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How to deal with guilt and shame from gambling

By Georgia Ashworth (clinical psychology registrar) and Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

From time to time, everyone acts in ways that they aren’t proud of. With regards to gambling this could include thinking about past experiences, moments of dishonesty and money lost. It could also include any lapses in progress or urges to gamble.

When we make mistakes, it’s normal to experience guilt as it drives us to make amends with others and encourages us to make healthier choices moving forward. However, it is also common to experience a sense of shame following mistakes that we make. Where guilt tells us that we’ve done something wrong, shame tells us that there’s something wrong with us. This could sound something like ‘I am a liar’, ‘I’m a bad person’, or ‘I’m not worthy’.

These self-critical beliefs can perpetuate feelings of depression and low self-worth, which can lead to problems for mental health. Therefore, whilst trying to stop or reduce gambling, it is important to be aware of any thoughts that may lead to feelings of shame.

Reducing Rumination

One way to manage feelings of shame is to reduce rumination. Rumination is a mental process where the same event is thought about excessively and repetitively. To do this, begin by seeing the situation for what it was, ‘Last week I put $100 into the pokies’ and the emotion that you’re experiencing, ‘I’m frustrated by this’.

From here, our thoughts could spiral into rumination, over-analysing and self-criticism. Instead, try planning how you will move forward. Reflect on your triggers and how these could be managed better next time, or talk to someone about what happened and what your plan is.


Another way to manage feelings of shame is through increasing self-compassion. Self-compassion is the idea that we treat ourselves with the understanding, comfort and support that we would provide to others in difficult situations. Being self-critical or even punishing towards ourselves is common following mistakes, however this increases feelings of shame and keeps us stuck.

The first step in becoming more self-compassionate is noticing the emotion that you’re feeling, and naming it without judgement. This could sound something like ‘At the moment, I’m feeling shameful about my recent gambling’.

Then, it’s important to validate that emotion, rather than try to suppress it or punish yourself for feeling it e.g. ‘things are really difficult for me right now’.

And finally, ask yourself how you can comfort or care for yourself as you would a close friend who was going through a difficult time. This could include gentle reminders that we are all human and we make mistakes, or that there may be times where you experience lapses in progress.

It could also include doing an enjoyable or soothing activity, catching up with friends, or revisiting goals and reflecting on progress. Self-compassion provides the emotional support needed during difficult times, and helps to get back on track.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858.


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