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More on Shame

Can I ever say enough about shame and how damaging it is to a sense of self? Discussion on my message board HYPERLINK ""
often comes back to body hatred and how to let go of negative feelings about overweight. This is a tough nut to crack. You can’t sit around and wait for body shame to fly away. You have to be proactive and nudge it out the door a bit at a time. First, however, you have to understand where it comes from and what purpose it serves.

When we’re children, our parents use shame to modify our behavior. Sometimes they’re simply mean and cruel, but more often, their wrongheadedness is well intended. They ridicule and humiliate us to ensure that we become “good people” in their eyes. They act this way because they’re shame-based individuals who were brought up to believe that if a little shame motivates, more will do the job better and quicker. Certain aspects of our culture—sometimes education and religion—also use shame as a motivator to change behavior, making such an approach seem natural, appropriate, and effective.

I have an entire chapter devoted to shame in my Food and Feelings Workbook. For now, let’s just say that shame is meant to teach us about our transgressions, but not in the way it’s usually used. We are meant to feel badly about what we’re doing so that we don’t do it again. This shift doesn’t occur, however, from being repeatedly shamed by our parents but from feeling that internal ping of “I don’t want to be this way.” When parents habitually degrade us, they fill us with so much shame that we come to believe we’re bad and defective. We eventually come to believe valueless and give up on ourselves (as in, Why fix something that’s so broken?). When we feel valueless, we see no purpose in changing behavior. That’s why berating yourself for abusing food or for your weight or body size is counter-productive. You’re just continuing the shaming which makes you feel worse about yourself and less likely to change.

What does work is pride as a motivator—doing positive, loving, caring things for ourselves because that makes us feel good about us. This is difficult for folks who were brought up to believe that pride is wrong (it isn’t) and for people who fear that giving up shame means accepting behavior they’re unhappy with (it doesn’t). Well, I ask you, if shame were an effective motivator, wouldn’t you have reached your eating and weight goals by now (or eons ago)? Ongoing shame is a ineffective motivator, the worst because it ensures that you will never feel good enough about yourself to act differently. You have to value yourself first before you will then take care of what you value.