Family Shame & Addiction
Our Family Recovery Coach, Lisa Smith is back on our show to discuss family shame and how to journey through this difficult emotion.
Jason and Lisa explain what the difference is between embarrassment, guilt, and shame
When a family member feels shame and what that looks like in different scenarios
The entrapment of shame within substance abuse
How do we shift a family behavior that has been passed down generations?
If we can go up the river a little bit as a family and speak what we feel, what we fear, what we are disappointed in, and what we need, a little bit up the river maybe that person who is struggling can reach out to us and we can pull them out before they get further. Or maybe they can even grab onto a branch that’s hanging and can get themselves out because they are seeing how their family is dealing with their own shame and emotions. That can stop the generational passing of it.
hello everyone and welcome to finding peaks my name is jason friesma i’m the chief clinical officer at peaks recovery centers here in colorado springs and sitting with me guest today is lisa smith family recovery coach with reclaim and recover she joined us i don’t know a few weeks ago and and we had just started kind of having some good conversation and so i decided i wanted to have lisa back and um dive into the the shallow end of the pool and talk about shame and families um before the show we were just kind of talking about that this is a challenging topic and i think it’s challenging because um well obviously shame is difficult to talk about and i think it would be helpful if i kind of start by talking about what shame is a little bit and and then how i see it in the family and then maybe you could talk about how you see it in families too as you’re coaching them but um just really quick uh shame guilt embarrassment these these words kind of get tossed around and intermix quite a bit but you know clearly they’re very different terms and um embarrassment is uh some people say things are embarrassing and really they’re probably much more shameful or guilt-ridden but embarrassing is just something kind of light that happens that people are going to laugh off later like leaving your fly down during a presentation or something that’s embarrassing and guilt is feeling bad about something you have done and then shame is feeling bad about who you are right and everyone that i’ve ever talked to that has kids for instance has a i’m a bad mom or i’m a bad dad shame button yeah and and that shame button um i don’t care how good a parent they are everybody has it because they have moments where they feel like they could have shown up differently um and that almost inevitably can lead to people feeling a great deal of shame is what i’ve noticed and then it leads to all kinds of interesting behavior because shame also tells us to not talk about it right to keep keep this a secret or hide it or people knew that i was feeling so shameful they wouldn’t want to be in relationship with me and so it leads to all of this kind of externalization of shame and shame comes out in all these really weird places and so that’s what i’ve observed i’m wondering kind of how you see shame in the family recovery coaching yeah realm yes um all of that so i agree um in working with families one of the things that frequently i say is it’s okay to feel guilty um and it’s okay for your person to feel guilty about their behaviors because if their behaviors are hurtful um to themselves or other people we should know that they’re hurtful to other people and that’s okay and i think as parents sometimes we feel shame when our kids feel guilty um and that’s an important it’s an important lesson it’s a natural consequence of hurting somebody is to feel guilt about that and that’s how we learn to do better and to show up better so guilt and shame sometimes get blurred i think and um understanding the difference between guilt and shame i think is super important now shame on the family side of things um gosh when you’ve got a person who’s um you know got a a substance use disorder there’s a lot of going back and thinking you know how could i have done this differently what did i miss you know what what did i do wrong and there’s that piece of the shame and then there’s um the shame of who they are and how it’s a reflection on you yeah um and that’s probably i think that’s harder than um even you know could i have shown up differently because as as parents you just sort of you work through that like you know i wish my kid didn’t fall off his bike and you know i could have caught them and um but how is my child or my spouse a reflection on me and carrying that shame um just it makes you walk through life silence and pushes everybody out of it which isolates you even more and isolates them even more which is the opposite of what both people need in that environment yeah i think i think you bring up some good points too that um what what i watch parents in particular do and sometimes spouses is when they they might not even be thinking about it but it kind of as a internal dialogue i watch parents in particular feeling shame about like hey my my daughter is an alcoholic and i feel like i did something wrong this is exposing that i feel like i’m a bad father i’m a bad mother and so i’m going to try to either prevent that from happening i’m going to try to prevent other people from knowing about it or i’m just going to create kind of this high intensity high pressure world where people can’t see that i’m a bad parent because it feels bad when people notice that that i made these terrible mistakes and that i’m a bad parent yeah yeah and it and i and i’ve watched it really lead to i think the result of that is parents or other family members becoming really hyper controlling and really afraid which usually does lead to control that fear always leads to control um where family members just um well they they try to just control the behavior instead of kind of letting a person as you said kind of walk through their own guilt and all that yeah and in today’s world with the social media presence right like so there’s these images that we’re supposed to be and um i think that the
