Berni Fried Explains Why Guilt is the Most Prevalent Emotion Among Her Clients

Berni Fried has witnessed a number of clients who have jeopardized their recovery efforts by participating in negative thoughts and actions. Here, Berni Fried explains how to embrace the power of positive thinking in order to fend off the temptations of drug and alcohol abuse.

Interviews and News: We’re thrilled that you could join us today to share your knowledge of this topic.

Berni Fried: I’m grateful for the opportunity.

Interviews and News: When first meeting with clients, what do you find is the most powerful component of beginning to deal with their feelings of pain and anger?

Berni Fried: It requires a significant amount of effort on their part to address past issues and learn how to work through them.

Interviews and News: Is there a clearly defined way to reach this goal?

Berni Fried: The most important issue to address with clients is building trust and establishing a safe working relationship. Once trust is established, identifying what specific issues are getting in the way of the clients growth is the next step.

Interviews and News: Which are the best possible methods, in your experience?

Berni Fried: The client needs to recognize underlying guilt and shame, as this is often what fuels low self esteem and “acting out” behaviors.

Interviews and News: Why are guilt and shame such prominent emotions?

Berni Fried: It is important to distinguish between guilt and shame to understand how clients fall prey to the powerful feelings they evoke. To break down the difference between guilt and shame, I have heard it said that guilt sounds like, “I made a mistake” and shame sounds more like, “I am a mistake.” Shame can feel intractable for clients who grow up with abuse and trauma and critical parents. Shame is a core emotion and has to do with a deep seated feeling of aloneness and invisibility. The client struggles with feeling safe and valuable, hence addiction is a common “coping mechanism”.

Guilt has more to do with actions and are less powerful. There tends to be more opportunity to change the behavior and foster good feelings when dealing with a client experiencing guilt. Guilt is easier to repair and change; using cognitive behavioral techniques can be invaluable when working with guilt.

Interviews and News: Can you explain what behaviors or thought patterns are indicative of shame and guilt?

Berni Fried: Feelings of guilt are often rooted in the client’s family of origin issues and how the client’s parents or family rules were manifested. Clients can have feelings of guilt related to “going against” their family of origin rules. As an example –  a client decides to pursue a career in Art, when the client comes from a long line of scientists and engineers. That client can feel that he is betraying his family and going against the natural order of things. Clients deal with guilt in many ways. Sometimes they will overcompensate for their feelings by cutting off and shutting down emotionally. Shame is often associated with a core sense of self, rooted in the core sense that one’s self is invisible or one’s true feelings don’t have value.

Interviews and News: How so…?

Berni Fried: Oftentimes, clients that grow up in families where the client wasn’t valued or the family was too busy caused the client to feel alone, like they weren’t valued. In this case, the client will generally feel that their experience of the world is not important and the world is not safe. The client suffers from a deep sense of disconnection and the inability to connect with others. The shame internally can lead to a lot of negative self destructive thoughts and feelings.

Interviews and News: Why is that?

Berni Fried: Shame creates self-loathing and self destructive thoughts and feelings, in turn,  leading to maladaptive coping skills. Often, people with shame fall prey to addiction and attempts to numb their painful experiences.

Interviews and News: This makes sense. It must be hard for these individuals to have a sense of hope and an overall feeling of positivity towards life.

Berni Fried: Yes, it is hard for these individuals to retain good feelings about themselves and to imagine a more positive and productive future when confronted with the memory of past behaviors and actions.

Interviews and News: How long does it take for clients to transform guilt and shame?

Berni Fried: Every client is different. Depending on the client’s history and family of origin issues, this dictates how the client will respond to treatment. Some clients come into treatment with years of self destructive, acting out behaviors and create a lot of wreckage. Once guilt and shame are addressed directly, the client can feel immediately hopeful and begin the transformation process.

Interviews and News: What happens when a client falls into negativity?

Berni Fried: If addicts believe that they are guilty for all of their behaviors, then they may punish themselves. Negative thoughts and feelings are often a huge part of recovery. Clients learn “thought stopping” techniques and a new way to deal with intrusive negative thoughts and feelings.

Interviews and News: What does the future hold, then?

Berni Fried: Negative self-talk begins to dissipate. As the addict recovers and abstains from self destructive behaviors, they eventually transform and are able to feel hopeful and positive.

Interviews and News: What if the client does not change?

Berni Fried: Untreated addiction often leads to huge negative consequences. These include financial issues, declining emotional and physical health, legal problems, work troubles and ruined relationships. Almost every area of the addict’s life becomes unmanageable.

Interviews and News: That sounds serious.

Berni Fried: Untreated addiction is an international crisis! People all over the world struggle with negative acting out and addictive behaviors. Recovery is pivotal in changing this downward spiral for so many people.

Interviews and News: Your thoughts are much appreciated!

Berni Fried: I hope it helps!

By offering a private practice open to clients of all backgrounds, Berni Fried has changed how many members of the therapy community address their clients. Berni Fried proudly stands at the forefront of her profession, continually striving to improve her treatment programs to meet the needs of a diverse clientele.



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