Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Shame and Guilt

Firstly I want to thank all those people who left such excellent comments to the last post on shame. They are definitely worth a look if you haven't already. To give you a flavour: Natalie (my kashi diet) felt that she was rarely motivated by shame whereas Amy H. (no to the deuce) thought that shame serves a positive purpose in society and had motivated her to lose weight. Pamela, who was the original inspiration for that post, made the distinction between guilt and shame and left a link to Brene Brown's site which has three videos discussing these issues. I found them illuminating. Brene's definition: "shame is this intensely painful feeling or belief that we are flawed and somehow inadequate and unworthy of connection [with other people]". Her basic thesis is that shame acts to disconnect us from other human beings and is highly correlated with continuing bad or destructive behaviours, whereas guilt is about wanting to put right what we have done and therefore about reconnection. Leslie (something brilliant is brewing) summed it up perfectly in her comment "shame is not productive ... it is destructive and perpetuates self-hating behaviours. Guilt or even regret can motivate self reflection and eventual change. Shame sends me to despair about WHO I am, not WHAT I've done."

In writing that last post I was trying to deal with the crushing shame I have felt recently over my eating behaviour and consequent appearance. Shame has certainly acted as a motivator for me to lose weight in the past. I would reach the point where I felt such intense shame over my appearance that the only way to ease it was to get off my butt and get dieting and walking to lose the weight. And as I was walking I would be thinking every step of the way about how great it would be when I could go out in public again and not feel ashamed of myself and my appearance. So shame can be a positive motivation if it is about reconnecting with others.

But on the other hand if the ONLY way you can be acceptable to others is by being thin then ultimately this is not a positive thing. And this is the down side of the way that I used shame as my motivation. I felt (and still feel) that I am unworthy of connection with other people unless I look as perfect as I possibly can. This is a legacy of my family's ethos that I have no right to exist unless I am perfect. This is a situation in which I can never be worthy of existence as of course no-one is perfect.

It would be much better for me to feel that I was acceptable to other people based on my personality, SOH, caring etc rather than my weight. To echo Leslie, my self worth should be based on WHO I am rather than what I weigh. And in that sentence is the whole problem. That who I am is essentially a flawed, unlovable and unlikable person - according to my family at least. So in the end all I had left was trying to look good, to make the outside as good as it could be because the inside was never going to be worth anything anyway. So this is how I have come a cropper. When I was unable ever to feel thin enough (see 16th sep post) I was f*cked.

To feel worthy of connection with other people must be about the inside of me, not my appearance. This is the way forward.

And guilt? After noting Brene's ideas about the positive effect of guilt I realised that I have never felt guilt or anything approaching it over my eating. Not ever. Why? Because I could never feel guilt about hurting myself; I am just not worth it. I thought, OMG, is there something majorly wrong with me; am I some kind of psychopath incapable of feeling guilt? But no, I feel terrible guilt if I ever even accidentally hurt anyone else. But to feel guilt about hugely destructive behaviour towards myself is an alien concept to me.

The best thing here then (if you're still with me!) would be to love myself and care about myself and therefore feel guilt for feeding myself total rubbish and making myself fat and feeling ill all the time and reducing my quality of life to nil. Then to resolve to feed myself better and get some exercise so I can enjoy life and feel healthy. This is the ideal. This is what I should be aiming at.

In the meantime guilt over the fact that my bingeing has hurt someone else is at last proving a motivator to turn this thing around and get myself going again. And at this point I'm glad to have this motivation.

Here's the story: a healer who I used to go and see weekly at her house had sent me several texts over the last few days trying to reach out to me as I haven't been to see her while I've been in this current crisis (2 1/2 months now). But I didn't get them because of a problem with my phone. Then last night all the texts suddenly arrived and I felt SO GUILTY. She said how worried she was about me, she missed me and she wished we could talk. There were three texts like this. I felt so bad that she has been worrying over me and feeling upset, even though it wasn't my fault the phone isn't working properly. I feel so upset that this connection with such a sweet, caring person has been broken due to all the bingeing and excessive eating I've done recently. I cried and cried over it and am still crying now.

So this is my motivation to get better. So that I feel able to go and see her again. She is so good to me and sends me healing when I don't see her. She is a true friend and I am hurting her by staying away. I have to stop all the bad eating. I HAVE to get healthy enough to walk up the very large steep hill where she lives.

The shame over my behaviour has not been enough to stop me this time - it has just made me feel very bad about myself and caused me to hide away from other people. But the guilt over hurting someone else really makes me want to change.