nobody has those actual images in their household and we all sort of can intellectualize that but that’s all you see and at key points in development you know in people’s development like graduating high school going to college getting married getting a job picking a career kind of those transitional times when your child is not meeting those milestones and you’re and everyone’s putting it out there it’s like here’s all the things that we’re doing we’re at the state championships and we’re doing graduation and we got these awards and this scholarship we’re doing these great things and you’re just trying to keep your your person safe um that’s you know you feel disappointment you feel let down there’s all sorts of and then you feel bad about feeling those things because you’re trying to help them so the shame is just super deep and there it feels like nobody else is going through it and there’s so many people there’s so many people going through it um so you know kind of reaching out and one of the things that um about shame is silence just feeds it um the more silent you are the more that shame continues to talk in your head like this you’re terrible this is bad this this is a disappointment this is a shame this is this is you’re a terrible parent how how are you here and you can’t get out of it because there is no connection with somebody else might be actually going through this and can sit with me yeah that is such the trap of shame is that right it does say i’m just going to suffer alone and and i may have shared this on finding peaks once but i i’ve sat in a group with people and um said i want everybody who feels like they’re the worst person in the world to raise their hand and like at least half the group every time raises their hand that they feel that way and i’m it’s got to be the same in a lot of families too we’re like who feels like they’re the best or worst mom or dad in the world that your loved one is dealing with uh substance use or mental health issues and i’m sure most of them literally think the billions of people on planet earth they’re the worst yeah um and i watch it happen all the time and and so when somebody’s constantly telling themselves that i’m a bad parent and i’m a bad parent um that that usually leads to honestly a disconnect in the relationship with their person yeah and and usually uh a really uncomfortable disconnect and i i wonder how you’ve seen that in in your coaching yeah a hundred percent um so the shame involved with substance use is huge um i mean people who um have the disease of addiction live in shame all the time they feel that they’ve disappointed everybody and missed all the opportunities and they’re a terrible person and i i say this um and i’m i’m sticking to it i don’t think that there’s one person in addiction that thinks i know this is this is what i thought would happen this is where i thought this was going to take me um and so the shame of like now i’m here and i can’t get out is terrible so when a family feels shame their person sees it they can see their disconnect they can see them pouring themselves into work and disconnecting from relationships they can see unhealthy behaviors that are occurring in the home or with their parents or where their spouse they can see that relationships are within the household are disjunct and disconnecting because in if we connect then we have to admit that there’s something there and and sometimes it just feels easier to stay disconnected and so i think that that’s actually like throwing extra shame on to the person with the problem um and when a family member can identify that shame and sit with it and call it something and ask for help and ask for someone to just be with me in this moment not only does it model to their person that it’s okay to ask for help and and to be vulnerable but i’m taking you off of my plate i’m taking your behavior off of my shame platter and just gonna deal with my own stuff and love you separately from the behavior that i feel is causing me shame
and you and i were talking kind of before we started as well just about kind of the legacy of shame like how um how it kind of trickles down not even flows down uh generation of generation um and i was thinking about that even since we talked about it um my wife works a lot with kids with dyslexia and oftentimes when you you can just follow really negative educational experiences in families usually back generations and generations because probably a lot of those people likely had dyslexia too so they overcompensated and felt really in a lot of shame about feeling stupid or or whatever it might be and it just gets past all that pressure kind of just passes down generation to generation and it does take finally somebody to dig their heels in and say hey we got to stop this transmission of shame um from from one family to uh generation to the next yeah speak to that yeah i think that’s so big and you know the the idea of how do we how do we fix this problem how how do we continue to have um you know the number of people falling into substance use that we have and the numbers just keep getting bigger exponentially and i don’t have the answer to all the questions i think you know that’s a that’s deep but um one thing that i have been thinking about recently is what’s my piece in it as a family member well my piece is speaking it and and stopping it today so in order to do that i’ve got to kind of admit to my own shame and sit with that for a second but um if families can i was you know using the example of we’re pulling people out of the river and they’re coming down and it’s like rapids coming down and there’s just so many people needing help and there’s just not enough there’s not enough help in enough time so if if we can go up the river a little bit um as a family and and speak what we feel and what what we fear and and what we are disappointed in and what we need a little bit further up the river maybe that person who’s struggling can reach out to us and we can pull them out before they get further or maybe they can even grab onto a you know a stick or something that’s hanging and they can get themselves out because they see how we’re dealing with our own
