Feeling shame about past instances of problem drinking may increase the likelihood of relapse and other health problems, according to a new study in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, shows that behavioral displays of shame strongly predicted whether recovering alcoholics would relapse in the future.
Public shaming has long been viewed as a way to encourage people to amend their ways and research suggests that experiences of shame can motivate people to improve their self-image and contribute to a common good.
But it's not clear that improvement on a general level extends to specific behaviors. Researchers don't know whether experiencing shame about a DUI, for example, actually deters drinking and driving. In fact, some studies suggest that shame might do more harm than good, as it can motivate hiding, escape, and general avoidance of the problem.
Psychological scientists Jessica Tracy and Daniel Randles of the University of British Columbia wondered whether the distinction between shame and guilt might play an important role in determining future behavior.
People who feel shame may blame themselves for negative events and view their "bad" behavior as an unchangeable part of who they are. Thus, shame may actually be a risk factor for certain behaviors rather than a deterrent. But this doesn't seem to be the case for guilt.
"One reason that certain sobriety programs may be effective," the researchers say, "is because they encourage people to see their behaviors as something they should feel guilty, but not necessarily shameful, about."
Feeling guilt about previous behavior, as opposed to shame about being a "bad" person, may be an important component of recovery.
To investigate the influence of shame and guilt on recovery from addiction, Tracy and Randles
|Contact: Anna Mikulak|
Association for Psychological Science