The Man in the Mirror: The Truth About You

Shame is a belief about one’s self. Guilt, on the other hand, is a belief about one’s actions based upon one’s sense of right and wrong. Guilt says: “I did something bad.” Shame says: “I am bad.”
In our addiction and trauma treatment program for men, we have found the “Man in the Mirror” concept helpful in overcoming negative self-talk that originates in a shame-based core belief of one’s self. Recovering from addiction, whether a substance or a process, like sex, eating and gambling, requires a change in how the subconscious mind “talks” to the addict.

When an addict looks in a mirror, he sees not only the physical image; he also senses an emotional image that is an illusion of one’s true, authentic Self. By uncovering the negative self-talk, through awareness and identification, one is able to see the harmful effects of the negative thought, which is one’s belief about one’s self at the subconscious level.

Success in treating addiction requires success in becoming aware of, identification of, and exposing the negative core self-beliefs and replacing them with statements of Truth and Value that liberates one from the bondage of shame. Only then, may the addict begin to see a different person in the mirror, one that speaks truth from an epicenter of love.

Core Shame

Shame is a belief about one’s self. Guilt, on the other hand, is a belief about one’s actions based upon one’s sense of right and wrong. Guilt says: “I did something bad.” Shame says: “I am bad.”

Core shame comes from early childhood in how one perceives one’s self from those around him. Most core shame comes from the family where parents and/or siblings inflict shameful statements upon the individual to the extent that he actually believes what is being said to him about who he is.

Shame statements include:

• “You’re stupid!”

• “Don’t do that! Don’t you know better than to do that! What’s wrong with you?”

• “You’re just like your father!” (Or some other individual with whom you are being compared to in an effort to shame you.)

• “You won’t amount to anything!”

• “You’re a disgrace!”

Humiliation by parents or an older sibling, especially done in front of non-family members, is another source of shame. So is disapproval. Being humiliated hurts deeply and causes one to actually feel that they are the emotion rather than simply experience the emotion for a brief period.

For example: Johnny spills grape juice on the white linen tablecloth during the family’s Thanksgiving meal and his mother reacts in rage and screams at him: “Johnny! Look at what you’ve done! You’ve ruined my beautiful tablecloth! What’s wrong with you! Are you an idiot! Go to your room! You don’t deserve to be at this table with uncle Joe and aunt Mary! Shame on you!”

As a three year old who doesn’t understand the ego and the frailties and shortcomings of others, especially his mother, Johnny leaves the table embarrassed, telling himself how stupid he is and how he is responsible for ruining the tablecloth – and – more absurd – how bad he feels for making his mother so mad at him! He now believes:

• He is a bad person for making his mother get angry at him.

• He is a bad person for ruining the tablecloth.

• He is stupid for spilling his grape juice.

Johnny has core shame, meaning; who he believes he is, is grounded deeply in shame. As he continues to grow and develop in his home, he continues to hear shaming statements from his mother and father and an older sibling. When he enters public school he hears praise from a teacher, but is unable to accept it as truth because his truth tells him he does not deserve praise.

Later in life, Johnny acts out from a shame based core belief that he is stupid and bad. The acting out results in disciplinary action that further confirms how bad a person he is. At the age of 14 Johnny takes a drink of whisky and discovers a whole new world! For the first time in his life he feels “okay” and “normal.” By the time he is 19 Johnny is an alcoholic. By age 32 he has lost four jobs and has a marriage that is in the process of divorce – all due to his drinking, which is now around the clock, every day.

By age 48 Johnny has been through four treatment facilities only to relapse shortly after completing each program. The family wonders why he can’t stay sober. Johnny’s core problem can be discovered through messages from the man-in-the-mirror.

The Man in the Mirror

When Johnny looks at himself in the mirror, he is filled with disgust and self-hatred. He cannot stand to see the reflection. He curses it. He is so disgusted he may even hit the mirror with his fist. What is it that he sees? What is it that he hears?

He see’s a bad man, a stupid man, a man that has failed, a man that shouldn’t even be alive. He is repulsed and loathes the image to the degree that he feels sick in his stomach.

• “You’re a real shit head!”

• “Who the hell do you think you are?!”

• “What’s wrong with you?”

• “Can’t you do anything right?”

Unable to cope with the “reality” of who he is, he walks away and gets drunk. Even though he’s been through four 30-day treatment programs and knows better, he drinks anyway. He may have learned a lot in treatment, but he never addressed the man in the mirror. He never addressed the core shame wherein his thoughts and ideas originate. And it is those toxic thoughts and ideas that drive his addictive behavior that always result in getting drunk.

How to Change

The shameful messages are repeated over and over during the early childhood years, and the brain creates synapses that, over time, become sheathed in myelin and become seemingly indestructible. Subconscious reactions, ideas, thoughts are in autopilot mode and the addict is incapable of acting out and; therefore, feels hopeless in ever attaining lasting sobriety. What is required is the establishment of new synapses that become myelinated through repetition.

• First, become aware of the negative thoughts. It is essential that one not only admit that their truth is built on a foundation of shame, but that they be aware of the actual self-talk statements going on in the mind.

1. Stand in front of a mirror for a few minutes and be aware of the negative self-talk statements that run through your mind.

2. Then write down the statements you identified.

• Next, come up with a “truth-statement” that negates the negative statement. For instance: “I am a bad person…” is replaced with: “I am a divine creation of a divine Creator…”

• The next time the old, negative statement is heard in your mind, stop immediately and say: “CANCEL!” Then replace the old thought with the new truth statement from step 4. Continue to do this throughout the day, but don’t be too harsh. If you miss one here and there, it’s okay. It takes practice.

• At night, when falling asleep, repeat your truth statement over and over again until you fall asleep.

As you go about your day, you might also try this. Sort your thoughts into “helpful” and “non-helpful” categories. This is a good way to become aware of your negative, shame-based thoughts. It is also a way to notice the increase in good, helpful thoughts over time. Eventually the old thoughts will become almost non-existent and the new ones will become automatic.

Over time, you will be aware of the negative messaging going on in your head and you should notice an increase of positive, truth statements. Eventually the negative messages will disappear and become an exception, while the truth statements become the norm.

How Does this Help with Addiction?

The addictive mindset is one embedded in shame from one’s childhood. It results in negative messaging and a feeling of not being “right” or “okay.” The addict finds either a substance or a process, such as sex, food, gambling, that changes how he feels from a “not-being-okay” feeling to a “I am okay!” sensation. Unfortunately the change in mood is short-lived and results in an increase in shame, especially when the addiction has consequences that impact the addict’s family, career, social life and/or of a legal nature.

By eliminating shame based negative self-talk, one eliminates the bad feelings associated with those thoughts. This leads to an improved mental, emotional and spiritual sense of well-being and therefore there is no need for self-medication from the mood-altering addiction.


Addiction is a cycle of thought and behavior that most often is based in shame. The quick fix of addiction brings temporary relief to the negative, self-debasing and toxic shame oriented thoughts about oneself; however, there is a paradox here: An increase in shame occurs post-acting out on the addiction.

By identifying early childhood shame and its associated negative, false statements about one’s self, the addict can replace those old shame-based thoughts with new, positive, truth statements that literally change how the addict perceives himself and eliminates the need for self-medication. This may appear as an over-simplification of a complex problem, but we have seen remarkable results in changed thinking and changed behavior in our treatment program for men from practicing the four step process above.


Dr. Kenneth Chance, D.Div., is the CEO and President of Arrowhead Lodge in Prescott, Arizona, a long-term Arizona licensed drug and alcohol rehab program for men age 30 and older.

For more information visit, Or call 1-888-654-2800.

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