our own shame and that will stop the generational passing of it i mean when you were talking earlier about um you know especially families that are high functioning and and doing really well um socioeconomically it’s like we aren’t those people um i i i think i probably said that we aren’t those people um i don’t know if i said those exact words but i i definitely gave that image how is that a shame yeah that’s terrible we aren’t those people well okay well yeah we are actually yeah i mean that’s just saying that you know that’s something that that lesser people do and if you’re doing that then you’re a lesser person um and that’s just not how addiction works it’s just you know it it knows no boundaries i mean it just it’ll get anybody so um you know being able to say well maybe we are those people and i was telling you i have this analogy when i was a kid um because i’m old um there used to be high dives at swimming pools yeah yeah so there used to be good old days the good old days not only are there not high tides but i don’t even think there’s diving boards most places but there used to be high dives right and i’ve always had this like one desire for
adventure and thrill and two a fear of heights so i would go to the swimming pool i hung out at the swimming pool a lot and i would many times walk up the ladder and then you know everyone has to wait at the bottom with the high dive right and because sometimes you have to come back down the ladder that’s probably why they took a walk of shame coming back and having to go down the ladder like i’m not going off the high dock so i did that enough times but i loved it i actually really loved the high dive but i was afraid of it as well so i did it enough times that what i developed was this watch mentality so i would stand and i would watch for a while and then i’d go play and come back and stand watch all these kids going off the high dev and i would just watch and watch and watch and then finally after watching enough kids go off the high dive i’d say they all did that i think i think i can do that i think i’m ready to do that too and i’d go up the high dive and sometimes it was scary but i would go off the hideout because i knew they were okay they went off the high dive that everyone was okay and they seemed to like it so i’m going to do it too and i think that really similarly with shame like gosh if you speak it other people are watching someone else might be watching and and they might not even tell you but in their head they’re going oh me too me too this is this is my story too and because you spoke it because you sat with it and you dealt with it um and i saw that you you got through it um i can i can say it too and we can get better and that’s how you stop kind of that generational passing because i i really do think that um you know our culture and our society has just become one of putting out an image that is unreachable and um that’s not helping us no and it’s exponentially making that sense of shame in people stay longer yeah and i couldn’t agree with you more so just excuse me to pivot just as we end here um could you kind of talk about reclaim and recover and what it is you do specifically and how uh you maybe combat family shame yeah day to day yeah yeah we address shame every day yeah that was in my tagline yeah um right so i work with families i’m a certified family recovery coach i work with families um in various stages of um loving somebody in the disease of addiction um so sometimes that’s people who you know their person is in active use and they’re they’re trying to help them and they’re trying to um just kind of get their life back and and live their life as opposed to surviving it because that’s what it feels like sometimes that process can be so long i work with with families whose loved ones in early recovery working on that transitional approach and really changing the patterns that infiltrated the system when the illness kind of came into the family and how those patterns didn’t don’t serve any of us anymore so let’s change let’s change the patterns let’s change our perspective let’s change our mentality and communication um and then um yeah so it’s it’s kind of twofold working on the the family members really learning how to show up the way that they want to show up how to establish boundaries in the way that boundaries are effective and learn how to communicate with their person and release maybe some of the control that was developed over the course of the addiction and then sometimes it’s also just doing some triage and kind of helping families figure out how do i get my person into treatment how do i invite them to get help how do i connect with them while they’re in active use so that their journey is honored um regardless of the outcome and that’s what i do awesome what i really i just want to tell you i just think the way that you think about and talk about families you work with is so filled with uh empathy and compassion um i’m confident that the work you’re doing is really helping to alleviate a lot of that shame that families have to walk through uh in early recovery and it’s a gift and um i i’ve really enjoyed working with you thank you um here at peaks so uh with that um we’re going to sign off today on this episode of finding peaks um i invite you to follow us on instagram facebook spotify i don’t know wherever you get your podcast apple the apple store anyway have a good one and we’ll see in a week