Guilt is at once described as toxic and a pleasure. We try to rid ourselves of unnecessary guilt because it is a useless and damaging emotion. Guilt is not without it’s importance. Helping us differentiate right from wrong, guilt has an instructional presence in our lives. Yet, when guilt surpasses its necessity, it can create a pathology of behaviors, thoughts, and actions which are a detriment rather than an advantage. Yet, we also refer to things in life as a “guilty pleasure”. These are things which are so “bad”, they’re “good”. Whether it is that forbidden spoonful of raw cookie dough, a Netflix binge spent in secrecy, or a hidden hobby, the things that we sometimes love the most are the things for which we feel the most shame. That driving sense of guilt fuels the pleasure of the activity, which might act more like an addiction than we are willing to admit.
According to Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral, as reported on by Stuff.co of New Zealand, “Pride, shame and guilt all activate similar neural circuits…” However, guilt and shame have a greater presence in the nucleus accumbens, which is the reward center of the brain. Addiction takes part in the brain through the nucleus accumbens. When drugs and alcohol are abused, they create a surplus of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Neurotransmitters are like chemical messaging systems in the brain that communicate ‘pleasure’ throughout different parts of the brain, like the nucleus accumbens. When dopamine gets to the reward center, the reward center takes note of the fact that drugs and alcohol created these pleasurable, rewarding sensations. Guilt and shame have so much presence in our lives because they, in part, activate our reward center and though they feel so “bad”, they neurologically feel so good.
Through our therapy we learn that even the things that makes us feel the worst have some kind of a payoff. Our compulsive behaviors with drugs and alcohol are painful, full of shame and full of guilt. Addiction is just one of a long list of behaviors which provide this effect. The things we do, the thoughts we think, the ways we behave, which hurt us, hurt others, and hurt our quality of life have some kind of benefit or payoff. Whatever the payoff is, it may not seem beneficial on the surface, but it serves a purpose of reward underneath. The more we can discover, acknowledge, and work through these cycles of guilt and shame the more free we can become, letting guilt be guilt, as well as shame be shame, and pleasure be pleasure, on their own.
There is no shame in asking for help if you are struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction. There is no shame in seeking the best of long term residential treatment to take the time you need to heal as sustainably as possible in order to ensure lifelong recovery. Tree House Recovery, a men’s residential treatment program in Portland, Oregon, teaches men how to find freedom from addiction by creating sustainable change. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474