Shame and Eating Disorders
I’ve been listening to some audio teachings by Brene’ Brown, a leading researcher on the subject of shame. Shame – that feeling of not being “enough,” not being worthy – is something that we with eating disorders are all too familiar with. Brene’ says early on, “If you don’t claim shame, shame will claim you.”
How many of our eating disorders and addictions began out of a place of shame? How many of us have allowed our shame to control our lives and for how long?
For me, shame has been running the show since I was about five years old. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, I only knew that I felt small and powerless and dirty and not good enough. Never good enough. That feeling only grew as I got older, until it was so overwhelming that I was restricting food and cutting my own skin at the age of 12.
If you have a loved one with an eating disorder, please realize that shaming us isn’t going get us un-stuck. Comments like, “This is ridiculous, Jessica. Just eat like a normal person/according to your meal plan” are not at all helpful. Trust me, we’re already thinking it. Chances are, the voice in our head is telling us on a minute-to-minute basis how stupid, selfish, ridiculous, and horrible we are for having an eating disorder.
So what’s the cure to shame? According to Brene’ Brown, it’s empathy. To heal shame, we have to allow ourselves to be truly seen – good and bad – and allow others to accept us and stand next to us.
This, for our purposes, means two things.
Eating Disorder Sufferers: You have to talk about it. You cannot keep hiding and believing that you are too broken, too disgusting, too horrible to be loved. You have to take the risk of letting someone else see you and love you anyway.
Loved Ones: You have to accept us. Accept that we are doing the best that we can at any given moment. Realize that we already think we are horrible, terrible human beings and what we need most of all is to know that we are accepted and worthy and loved, even if we do have a mental illness.
Am I so naive as to think that everyone you allow to walk with you is going to get it immediately? No. But how will they ever understand what you are suffering if you don’t give them the chance? How will people ever begin to know the truth and reality of our illness if we stay silent?
A huge cause of the shame in my eating disorder is the stigma: I didn’t want to admit that I had an eating disorder (especially anorexia) because I didn’t want to be seen as selfish, vain, unintelligent, whatever. But here’s the thing — if we’re all staying silent, the truth never gets out there.
Is it scary to be honest about your eating disorder? Hell yes. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. But is it healing? Absolutely.
Maybe you’re not at the point where you want to go completely public by joining HealthyPlace’s Stand Up For Mental Health campaign to end stigma. (Check it out – it’s an amazing campaign.) But maybe – just maybe – you could find one or two trustworthy people to let in to your life and to love you and accept you, even as you struggle.
Um…I’m not the only one that struggles with shame, right? How does shame play a role in your eating disorder?