For many people in recovery, one of the powerful motivators that got them there was guilt. It was the feeling that they were doing something wrong that led them to reach out and get help, in the first place! However, even though there are positive aspects of guilt in recovery (for example, it provides a personality restraint that can keep you from relapse), there are also many ways that it can be destructive to hold onto that guilt in an unhealthy way. Here are some things to think about, in terms of how guilt can impact addiction recovery…

Guilt can lead to relapse

While guilt can be the motivating feeling that gets someone into recovery, it’s also important to note that strong feelings of guilt are actually a relapse trigger for many recovering addicts, as well. Oftentimes, substance abuse is an addict’s go-to solution to deal with emotions that are too intense for them to manage, on their own. In a spiral that feeds into itself in a myopic way, an addict might substance abuse to cope with intense feelings of guilt, which will make them feel more guilty about the harm they are doing to themselves and the people they love, and so the circle continues.

The connection between guilt and shame

We’ve written before on our blog about how shame can be a destructive force in addiction recovery. Any way to deal with addiction that uses shame as a crutch to get an addict to do what you want them to do is not going to be met in a positive way, and can lead to an addict alienating themselves from the people who are going to help them. Guilt and shame are intricately connected, despite being different. Shame is usually pushed upon an addict by an outside party, while guilt is a self-directed type of shame. The key, though, is that shame usually begets guilt, and vice versa.

How to deal with guilt in a positive way

Once an addict is in recovery, it is important for them to learn how to deal with guilt in a positive way, so that they can overthrow the negative emotions that are going to push them back into the tendrils of addiction. To do this, it’s important for an addict to be able to distinguish between good guilt and bad guilt. The remorse of past actions that pushes you towards a positive development in your own life is a good type of guilt. On the other hand, allowing that past to weigh you down and continuing to let it take away your self-worth is a bad type of guilt that provokes emotions that addiction feeds off of.