I wrote her a letter today apologising about the phone and about not being in contact with her, and the florist will deliver it tomorrow evening with a large bouquet of flowers.

I AM going to repair the damage I've done - for her sake and ultimately for mine too.


  1. Wow! You said a lot in this post, Friend. Thanks for the references. It's funny that I referenced you in a post today also! You've helped me a lot.

    First - I hear you agonizing about something (the missed texts and subsequent lost contact with the healer) over which you had absolutely no control. You didn't do anything wrong. I want to tell you to put the whip away and stop beating yourself up. You've written her a letter and went beyond the call of duty to send flowers. Enough. These things happen to everyone.

    Your family was wrong about you. What they said about you had much more to do with who they were than who you are. As kids, we have to believe the adults around us because we depend on them for everything. So we are uniquely vulnerable to how they regard us. You were badly hurt, and my hope and prayer for you is that you come to value and love yourself. You're working on it with your blog and your honesty about yourself. My thought for you and for me is that as we come to truly value ourselves, we'll want to treat ourselves with love and respect. And healthier choices.

    I just reread your post, and you already said much of what I just said! See? YOU ARE ON A HEALING PATH AND YOU ARE WORTH IT.

  2. I think one of the things that has helped me is to look at why I'm bingeing. What, specifically, is causing the behavior? Perhaps if you can analyze the cause rather than the result (guilt and shame), you can at the very least acknowledge it. Maybe you already have...would be interesting. And to be fair, I think the cause of my bingeing often times is boredom, but also because I want to have a job right now rather than stay home with my kids. I can't do anything about the second one for now, but just acknowleging it has helped.

    I really enjoy your posts and your comments and hope I haven't droned on too long.

  3. You haven't addressed the terrible feel good aspect of binging. How wonderful it feels to stuff yourself with all that food while you're doing it. That is a pleasurable experience that you have to forgo when you go on a diet. I expect you will feel a bit of grief about that, although you will also feel the relief of guilt. So, mixed emotions and which one will be the strongest?

  4. This self love business is tough. I think a lot of us deaing with our weight issues may also have a little problem in the self love department. At least I know I do, and it is a sentiment I have heard echoed in many other posts I have read.

    It's really hard letting go of the past family hurt, especially when it was inflicted on us during our formative years. Again, this is also a problem (HUGE) that I have and I think I am finally on the road to dealing with.

    You sound like a wonderful and caring person to me, and your friend is lucky to have you! It's not your fault that you didn't get her text messages. These things happen to everybody. She will be thrilled beyond belief with the flowers and letter of apology and delighted to see you again.

    Also, it sounds as if you are on the right path here to healing and well being. Keep going with it.:-)

    I love reading your posts and am so glad to have discovered your blog. You always have these incredibly insightful things to say that really get to the heart of the matter. Always a pleasure to read.

  5. i can't string together a sentence that would truly describe how i feel about your disclosing your innermost feelings.
    i'm appreciative to the nth degree that you write like this because it makes me feel less alone with my own struggles ... how's that? :D

  6. I had major family issues that really were a large part of the reason that I got to be morbidly obese in the first place. I wasn't validated, wasn't supported emotionally, etc.

    You are worth fighting for. No matter that the voice inside your head that tells you, "You deserve to be this way," please know that you don't deserve to feel badly about yourself. No one does.

    Sometimes our initial motivations aren't the ones that keep us going. For some it is shame, for some guilt, for some fear. But whatever the initial motivators are for you, I'm certain that as you work through the emotions surrounding food, an emotion that will coming shining through is worth.

    You are worthy of health, of fitness, of love.

    Take care my friend.

  7. Wow, that is SO SWEET about the flowers. You know, you might feel shame but I am proud of you for being AWARE and desiring to change your life into something you can be proud of.

    And I wish you lived nearby because I'd love to have you as a walking partner!

    I decided some time ago to let go of MY shame and guilt and associated negativity about my weight. It serves no purpose for me anymore. Self love is a better motivator, for me. The shame occasionally still sneaks in there but I kick it out asap.

  8. Hi Friend! I'm trying to get caught up on everyone's's taking me FOREVER!! I read on a comment you left on another blog today that you haven't binged in 3 days. That is tremendous progress!! I'm so glad to hear that and so proud of you. I see from the last couple of posts that I just read that you've really been working through some issues. I love the way you write. So insightful, so coherent, so deep.

