Emotional HealthHealingRecovery 5 minutes to read

I can’t believe I did it again. How many times have I told myself I would not react that way? I want to be tempered in my responses. Why did I react with such defensiveness? This is counter to my true values of being kind, tempered, and tolerant.

I have been on a long journey of healing and sober from my addictions for nearly 30 years. I have been exploring my “wounded child,” my “adapted teenager protector,” and my “dysfunctional adult” for many years. I have learned how my addiction to sex and love were adaptations I took on to calm the rage I sometimes felt at injustice, being told to shut up and to get in line, in order to avoid rejection and abandonment. I’ve discovered that I didn’t start out this way. As I look back, I remember being very enthusiastic and enjoyed directing the fun. But my expectation that people would follow was short lived in that it somehow offended my family members. Their reaction to me was hurtful in so many ways. I hid away this part of me and decided that expressing emotions was not a good idea.

At the vulnerable age of 6 or so, I learned to “curb my enthusiasm” to avoid rejection or criticism. I came to the conclusion that if I could learn to do it “right” and hide away this part of me, I would be accepted and included in the family. This became my lifelong mission. Be perfect! Any time someone observed me exhibiting any positive emotion, I would feel a sense of deep shame. My authentic self was carefully controlled and hidden under a blanket of shame. This was especially true of compliments. A coworker once commented on my new hair style to which I chastised her for being unprofessional. This certainly did not fit my value of kindness. It was incidents like this that drove people out of my life. I was very lonely in my isolation and believed I was a person of no value or worth. I was stuck in the shame of never believing that I could allow someone to enjoy me. 

Michael Dye made the observation in his workbook, The Genesis Process

We are usually wounded in our giftedness.

Michael Dye

A simple statement, but true. Could I have been gifted with enthusiasm and leadership? If so, where did I get it from? These were questions worth exploring.

My journey out of the hell I was in started with believing God gifted me with certain characteristics or attributes that would serve the body of Christ. I understand now that I was designed to be an enthusiastic leader. God is the one who defined me in the womb. My value is in who I am to Him alone. Now what do I do with the shame I feel surrounding my God-given attributes?

The Dissection Process

I like to dissect things—literally and figuratively. I was the student who took on opening up the dead frog in biology class. I like to take apart things to see how they work. It’s exciting to me! This is how I approached my healing journey. I dissected my addiction and shame.

I started with dissecting some of the common terms used in addiction work. 

Let’s take the term “trigger” for example. A trigger is an emotional reaction to a perception. It is usually a shame button that gets pushed. We experience an event, we perceive a meaning, and have a reaction to it. An example might be, you learn a friend didn’t invite you to the movie, but invited someone else. You think, “She doesn’t like me, I was crazy to believe she liked me,” and about this, you feel angry. The trigger is what you made up about your friend not inviting you. In this case, the shame message that was implied in your thoughts about the event.

Another term is “temptation.” A temptation is a choice we have to reconcile what is triggering us. Temptation “comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away” (James 1:14). In the example above, you may be tempted to judge your friend as hateful or bad for rejecting you (anger). This judging ramps up your fear and puts your friend in a place where you don’t have to trust her.

Finally, terms like “reaction,” “coping behavior,” and “acting out” happen when we give in to this “dragging away” and indulge our desires. We will seek to alleviate the painful shame message we find we are in. We become addicted when we use these behaviors to calm our anxiety. We become dependent on it to regulate our emotions.

Early in my recovery, I thought if I stopped indulging in my addiction, I could be the person God designed me to be. But sobriety only takes us so far. Once I was sober minded, I could think with much more clarity. In these moments of clarity I was able to get below the surface and discover the source of my shame.

A Turning Point

My healing journey took a big turn for the better this past year. Out of the blue, Dr. Ted called me a “spark plug.” On our clinical team, I guess I can take a somewhat enthusiastic role in moving ideas forward. In the past, I would have shrunk away in shame when someone commented on a characteristic of my true self. Instead, I chose to trust the comment as good and something he enjoyed about my personality. Geez, I am teary just thinking about it. Something had changed in me. The blanket of shame, hiding the parts of me God intended for good, had been removed.

I wish I could say I have never allowed the cycle of trigger, temptation, and reaction to occur in my life again. The truth is, some of my old coping behaviors still exist. But through this turning point, I noticed my trigger of shame had been soothed by my renewed mind and acceptance that what God had created in me was a strength worth embracing. In my renewed mind, I can override the faulty belief I had experienced in childhood and allow the Holy Spirit to change my thinking. I can trust that people really do enjoy me and there is no shame in being my authentic self.

Throughout this healing process, I now see how vulnerable I was to temptation when I was triggered. The underlying shame was there, hiding my identity. So whenever my identity was being exposed, shame would rise up and I would react to push away the expose of shame. As I continue to walk out my healing and recovery, I need to stay mindful that my old coping behaviors may try to assert themselves. In these moments, I can choose to not listen and cling to my true identity in Christ.


Debby Flanagan

Debby is a Pastoral Sex Addiction Professional for Pure Desire. She has a heart for bringing healing to men and women who are broken due to sexual and emotional issues. Debby has a Bachelor's from Corban University and has an Advanced Certification through International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP). She contributed to Unraveled: Managing Love, Sex, and Relationships.

1 Comment

  1. ssorphancare@gmail.com

    Thanks for that Debbie. I get triggered and blame others or blame myself for blaming others. I get tempted and its the same. Instead we can get off the blame game and get on to how God has gifted us. Glad you’re doing that, thriving in it and calling us to do it too… with grace. I really appreciate your ‘sparking’ us to be ourselves.

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