City Research Online

Journeys from shame to self-compassion: Addiction and the role of developmental trauma in adulthood

Smy-Aristizabal, Jonathan (2022). Journeys from shame to self-compassion: Addiction and the role of developmental trauma in adulthood. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)



Individuals presenting for addiction treatment are known to have higher levels of developmental trauma. There has been limited qualitative research into the experience of trauma reduction interventions from the perspective of addict attendees.


The purpose of this study is to gain a deeper understanding of the lived experience of attending a developmental trauma reduction programme for self-identified addict participants in recovery.


Seven adult participants who self-identified as addicts were recruited from the aftercare group of a developmental trauma reduction programme. Semi-structured interviews were carried out, audio-recorded and transcribed. The data was analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).


Three main Superordinate themes emerged from the data: ‘Making sense of intense emotional response to painful memories of childhood’, ‘Search for external relief’, ‘Acceptance of themselves with compassion and without shame and judgment’.

All participants reported negative childhood experiences and subsequent shame and loss of self-esteem. Participants also reported difficulty with understanding their emotions and conflict in their adult lives. Participants reported searching for external relief through various means including self-medication and striving for high levels of external validation. Lastly themes around a need to recognise causes, having a language to explain, confronting shame, group connection and a move towards self-acceptance emerged.


This work has implications for professionals and policy makers regarding the continued lack of integration of trauma interventions into addiction treatment planning. It highlights the legacy of shame and low self-esteem left by the participants experience of developmental trauma. The analysis also highlighted the desire for a deeper understanding about the roots of their addictive processes by the participants. The research indicates that addiction treatment may present a window of opportunity for trauma interventions to improve resilience and self-esteem in this population, possibly helping with treatment drop our rates and reducing relapse rates.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Smy-Aristizabal thesis 2023 redacted PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
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