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Breaking the Chains of Self-Stigma, Silencing the Inner Critic

Issue 33

Have you ever felt judged by your own thoughts? This is what we call self-stigma, and it’s a big challenge for many people in recovery from addiction.

What is self-stigma?

When you hear the term “stigma,” most people imagine a select group of people who are judged and cast aside by the masses. It may be because of what they look like, who they love, or how they worship.

Regardless of the reason, the process of exclusion and shunning is basically the same. This is just one type of stigma called “public stigma.” However, with “self-stigma,” the shame comes from within. People internalize the judgment they get from others and impose it on themselves.

Self-stigma happens when someone feels ashamed of their situation, so they take harsh words or actions from others and make them their own beliefs. It’s like having a little voice inside that says you’re not good enough because of your struggles.

This can make recovery from addiction really tough.

Too Ashamed for Treatment

Stigma also hinders people from initially entering treatment. For as long as the recovery community has existed, the first step has always been admitting there is a problem at all. When people believe negative thoughts about themselves, they may find it harder to seek help. They might think they don’t deserve to get better, or that their situation is hopeless.

Stigma is a major barrier that prevents people from admitting there is a problem and seeking treatment.

This can lead people to seek help from less reliable sources. Instead of going to a recovery meeting or counselor’s office, they look to virtual help sources that are often profit-driven companies that take advantage of people without insurance. They charge monthly fees promising unlimited access to therapy. However, they pack their counselors’ schedules with hundreds of clients, and no one gets enough attention.

People with a lot of self-stigma go to these sources for help because they feel too ashamed to sit down with a real therapist or other people in recovery. As a result, they get inadequate care.

How Can We Fight Self-Stigma?

One great way is through something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, sometimes referred to as ACT.

ACT is a type of mindfulness-based therapy that shows promise in combating self-stigma. ACT encourages people to experience their thoughts and feelings completely rather than trying to avoid them. People practice mindfulness by staying present and keeping in mind that their thoughts and feelings do not determine who they are. ACT techniques help people prevent the negative thoughts of self-stigma from affecting their lives.

Together, We Can Make a Difference

Self-stigma is a heavy burden, but together, we can lighten that load. By understanding more about it and how to tackle it, we can help everyone feel more hopeful and supported on their journey to recovery.

Let’s keep this conversation going and make sure everyone knows they’re not alone and they are valued, no matter their struggles. Let’s all strive to be kind, both to others and to ourselves.

For more information visit webshrink.com.

Webshrink's goal is to provide clinical insight, research news, personal stories, and expert perspectives on mental health & addiction. They are a diverse, experienced team of clinicians, researchers, and editors dedicated to answering your questions about mental health. You’ll find comprehensive support that’s original, authoritative, and trustworthy. All of the content is cited with references, fact-checked, and reviewed by a physician who is board-certified in psychiatry, addiction medicine, or both. You’ll find community, too, through the personal stories shared by everyday people to the therapeutic bridges we’ll strive to build between you and the help you seek. WebShrink…help for when life hurts. Webshrink has permitted Journey Magazine to publish articles from their website (webshrink.com) for this column. A special thank you to Dr. Ed Bilotti and his team for allowing us to amplify their work! Please visit their website - webshrink.com to learn more

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