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Depowering Guilt and Shame

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, let me introduce you to this compassionate and wise author, speaker, and University of Austin social work professor. I first heard her simple, honest truths in a TED talk. Here is some of her wisdom about failure and resilience (Time magazine, 9/21/15, p. 88), subjects that have strong relevance for people who’ve struggled with eating and weight concerns.

Based on her research, she speaks of the importance of having courage: “He or she who is the most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest. There is a huge correlation between a capacity for discomfort and wholeheartedness. If you cannot manage [emotional] discomfort, that sends you barreling into perfectionism, blame, rationalizing—without taking away key learnings.” As I often say to clients as they’re leaving my office and they take no offense, “’Bye now. Have an uncomfortable week.”

People who allow themselves to be emotionally uncomfortable in the present get to be more comfortable in the future, whereas those who refuse to be emotionally comfortable in the present practically ensure that they will be uncomfortable in the future. Some “uncomfortable” examples. Asking for help when you fear burdening others. Saying no to something you don’t want to do even if you might hurt someone’s feelings. Not dating people who don’t treat you well in spite of their charms and seeming interest in you. Staying home and studying for a test while your friends are out partying.

“Discomfort” extends to eating as well. Such as, stopping eating when you’re full though food still tastes delish. Avoiding the scale, though you’re dying to see if you’ve lost weight. Changing or challenging the conversation when friends talk about diets and weight loss. Being kind to yourself after you’ve overeaten when you’re used to being harsh and critical. Allowing yourself to depend on people so you have friends to turn to when you’re distressed and won’t need food for comfort.

When, through her research, Brown inquired which emotions people could understand in themselves, she found only three: “happy, sad, and pissed off.” I hope you can do better than that! She also found that “for women, the No. 1 shame trigger is appearance and body image”…and for men, it’s “the appearance of weakness.” She explains that “Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment” and that “Guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, and shame” are “the emotions of self-consciousness.”

If you’re wondering how to stop being judgmental and quit feeling guilty and ashamed, I suggest you browse through my hundreds of blogs and find ones on these subjects. You might also listen to Brown’s TED talks and read her books.