It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I remember my husband saying the same thing to me once: You give your power away; no one can take it from you. When we take other people’s word as the rule of law, when we concede without question, when we let others define us, we make ourselves inferior. We are giving our power away to other people. The same is true for shame.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“Shame is a learned response. There is a lot of interest in shame these days in relation to addiction and recovery from addiction. When we start feeling shameful, we leave ourselves and operate much like someone on drugs or alcohol. Nothing clear can get in. Nothing clear can come out.
It is important to remember that shame is learned and that anything that is learned can be unlearned. Shame was used to control us when we were younger, and now we often use it to control others. When we start feeling ashamed, no new information can come in, we cannot process information clearly, and we cannot communicate clearly. We are in our addictive disease.”
It’s true that shame halts our thought processes. When I feel ashamed, all I can think about is how I am terrible, a failure, a waste of a person. How cruel we can be to ourselves! We can’t possibly think about anything else, let alone think rationally or logically when we feel shame. Much like inferiority though, no one can make us feel shamed without our consent. To feel shame is to feel inferior, after all.
Never before have I stopped to consider the relationship between shame and addiction. I always recognized that I was ashamed. I feel inferior for being addicted to and struggling with things other people can partake in reasonably and enjoy in moderation. It is a cyclical relationship, however. We feel ashamed of our behavior, our lack of control, and our addiction, which in turn shuts our reasoning and thought processes down, preventing us from thinking clearly. This leads us to turn to our addictions to feel better, and the cycle continues. When we realize the role our relationship to shame plays in our addiction, we can break the cycle and free ourselves.