggling. Leaning into others who are going through similar obstacles can help.

So, how can you start being compassionate toward yourself?

Start with mindfulness exercises, meditation, or by consciously reframing negative self-talk.

Mindfulness allows you to observe your thoughts and feelings objectively and without judgement. This practice promotes a more balanced and compassionate point of view. By just starting somewhere with simple steps, you can begin to chip away at the walls of shame, creating a space for healing.

2. Share your story

Close-up of people holding hands while sitting in a circle during group therapy at mental health center.

Shame thrives in secrecy and avoidance. Embracing vulnerability can be the antidote. By opening up and sharing your story with trusted individuals, you can begin to dismantle the isolation that shame often imposes.

Brene Brown, a renowned researcher on shame and vulnerability, emphasises the importance of vulnerability to combat shame. In her book Daring Greatly, Brown describes vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. While becoming vulnerable takes time and trust, it can become a powerful way to share your story and let go of shame in your life.

Group therapy, individual counselling, or support groups are great places to start. These environments provide a safe space to share your story while connecting with others who may identify.

Talking about your recovery journey not only lessens the burden of shame but also allows you to receive support and understanding from those who genuinely care. Choosing the right setting and people to share with is vital. Don’t feel rushed to share, but also don’t hold back if you feel it’s time.

The act of sharing your story is a powerful antidote to shame, as it fosters empathy, breaks down barriers, and reinforces the truth that you are not alone.

3. Challenge thought distortions

Shame manifests itself through distorted thoughts and negative self-perceptions. These distorted thought patterns can become deeply ingrained into one’s psyche, making them hard to identify. 

PsychCentral’s article discusses that cognitive reframing is a tool that helps you view negative events from a different perspective and ultimately assign them a new meaning.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective approach to identify and challenge these distorted thoughts. CBT helps individuals identify automatic negative thoughts and evaluate their accuracy. 

The American Psychological Association provides further helpful strategies that include:

  • Learning that your thought distortions are creating problems
  • Gaining a better understanding of the behaviours of others
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with situations
  • Learning to develop a greater sense of confidence
  • Facing your fears rather than avoiding them
  • Learning to calm your mind

In turn, challenging the irrational beliefs that fuel shame can begin the process of reframing what is truth and what is not. By regularly practising calling out distorted thoughts, you can diminish the power of shame over your recovery journey.

4. Practice forgiveness

Close-up of psychiatrist hands together holding palm of her pati

Shame often stems from unresolved guilt and resentment, whether directed toward yourself or others. Practising forgiveness is a transformative process that can release the emotional weight of past mistakes and resentments.

What many forget is that forgiving means forgiving yourself too.

Forgiveness does not mean condoning harmful behaviour. In other words, you do not need to accept that what has happened is OK. Forgiveness means freeing yourself from the emotional shackles that bind you to the past.

Think deeply about the sources of guilt and resentment. Work toward accepting these experiences as part of your past, not your present or future. Professional therapy can be helpful here. A professional therapist can help you navigate the complexities of forgiveness, as this process can be emotionally challenging.

Forgiveness is a gift that you give not to others but to yourself. As you release the grip of resentment, you let go of past shame and create space for personal growth and healing. A well-known quote from writer Lewis B. Smedes says, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you.”

5. Create a positive support system

Research backs up the notion that social support is essential for maintaining strong mental health. Think about the company you keep. Are they helping or hurting your recovery? One of the game changers in recovery is letting go of those holding you back.

Surrounding yourself with a positive support system can counteract the isolating effects of shame. Seek out those who uplift and encourage you, who understand the challenges of recovery without passing judgement.

Positive relationships provide a crucial foundation for building self-esteem and resilience. A supportive network can serve as a buffer against shame by offering empathy, encouragement, and accountability. Share your goals, setbacks, and successes with those who genuinely care about your recovery.

6. Focus on personal growth

Bearded man meditating in nature

Shame thrives in stagnant environments where personal growth is stunted. Focusing on your personal growth means that you are creating emotional momentum that propels you forward. Setting realistic goals, both short-term and long-term, is crucial.

Think about things you want to do in your life, whether it’s pursuing a hobby, learning a new skill, or investing in education. Then, start planning. Write down your goals and spend your days moving toward them, which will, in turn, create the movement for personal growth. 

By shifting your perspective, you will see how to move from a story of shame to a narrative of resilience and strength.

What you really need to know about shame

Shame may be a silent force, but it is just that: a force. It holds immense power in our lives, shaping how we see ourselves and the world. It obscures our true worth, tells us lies, and holds us back from our full potential.

Understanding shame means recognising its ability to shackle us, trapping us in destructive cycles of self-doubt and unworthiness. It holds us back by making us think that our past defines our future.

Yet, beneath its heaviness lies a profound truth: shame loses its strength in the light of empathy, self-compassion, and connection.

To transcend shame is to embrace our vulnerabilities, to realise we’re more than our past mistakes, and to dive deep into self-acceptance. It is only there that we will ever find true freedom.

How Centres for Health and Healing can help

At Centres for Health and Healing, we understand the complexities of shame in the recovery process. This is why we provide personalised addiction and mental health treatment to clients in Ontario and surrounding areas.

Our dedicated team provides a safe, compassionate space for clients to heal, grow, and rediscover their worth. Through individualised programs and therapeutic support, we empower individuals to release the burden of shame and live a life of authenticity and self-acceptance.  

Take the next step with us at Centres for Health and Healing by contacting us today.

Your story of resilience begins here.

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