Shame & Guilt
Ernest Kurtz, Shame & Guilt, second edition, revised and updated, July 2007, ISBN 978-0-595-45492-1, xiv + 60 pp., $10.95 U.S.|
Originally published as Shame and Guilt: Characteristics of the Dependency Cycle (A Historical Perspective for Professionals). Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden; 1981.
Click here to read online (the file is 108 Kbytes and may take time to download on a dial-up connection) or order the paperback edition from amazon.com.
Particularly in its new and revised version this little book, though short, is one of the best and most insightful works ever written on the sense of shame -- feeling bad about our lives and what we perceive as our failures -- that inner pain which haunts so many alcoholics and addicts and so many other human beings. And from his deep wisdom and accumulated experience, Kurtz also tells us how the twelve step program can be used to heal that sense of worthlessness and fear of abandonment, and restore us to lives that are happy, joyous, and free.
A Lesson from Alcoholics Anonymous
Two distinct ways of feeling "bad" afflict every human being. How those afflictions work
-- and how they can be healed -- find clearest expression in the lives of alcoholics and
addicts. Neither experience is unique to the alcoholic, but each has a special place in the process of recovery from alcoholism. In this area perhaps more than in any other,
alcoholism and its healing contribute to our knowledge of the human condition. They do
this first by revealing the importance of distinguishing between these two often-confused
phenomena. Most hurting people could profit from learning this distinction, but for
alcoholics and addicts, learning and living it become a matter of life and death. The
distinction is between guilt and shame.
Shame differs from guilt. Because they differ, any effective healing of their diverse ways of "feeling bad" must differ. Some modes of healing, for some conditions, can afford to ignore the distinction between guilt and shame. But such is not the case with the alcoholic or with many other sufferers. Most hurting persons, and certainly the alcoholic, suffer both guilt and shame. And for the alcoholic, distinguishing between guilt and shame and confronting each constructively is necessary not only to attain sobriety but -- perhaps more importantly -- to maintain ongoing recovery, to attain a life that is genuinely "happy, joyous, and free."
Confronting guilt, though painful, is not difficult. The beginner in Alcoholics Anonymous finds guilt allayed, indeed, by the very concepts of powerlessness and unmanageability that invite him to confront also his shame. The recovering alcoholic finds further help in dealing with guilt in the inventory and amendment Steps (Four, Five, Eight, and Nine) of the A.A. program, which guide directly to guilt's resolution.
The confrontation with shame, although also set in motion by A.A.'s First Step, proves more tricky -- and, for most, more difficult. Again, the A.A. program -- all of it, but especially Steps Two, Six, Seven, and Ten -- suggests shame's solution. It is Alcoholics Anonymous as fellowship that makes real this solution, but it is only in the conjunction with the Twelve Steps as program that the full benefits of A.A as fellowship can be real-ized -- made real.
The impressive success of Alcoholics Anonymous in dealing with alcoholism and addiction flows directly from A.A.'s effectiveness at healing shame.
Other therapies fail, especially over time, because un-faced shame proves much more dangerous to the alcoholic, especially in recovery, than does unresolved guilt. An appreciation of Alcoholics Anonymous as specifically a modality for the healing of shame thus can offer much . . . and not only to the alcoholic.