Shame and Guilt Plague Families of Addicts
Even if they attempt to hide it, families of alcoholics and drug addicts suffer agonizing shame and guilt. Because of their denial, they may not admit it even to themselves. It is one of the grim emotional consequences of an addict's behavior. When the neighbors hear constant arguing, when the addict passes out in public, when financial ruin makes headlines, when violence wreaks havoc, family members feel ashamed and somehow feel they are at fault. Those closest to an alcoholic or drug addict need help, too. They are desperate for relief from their shame and guilt.
Families dealing with addiction experience considerable stress. They are on edge because they never know what behavior to expect from the unpredictable addict. They begin to deny what they see and what they know. Children and adults learn to accept chaos as the norm. Conversations turn into shouting matches, and the possibility of an honest relationship succumbs to shame and guilt. Often these feelings get stuffed deep inside, and they tend to surface in unexpected ways.
Learning to cope
Despite the intensity of shame and guilt in families of addicts, family members can recover. They can learn ways to identify their feelings and cope with them. Shame involves a sense of inferiority. Family members often feel "less than" when they compare themselves to other people, and their low self-esteem leads them to think they are not worthy of love, affection and happiness. Guilt results from taking emotional responsibility for someone else's actions. Loved ones take on the sense of failure that actually belongs to the addict.
Recovery tools for repairing the damage of guilt and shame include learning to concentrate on one's own behavior and practicing self-forgiveness. Lowering expectations of perfection from the addict and from themselves will help family members on a new path of emotional health.