So I’ve been reading John Bradshaw’s Healing The Shame That Binds You and oh my goodness when I read the section on Shame as The Core and Fuel of Addiction I almost fell off my chair! It’s called The Squirrel Cage and is so reminiscent of this post I wrote it is spooky …..
I’m going to quote this section from his book but will share a series of Youtube video’s you can watch where he speaks about shame and this book’s premise. There are 5 video’s in total and I’ll link the first one below.
Over to John:
Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviours. My general working definition of compulsive/addictive behaviour is “a pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”
The drivenness in any addiction is about the ruptured self, the belief that one is flawed as a person. The content of the addiction, whether it be an ingestive addiction, or an activity addiction (such as work, shopping or gambling), is an attempt at an intimate relationship. The workaholic with his work and the alcoholic with his booze are having a love affair. Each one alters the mood in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness and hurt in the underbelly of shame. Each addictive acting out creates life-damaging consequences that create more shame. The new shame fuels the cycle of addiction.
The image at the top of the post is taken from Dr Pat Carne’s work, giving you a visual picture of how internalized shame fuels the addictive process and addictions create more shame, which sets one up to be more shame-based. Addicts call this the squirrel cage.
I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking. The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed. Shame begets shame.
The cycle begins with the false belief system shared by all addicts: that no one could want them or love them as they are. In fact, addicts can’t love themselves. They are an object of scorn to themselves. This deep internalized shame gives rise to distorted thinking. The distorted thinking can be reduced to the belief, “I’ll be okay if I drink, eat, have sex, get more money, work harder, etc.” The shame turns one into what Kellogg has termed a “human doing” rather than a human being.
Worth is measured on the outside, never on the inside. The mental obsession about the specific addictive relationship is the first mood alteration, since thinking takes us out of our emotions. After obsessing for a while, the second mood alteration occurs. This is the “acting out” or ritual stage of the addiction. The ritual may involve drinking with the boys, secretly eating in one’ s favourite hiding place or cruising for sex. The ritual ends in drunkenness, satiation, orgasm, spending all the money or whatever.
What follows is shame over one’s behaviour and life-damaging consequences: the hangover, the infidelity, the demeaning sex, the empty pocketbook. The meta-shame is a displacement of affect, a transforming of the shame of self into the shame of “acting out” and experiencing life-damaging consequences. This meta-shame intensifies the shame-based identity: “I’m no good; there’s something wrong with me,” plays like a broken record. The more it plays, the more one solidifies one’s false belief system. The toxic shame fuels the addiction and regenerates itself …..
I would really recommend the book but if you’re a visual and auditory learner instead watch here: