Friday, March 11, 2011

Shame and guilt keep smokers smoking

Often what keeps smokers smoking is either shame or guilt or both. As a coach, I never want to add to either emotion with my clients. Shame is "there is something wrong with me (that's why I can't quit)". Guilt is "I'm doing something wrong (but I don't know how to stop)". I remember feeling both after my first cancer diagnosis---even smokers would bug me to quit--"VJ, why are you smoking, you've had cancer?" This was back in the late '80's and I would get mad because even though I wanted to quit, I didn't know how and because I had tried and failed so many times, I figured something is wrong with me. The last time I relapsed, I became a closet smoker--nobody knew I had gone back to smoking because I just didn't want to hear any remarks. Finally at a 4th of July party, I couldn't stand it anymore and I lite up. You could hear the disappointment in a friends voice when she said, "but you were doing so well."---not really I had been smoking for months, she just didn't know it.

So  when my quitters talk to others about quitting, I suggest they say--"If I can quit, there is hope for you too, I know you can be successful, when you're ready"--instead of "If I can do it, you can too"---just a slightly different phrasing but the impact can be great. Haven't we all heard some "holier than thou" former smokers bellow--"If I can quit, ANYBODY can quit" and in the back of our minds we're thinking--not me, I've tried and I can't, which increases feelings of shame and/or guilt.

I do believe that anybody can quit--but the timing needs to be right, there needs to be sufficient motivation and desire, there is a re-learning process where the person is going to feel uncomfortable as they are learning to live without smoking and sometimes it doesn't seem worth the effort to learn high effort coping skills when low effort smoking works so well for us. There is physical addiction to deal with as well as emotional ties and habits.

4 comments:

budi said...

I am a smoker. I tried hard to get out of this health problem.


But i dont know what can i do ?

thank you for your article about smoking is not healthy.

VJ Sleight, Queen of Quitting said...

I understand how hard it is to quit but strt from where you are--don't jump ahead. That means, start with building your motivation, looking at your beliefs about smoking, and building your skills. Quitting can be a overwhelming job but it can be done. Read through some of my past posts and hopefully it can give you some information to where to go from here. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I stopped cold turkey, because of a bad cough. I wish I could keep smoking, (I liked it) but because I have gained 25 lbs. I was calmer when I was smoking and less stressed. Stess is a killer too

VJ Sleight, Queen of Quitting said...

Congratulations on quitting--the best thing you can do for your health. You didn't mention how long you have been quit? It may be that you are still experiencing withdrawal symptoms and that is why you are feeling more stressed. Studies have shown that actual physical stress (release of stress hormones)goes down after a smoker quits. There are several reasons why smokers gain weight but if you can quit smoking, I know you can create a plan to drop the added weight too. I have written on both stress and weight gain, you mihgt want to check out those articles too. Good luck.