19. The Underlying Shame Dashboard
There are many people who habitually experience strong, emotional swings which drive them to uncontrolled behaviour which they later regret. The growing child seems to gain the idea, “I should not make a mistake”. A mistake is not acceptable to either parent, or to myself. This leads to an inappropriate belief system where the person grows to believe:
I - Should - Have - Always - Mastered - Everything
= S H A M E
Failure to fulfill this unrealistic, perfectionist idea will lay the foundation for emotional insecurity and crippling low self-esteem. The person begins to live his or her life from within a cocoon or prison of shame. Such pain and shame become unbearable. It becomes an identity, the way the growing person views and considers themselves.
This pain must find a balance in pleasure if the pain is to be bearable. The pleasure often comes from acting out: smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol to become instantly sophisticated and adult, experimenting with other chemical substances like drugs, or activities like gambling and sex that bring great pleasures to flood the body.
The "Pleasure" message is carried by the neuro-transmitter Dopamine. Dopamine was once released naturally by the tastes of food or the stimulation of praise and a warm cuddle of approval. If the natural release of this pleasure message is lost or denied, a series of introductions by friends or older family members will enable the "feeling" and "flush" of pleasure to be released by artificial or inappropriate stimulation.
The feeling can be released on demand by using a ‘substance’ like nicotine, alcohol, cannabis, or any one of a number of substances that are readily available where loneliness, fear and insecurity mingle. A "flush of pleasure" can be released by work, pleasing others, gambling, getting angry, the cultivation of ‘lust’ or engaging in an "activity" with or without friends.
These are many of the addictive substances or activities that various people have used and discovered which will change feelings or which may be used to avoid loneliness or fear. When used for this purpose, these will sooner or later promote shame and reward dependent or addictive behaviour. There are many addictions that people do not identify as addictive behaviour because there can be dependencies and addictions without a substance.
The natural balance of pain and pleasure will be inverted by using substances to mask pain. As one very unhappy young person said, "when I started taking illicit drugs, especially heroin, I would sit in the streets and watch all the ‘funny, straight’ people go by". This person was one who could not achieve at school. Normal life was so painful for them, and many like them, that the "upside-down world" appears more desirable than facing reality.
Shame is very often the engine that drives addiction. Shame may have its source in criticism; physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse; poor communication with parents and within the family; or in the rigid dogmatism of unquestioned "authority" in the family. Many young people gain a sense of power as they rebel against parental, familial and societal values. The pleasure of the power gained through identifying with a subculture or peer-group often reinforces the pleasure of rebellion and may become another addictive agent that imprisons and restricts the true development of the human person.
"Just knowing that addictive behaviours are an indication of shame that is being masked can lead to a true evaluation of our mental health. Just as covering the fuel indicator on the dashboard doesn't fill the tank or overcome the problem, addictive cover-ups don't resolve the real issues. Addictions are not the problem, they are just the indication of an underlying problem.
When issues are resolved, the addiction (anaesthetic) is no longer necessary"