In Part One of this blog, we delved into the nuanced relationship between guilt and shame. In essence, guilt is about actions while shame is about self-worth; it is that persistent whisper telling us we’re not enough.

Shame doesn’t just mess with our minds; it wreaks havoc on our bodies too. It can lead to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and sleep problems. Shame often drives substance abuse—most relevant for this blog—it is a common thread in eating disorders.

The Toll of Shame

Research highlights that shame is deeply woven into the fabric of disordered eating. A European study found that external shame—feeling powerless—was linked to severe anorexia, while internal shame—feeling worthless—was tied to severe bulimia. The more shame people felt, the worse their eating disorders became. But there’s hope: increased self-compassion and improved eating habits helped reduce feelings of shame. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that can be broken by addressing the roots of shame and nurturing self-kindness.

The Dynamic Nature of Shame

These studies also revealed how shame, self-compassion, and eating disorder symptoms ebb and flow over time. When shame surged, so did disordered eating behaviors. On the flip side, when shame waned or self-compassion grew, those behaviors improved. This cyclical dance between shame and eating disorders underscores the power of self-compassion.

The message is clear: treating ourselves with kindness can disrupt the cycle of shame and disordered eating. By showing ourselves grace, we can begin to heal.

A Note on “Shaming”

Today, “shame” is often used as a verb—think “fat shaming” or “body shaming.” This involves making hurtful, mocking comments about someone’s physical appearance. But shame, as we’ve discussed, is an internal experience and not something that can be imposed from outside. When someone tries to make somebody else feel ashamed of their body shape or size, it’s more accurately described as bullying. So let’s call it what it is.

Suggestions for Overcoming Shame

Mindfulness practices can help us observe our negative thoughts with neutrality. We can create a safe space within to acknowledge and observe what triggers our feelings of shame without judgment.

The next step in breaking the cycle of shame is simply speaking our truth, to ourselves at first, (and perhaps later, to a trusted person in our lives.) True healing calls upon us to shine a light on our shame through honest self-disclosure. And when we dare to embrace vulnerability, reveal our authentic selves, and accept who we are—flaws included— shame loses its power.

You might have heard the expression, “change your thoughts, change your life.” I think there is a lot of merit to that concept. When it comes to letting go of shame, what and how we think really matters. If our goal is to get past feelings of shame, it is key to reframe our inner dialogue. When we are mindful (and where would my blogposts be without mindfulness?!) we can pay close attention to what we tell ourselves about ourselves. We can replace harsh inner judgment and insecurities with grace, understanding, and patience. After all, if a close friend or loved one were to reveal something painful to you about themselves, wouldn’t you treat them with kindness? You certainly owe such kindness to yourself, and how you choose to relate with yourself. I use the word “choose” consciously because how we treat ourselves is a choice.)

The Takeaway

For those of us grappling with eating disorders, shame can feel overwhelming. But the good news is, that each of us contains the power to change our narrative. By understanding the roots and impacts of shame and nurturing self-compassion, we can break free from its hold. The journey isn’t easy, but we have the strength to silence the inner critic and embrace the healing we all deserve.