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Overcoming Guilt and Shame in Recovery
Two primary factors that often keep people from seeking help for pornography addiction is guilt and shame. While they often act together, they are two very different emotions. Guilt focuses on the behavior while shame focuses on the person. Both need to be resolved for a healthy recovery.
Guilt is an emotion that focuses on actions. It is the emotion that says, “Okay, you’ve done something wrong and now you have to correct it, fix it or clean it up.” As uncomfortable as this emotion may be, it is actually very healthy. It requires a person to take responsibility for their actions and atone for them. To do this, one must embrace the virtues of honesty, humility, responsibility, courage, faith, hope and love. Taking responsibility for one’s addiction and recovery can be very healing for individuals and for relationships. It shows that you understand how wrong your actions were and that you are taking positive steps to end your pornography use. This resolves your guilt and can reunite you to loved ones.
The same effect happens in our relationship with God. When we sin, it damages our relationship with God. Here is where God uses guilt to bring us back to him. To be reconciled with God, we must admit our sins, take responsibility for them, and confess them. In many cases our penance can be to make amends for our sins. By confessing your sexual sins and doing penance, you resolve your guilt and are reunited with God.
Addressing guilt is also an important part of the 12 steps of recovery. Steps 4 through 10 state we:
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
While it can be difficult to take responsibility for an addiction, doing so actually strengthens a person. It takes the addiction out of the darkness and brings it into the light. This can diminish much of its power over you. While some people may be hurt and angry with you for a while; most will forgive. In the end they will respect you for admitting your guilt and resolving it. Guilt can help you address your addiction while still affirming your value as a person and as a child of God.
Shame is the emotion that focuses on the person. It is the emotion that says, “You did something wrong and because of it you are a bad person. You need to hide so that no one will ever know how bad you really are.” This is not of God. Ultimately, this is a tool of Satan to keep a person trapped in his addiction. It fuels the five faulty core beliefs by which many addicted people live:
1. I’m unworthy of being loved
2. If people really knew me, they would reject me
3. I can’t count on anyone, including God, to meet my needs
4. I must find something that I can control that will meet my needs
5. Pornography/sex is my greatest need and source of comfort.
Shame can result from sinful acts you’ve committed, such as viewing pornography. It can also develop out of sinful acts committed against you. For example, a person who was abused as a child might feel responsible for it and develop a deep sense of shame as a result. Both sources of shame can lead a person into addiction. Regardless of where your shame came from, it’s important to know that your worth as a person is not determined by your actions or the actions of others.
When God created you he instilled in you an infinite worth that no one can diminish. It doesn’t matter what kinds of sexual sins you’ve committed or how often you’ve committed them, you are still a good person. There is no need to hide. God still loves you. He is always ready to take you back and cleanse you from your sin. As you take responsibility for your addiction, you will find many other people who still love you regardless of what you’ve done.
Letting go of shame can be very difficult or many addicted people. If shame is a major stumbling block for you, I recommend you consult with a therapist and/or a priest. They can help you let go of your shame and bring your addiction out into the light so you can overcome it!
Embracing Your True Identity
It’s important for all people who are addicted to pornography to understand that you are not defined by your addiction. Guilt and shame are proof of that! Guilt focuses on the action, not the person. By addressing your guilt and making amends you actually strengthen your ability to recover from your addiction. Others will also respect you for your work in recovery. Shame is not of God and thus does not define who you are. Thus, not matter what your addiction has lead you to do, God still sees you as his beloved child. This is how you also need to view your self!
If you or someone you love is struggling with pornography use and want help, contact Dr. Kleponis at 610-397-0960 for a free phone consultation.