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Shame is one of the roots of anorexia and bulimia.

January 11, 2011 – 1:30 am

Shame plays an important role in developing eating disorders because shame is a controlling device. Basically all people with anorexia or bulimia can recall being shamed or ashamed several times before their disorder began.

Shame is complex. It extends from small things like parents or teachers saying to someone that she/he is a bit overweight and needs to lose weight, or to something more serious like physical or sexual assault. For a young vulnerable person even a wrong look or an inappropriate comment can be shameful and it can trigger control mechanisms in the brain.

The simplest and most available thing that the shamed person has to exert control over is food. Restrictive eating or binging on food and then purge it all up is an action that only the person who is doing it can control. Plus it gives to the sufferer the intimate sense of achievement and conquering their own body. But there is a catch 22, externally the sufferer keeps it a secret because if it was revealed it will be a shameful action if someone was to discover their secret.

So, feelings of shame start working on the sufferer even before the beginning of their illness.  Shame makes the person shrink her/his inner self and avoid others in order to stop interpersonal humiliation. Shame produces resentment, irritability, tendency to blame everyone, suspiciousness and bouts of agitations. Shame also blocks the person’s emotions and makes the person unable to be compassionate to others.

Often family and parents themselves promote shame unknowingly. On different stages of development many children feel inadequate in many tasks. Some parents by criticizing, comparing their children with other kids and controlling them can evoke a lot of shame in their sons and daughters.

Other parental behaviors and styles that provoke shame and body images issues are:

–       avoiding children and avoiding to feel and respond to their emotions

–       being judgmental

–       being constantly angry and disapproving

–       expecting children to please

–       defensive parental attitude

–       being depressed and anxious

–       acting as a victim in front of children

–       being indirect

Turning to food becomes a substitute for non realized emotions in many children. Their mind is searching for a coping mechanism to ease their emotions and food is an easy outlet to find.

For this reason a big part of eating disorder treatment is working on understanding the impact of shame and how to counteract it. The best antidote for shame is compassion, love and understanding. This has to be understood by the sufferer, family and all the people who interact with the sufferer.

The second step is to change the person’s self-talk from negative feelings towards food, to positive feelings about food. These both are important steps in the sufferer’s recovery and have to be done with the help of the whole family and not just with the sufferer.

This may not be an easy thing to do if the family does not understand exactly what to do to help. But luckily there is help available; you can read more at www.mom-please-help.com