    And as Diane said, yes, you ARE worth it. Let me put it to you like this. Sometimes family just sucks. Sometimes they fail miserably. Sometimes there's just no relying on them for anything that you need physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. I am sorry that this is the case for you, I truly am. So in a case like yours, you really need to find your self-worth within you...yourself. And find your support from friends, like us here in Blogland, and the healer you spoke of. I'm so glad you showed up here in Blogland. Isn't it great to know you're not alone, and that you're truly cared about? Big hugs to you Friend...big hugs. :)

  9. Hi Friend! I gave you the Honest Scrap award on my blog tonight...I truly appreciate the honesty that you fill your posts with...enjoy the deserve it. :)

  10. Hi Bearfriend!
    I'm finally catching up with the posts I missed while I was away, and I am so glad to read a post that finishes on such a positive note! One of the things I have missed while I was internet-less was reading your blog and your comments. I know we haven't met, but I really do miss you when you're not around! So I can absolutely understand where your friend & healer is coming from while you've not been in touch. But don't blame yourself for being out of contact, your reaction now shows very clearly that if the phone hadn't been screwed you would have responded to her worries and her offers of help sooner. The flowers are a lovely idea, and I'm glad you are now in touch again, we need all the friends & support we can find!
    As far as the difference between shame and guilt are concerned, I never put them into words before but I think you've touched on some very good concepts there. When I binge I feel guilt about the food I've eaten and its effect on my health and weight - but the shame I feel is about being out of control, feeling weak or powerless in the face of food. Feeling that shame made me start telling people about my binges after hiding them for months - I realised that this was making it increasingly harder to fight the urge the next time, and the time after that. So I started telling my mother (whe was shocked but soo supportive), my husband, and finally my blog - and I do feel that the shame side has weakened, though the guilt has not. It has helped me to feel a lot more positive lately as well. I hope you find the same thing - confronting the shame and staring it in the face takes away some of its power, and maybe underneath that shame, when you can see through it to the other side, you'll find some of that 'healthy guilt' at harming yourself peeping back too. You do deserve to be healthy and happy, and I'm sure you can get there

  11. Hi Friend,

    I have really appreciated the comments you leave on my blog. You strike me as interesting, intelligent and perceptive (note to my other posters: I really do think you're all amazing people) but there has always been something that has bothered me and your post has gone a long way toward clarifying my discomfort. Let me explain.

    You identify yourself as the "friend of the bear". Rather than "Sally" or "jujube lover" or "bingeing Betty", as "friend of the bear" you've taken yourself out of the equation--you're not even worthy enough to have your own identity.

    I don't doubt the bear is a great man--so is my husband--but I see myself as Me, not hubby's wife.

    Come out, friend. We'd like to welcome you as a person in your own right! You are worth it.

  12. I tend to have an internal something that I don't tend to base my life around what others think... not totally but in large part.

    I've been struggling with the idea that I will be of more value at a lower weight. I've decided my "value" is not the same as my physical health level.

    I don't carry a lot of shame, or regrets... maybe it's the artist in me that really pursues everything with vigar.

    But maybe shame is like fear in a way. Fear protects us. It shouldn't rule us but can be an adviser.

    Doing what is right in the end, ideally it should be an altrusive act... and just for it's own end without reason of avoiding shame or seeking praise.

    I have some shame. I guess I see it as more of an adviser and try to listen to it but not be a slave to it.

    This is some deep soul searching post stuff. You are really looking in.

    Foolsfitness trys to ponder the big questions like which soda pop goes best with french fries.- Alan

  13. Hi!
    I love when you post, you have such amazing insights and in my opinion are already on the path to healing. That path sure has its stops and starts, but the key is to keep moving forward. Posting about it, talking about it, processing it, they are part of the tools for all of us to keep on the healing path. Remember, you are not alone. Your comments have helped me so much!

    My family did so much damage to my self esteem, growing up. I can't believe at 46 I'm still hearing those old tapes playing in my head.....sometimes. Most of the time they don't least not as loud. Remember you are a wonderful, beautiful person, inside and out. Binges will happen, the key is to acknowledge that, admit your human, not beat yourself up and start building yourself back up. It gets tiring, but your so worth it.

  14. Wow... what a post. I know a little about shame and guilt myself but we cannot let it stand in the way of us having the best life possible. If we buy into those feelings, it will leave us on the couch with a bag of chips and eating ice cream.

    Friend of Bear--I admire your eloquence--your words. How you are doing the hard work of looking inside and reflecting. I appreciate your openness here on your blog.

    I just want to give you a big hug... I wish I had words of wisdom to impart like so many of your readers but I don't. All I can say is I understand and I'm with you...

  15. Bear Friend,

    If my comments were hurtful to you, I'm sorry. That was not my intention. Au contraire.


All comments gratefully appreciated!