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Releasing Childhood Shame

If you suffered abuse, neglect or trauma as a child, you still may be carrying around shameful feelings that prevent you from being whole and emotionally healthy in adulthood. Shame’s function is to correct current bad behavior, but feeling it now because bad things were done to you as a child is a burden it’s time to get rid of.

Many disregulated eaters grew up in families in which there was a great deal of shame. Of course, as kids, we didn’t think about these things. We just assumed that everyone’s family functioned as ours did and that our parents knew what they’re doing--raising us in ways that were in our best interests. Well, not always. Because they’re human, parents didn’t always realize that many of the childrearing practices they used were not only unhelpful but were dangerously wrong and powerfully hurtful to us.

For example, many troubled eaters were raised by parents who had eating/weight obsessions and unconsciously passed their shame onto their children. If your mom was terrified of gaining an ounce and made “normal” eating seem excessive, or if your dad was addicted to exercise to stay lean, you might not realize that their actions were based in their shame. This kind of extreme behavior comes from fearing fat and believing it is shameful. Additionally, if your parents said things to cause you to feel ashamed of your eating and your body, they were transferring their shame onto you. They took what they were ashamed of, say, excess body weight, and made you think it was wrong. But that doesn’t make it wrong and now is the time to recognize this truth.

Or, say your parents were alcoholic and you were ashamed to bring friends home because of how your folks might act up. You did nothing wrong in wanting to have playmates over and have nothing to be ashamed of. Your parents were acting in ways that they should have been ashamed of but weren’t. Their behavior was shameful, but they didn’t allow themselves to feel the shame. If they had they, would have behaved better. There’s nothing shameful about wanting to bring friends home and everything shameful about acting out alcoholically. The shame belongs to your parents, not you.

Think about where you learned the things you’re ashamed of now, especially how it was passed on to you from your parents. If they blamed you for their transgressions or if they foisted their fears upon you, you may be carrying their shame. Separate their “stuff” from your “stuff.” Make sure that what you’re ashamed of today stems from your own actions, not someone else’s. If not, let it go. You’ll feel a great deal lighter and happier.