Shame, Addiction & Autism

“We all have shame.  We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us.  But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us – that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough – and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable.  In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame.” ~ Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I’ve written about shame before.  A couple of commenters on my last post about shame told me to watch Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame, which I did.  B. Brown also has several books, Daring Greatly, is the one I’m currently reading, where she writes, “A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere.  Shame keeps us small, resentful, and afraid.”

Shame is something I am intimate with.  I don’t know many addicts who aren’t.  I’ve written about addiction and specifically having an eating disorder ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.  The self-betrayal implicit in addictive behavior exacerbates the pre-existing shame, creating depression and self-loathing.  Attempts to alleviate those feelings with addictive behavior only fuels them.  Shame heaped upon more shame is not a recipe for happiness or success.  Ignoring shame, trying to bury it, and trying harder to not feel it, doesn’t work either.

There have been a number of studies suggesting a link between addictive behavior and autism.  I don’t find this surprising given how feelings of alienation, isolation and fractured self-worth all contribute to wanting to seek refuge and escape. Except the thing we are trying to escape from is often ourselves.  Many of us have internalized our shame, particularly those of us who tend toward perfectionism.  Add to this obsessive tendencies, a desire to be loved, wanting to fit in, believing we are “less than” and addiction can feel like a perfect fit and the only way we can survive in a hostile, unaccepting world.

Oddly, we, as a society, tend to attribute laziness and a lack of will power as the reason people eat too much, drink too much or spend more money than they make.  Similarly, people seem to think autism is a choice or at least the behaviors associated with autism are.  These people apparently believe Autistic people can  “lose” their “autism” if they can just be trained to hide their “problem” behaviors or the things they do that make them obviously Autistic.  Many Autistic people talk about being scolded and punished when they were unable to produce the results expected of them when told they needed to “try harder.”  Trying harder will usually make the person feel more terrible about themselves.

I worry about a culture that is conditioned to believe we must ‘train’ our Autistic children to behave in ways that most cannot, or cannot without a massive cost to their self-esteem.  I worry about “autism treatments” and “therapies” whose underlying message is that our children are not okay.  I worry about what our children are internalizing.  I worry about addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, and how those things get set in motion at a very young age from feeling we are “bad,” not worthy and less than. I worry that because many do not understand autism is a neurological wiring, or do not take into account the experience so many Autistic people are describing, we are raising fearful children, filled with shame for who they are as human beings.  Instead of helping our children flourish, encouraging them to be all they can be, we are trying to make them into something they cannot be.

I love this photo of Emma because it captures her in all her Emma-ness!

Emma - 2002

9 responses to “Shame, Addiction & Autism

  1. Reblogged this on Naimeless and commented:
    Once again the start of my week has been brought into focus by Emma’s Hope Book. The TED TALK included in the post is a must watch as well.

    Enjoy 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Naimeless and commented:
    Once again the start of my week has been brought into focus by Emma’s Hope Book. The TED TALK included in the post is a must watch as well.

    Enjoy 🙂

  3. Thank you for this. I can relate very much. I’m autistic and have had issues with alcohol since I was a teenager (though over a year sober now). I’m just now starting to understand some of these things about myself.

  4. Love..love..love…Brene brown!

  5. I can relate to what you’re saying back in the day I used to be ashamed of needing so much help at my age but reading Tuesdays with Morrie helped me realize we all need help at the beginning, middle and end of our lives 🙂

  6. I picked up a 3meopcp habit. I find it easier to maintain my neurotypical mask when the drug dulls my emotions.

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