Shame on Who? Part 2

Last week, I introduced the "Shame on... who?" series with a look at the problem: women have strong reactions to their husband's addiction and are then attacked for "shaming him."

I explained that part of the issue was that since the 1970's addiction has been framed as a disease. In the "disease" model the addict is seen as having "no choice" in the addiction (so how dare anyone blame him). And while that perspective does help destigamtize addiction, it's not entirely true. Even today's disease-model proponents, for the most part accept that addicts have a degree of choice in the matter.

Patrick Carnes (the father of the sex addiction field), who started by saying the addict had "no choice," actually gave us a better way to understand the choice issue a decade later. He likened choice to being like a boulder... the further down the hill it rolls (i.e. the further in the addiction/sin trap he is), the harder it's going to be push it back up.


Neuroscientists, like Marc Lewis, who study addiction confirm this idea. At first, there's lots of choice. However, as the addict makes the bad choice of acting out again and again, the more difficult it is to choose to do otherwise. Lewis says, that once the addiction is really entrenched, it takes the consequences becoming "intolerable" before he can usually find the will to choose something better.

Which leads to us. As our husbands' number one victims, if there's anyone who is going to have the will and strength to enact consequences, it's probably going to be us. In other words, the addictions experts who have been shaming us should have thanked us for making their job easier!

And the good news is (if trauma can ever be good news) that we don't even have to try. As our addict/husband sees our trauma reactions: the anger, the fear, the sleeplessness, the panic attacks they are confronted with consequences. If we add in boundaries, with the promise of further consequences for breaking them, better still.

Too Shame-able

Now, our husband may receive our emotions and boundaries as "I'm being shamed." However, it's important to note that the average addict/habitual sinner has a huge shame button that is almost impossible not to press. I see addicts/betrayers constantly struggling with seeing criticism (particularly from their wives and children) where none is intended and then falling to pieces and blaming everyone around them for their state. Wives cannot be held responsible for their husband's shame-based identity.

This kind of destructive shame-identity is actually one of the natural consequences of living a life of lying, hiding and addiction/sin. However, there is a "guilt" aspect of shame that is a helpful motivator. All you Brené Brown fans will know that guilt is "I've done something terrible" and destructive shame is "I am something terrible". Sorting out guilt and shame is something the addict needs to work out as part of his healing (see 2 Corinthians 7:10 for God's take on helpful/unhelpful shame).

In the meantime, the kind of shame (or hopefully guilt) that the addict experiences when confronted with his wife's pain and indignation can potentially motivate change. It's making life intolerable and that is going to disrupt the neural network of the addiction. Instead of entering into the cycle where he foresees his acting out resulting in a reward (dopamine), there's now an interruption. New neural pathways around our sorrow, our anger, our boundaries get created when there are consequences and these merge with the networks of the addiction, making the "reward" look a little less enticing.

The Answer

In the quote last week from Warner and Wilder, you'll notice that they talked about the "anti-shame" movement in addictions as arising because we (the Church) hadn't come up with much in the way of help for addicts. We didn't have a solution to offer that was resulting in permanent change. Yes: many addicts over the millennia have been healed as a result of finding God, however, addictions on the whole have been escalating—even in the church.

So rather than burn people at the stake or imprison them (or something else nasty) for not finding their way out of addiction, we decided to make tolerance the highest virtue. Not tolerance of differences, which is indeed a virtue, but tolerance of sin and evil.

This is just giving up. Ok burning and imprisonment weren't God's way, but neither is tolerating evil.

So what is God's way?

Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed. — Psalm 85:10

God offers mercy for the sinner... and justice for the victim. When as a body we can speak truth to the sinner, and still love him and walk with him closely in his time of repentance and healing, we are showing God's face. When we offer the victim justice and help put her heart at peace by validating the reality of her injury and holding her pain (i.e. listening to her with empathy and not judging) we are showing God's face.

My heartfelt prayer (with deep groanings as Paul would say) is that His Body would be transformed into His likeness. Then we will not sacrifice the victim for the sinner, nor the sinner for our own comfort. Instead we will become a community that is willing to get into the messy journey of both victim and sinner: a journey where mercy, truth, justice and peace are inseparable friends.

If you or the addict in your life is struggling with a shame-based identity, I highly recommend Curt Thompson's book The Soul of Shame.

This article was written by:
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Lisa Taylor

Lisa is a PSA trauma survivor, counselor and award-winning author living with her kids & recovering husband in New Zealand. She runs groups and sees international clients via Naked Truth Recovery.


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