People experience a complex range of emotions while gambling. Some emotions are undeniably positive such as excitement, surprise, and hopefulness – and individuals may gamble in the hope of experiencing such feelings. Unfortunately another emotion is also often experienced while gambling: shame.
Shame has been defined as a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the feeling of having engaged in wrong or foolish behaviour, or finding oneself in a regrettable and unfortunate situation. It is an uncomfortable emotion that we want to escape from as quickly as possible. This can be dangerous, as we can then find ourselves stuck in a trap, whereby to rid ourselves of the feeling of shame we engage more frequently in the behaviour that is driving it. This is often the case with gambling.
Tony* has been playing the pokies with increasing frequency over the past six months. As he loses more money and keeps more secrets from family and friends, his feelings of shame increase. This leads Tony into a cycle of shame and gambling. The cycle starts with Tony bargaining with himself – “If I can just recover my losses, I’ll never gamble again and no one will ever know”. When Tony loses more money the next time he gambles, he starts to have negative thoughts about himself – “There is something wrong with me and I should know better” – which leads him to gamble in order to escape the negative thoughts he is experiencing. This cycle continues and Tony finds himself increasingly trapped between feelings of shame and a desire to escape through increased frequency of gambling.
This shame cycle contributes to increased social isolation, further financial loss and may act as a real barrier to seeking help. If you or someone you know want to beat the cycle of shame, confidential and expert help is available around the clock by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858.