Greta Gleissner, LCSW
Your eating disorder is the ‘critical voice’ inside of your head that urges you to feel guilty and shameful for the actions you take. It is normal to feel shame when struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder. However, the key to recovering from your disorder is letting go of shame and rebuilding a sense of worth and love for yourself.
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
It is important to note that there is a difference between guilt and shame. According to Brené Brown, a proclaimed research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, guilt is defined as being “adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” Guilt essentially makes you feel bad for a behavior but it is a feeling that also encourages you to take action as a result.
In contrast, Brown defines shame as an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame is the actual belief that you are not good enough and that you are not deserving of love. This lack of self-compassion for yourself makes you believe that you are stuck in a dark place that is insurmountable.
Shame and Eating Disorders
Although experiencing a sense of shame is a normal feeling, it becomes debilitating for those who are struggling with an eating disorder. The belief of not being good enough becomes ingrained in your psyche and often leads to feelings of defeat and helplessness. These feelings often occur after destructive behaviors such as restricting, purging, or binge-eating. These behaviors are often caused by environmental and social stressors such as peer, familial, and societal pressures. These pressures may elicit the stress response and trigger harmful eating patterns.
It is important that you know you are not alone in your eating disorder. Letting go of shame and cultivating love for yourself will help you to become a healthful human being again. It is essential to remember that shame is not long-lasting. With a foundation of love and support, you can foster the strength to release the shame from your life and build resilience to overcome your eating disorder.
3 Ways to Let Go of Shame in Eating Disorder Recovery
According to Dr. Brown there are 3 key ways to ‘break the cycle’ of shame:
- Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love – Be kind and gentle to yourself. Be loving towards yourself just as you are loving towards a friend or family member. You have one vessel for life, and that is your body. You must nurture it and care for it in mind, body, and soul as much as you care for the wellbeing of friends and family members.Cultivating a love for yourself by writing in a journal or by practicing positive self-talk will help you to be reminded of all of the beautiful qualities you have within yourself. Additionally, engaging in activities you enjoy will release you from feelings of shame and will remind you that you are capable of so much more than what you had initially believed.
- Reach out to someone you trust – Whether it is a friend, family member, teacher, or counselor, it is absolutely essential to reach out and create a supportive social network that is filled with encouragement and love. Surrounding yourself with positive people will help you to regain your strength and will remind you that you are not alone in your struggle.Building a strong support network will also give you the foundation of letting go of shame in your recovery. Your friends and family will do all that they can to provide you with the love and encouragement that you need to find joy in your life. They will restore your self-esteem and provide an environment of growth and acceptance.
- Tell your story – Do not be afraid to share your story. You will find that individual and group therapy sessions are phenomenal ways of connecting to people who are going through similar experiences. Therapists are trained to empathize with you and will help you to create personalized coping mechanisms that best embody who you are and the eating disorder you are trying to overcome.
Sharing your story and asking for help are the most important steps towards letting go of shame and forgiving yourself. The sheer act of sharing your story allows you to communicate your moments of difficulty and diminishes feelings of helplessness and humiliation. By breaking the cycle of shame, you will ultimately foster a greater sense of love for yourself. Forgiving and loving yourself is the foundation to letting go of shame in eating disorder recovery.
Greta Gleissner, LCSW, is the Founder of Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists, a nationwide meal support and coaching program that provides services alongside treatment programs and outpatient providers. EDRS specializes in meal coaching, clinical coaching, in-home cooking, and therapeutic exposure 7 days a week; days, evenings, and weekend.