Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Warning - ED triggers
I want to talk about shame. I see many of my clients use shame to try and motivate themselves to do something versus them using the antidote of shame which is love and compassion.
Let me give you an example. A client came to me for her first session. When I asked what had brought her here, the very first words out of her mouth was that she needed a kick up the butt. I noted it in the back of my mind as a point of interest. Within 5 minutes the client was crying. It was no surprise to me that after metaphorically kicking herself up the butt and shaming herself for not doing enough tears were pouring down her face.
I didn’t bring the parallels to light yet, as I sensed there was more to come. She talked about feeling so frustrated and annoyed. She knows where she wants to be but has no idea how to get there. What she is doing now is using shame to try and climb the mountain and get to the other side. It’s not working, she knows it is not working and this is making her close to breaking point. But she is stuck in the conditioning that if she isn’t hard on herself, and if she is instead soft, that she will break and won’t be able to do what she needs to do. So, she’s stuck. The irony is she is already breaking, and not able to do what she needs to do, so she is already in the place that she is fearful of being. She has nothing to lose here by trying something different.
Let me tell you something I know for sure.
More shame, more self-beat up, and more inner criticism are not going to help you lose weight in the long term. It’s not going to help you exercise consistently and regularly and feel good while doing so, and it’s not going to give you sustainable, long-lasting change. How do I know this? Because I was once there. If we rewind to 10 years ago, I was a total gym bunny and used to thrash myself at Les Mills for an hour everyday 6-7 days a week, (the irony of this is that it is the worst I have ever felt about my body), and I would go for runs on top of working out.
I remember my lowest point, where I was beating myself up particularly badly. I ended up eating a whole tub of ice cream, vomiting in the toilet afterward, then sliding down the bathroom wall whilst calling myself names, crying with hopelessness and disgust. My way of dealing with my shame was to go on a juice fast for 7 days. At the end of the fast, I felt even more hopeless than before when I stepped on the scales and saw that I had lost a total of 2 kg after starving myself for a week. My body was holding on tight to its reserves, and I put that 2 kg straight back on again.
I DID NOT TRUST MYSELF IN THE SLIGHTEST.
This was the message that I was sending myself repeatedly. “You are not trustworthy. You cannot be trusted, particularly around food.” I used to watch other people eating, and it would make me so frustrated at myself. I would wonder how they could eat whatever they wanted and not put on weight. Being around food and people in social situations gave me a feeling of dread.
Then something started to shift, ever so slightly. I started working on my inner self-worth with a psychotherapist, and I began the painful yet rewarding process of being compassionate and loving to all parts of me, the so-called 'good' and 'the bad.' I stopped going to the gym. (I haven't been back to a traditional gym since.) I lost close to 10 kg’s, and it has stayed that way for the last 8 years. I stopped behaving destructively and secretively because I was learning to trust myself again and become a safe place within my own body.
So, as we move into the silly season. I encourage you to start to recognize the voice of shame. It usually starts with “I should.., or I need to...., or I have to." Once you have recognized the voice of shame, I want you to try and replace shame with (true) desire: “I want..., or I love..., or I would like.” This is going to help you focus on what you truly want in a positive psychological way while trusting in your body's intuition.
Example. I am at a big family gathering. There's heaps of food on the table. I tune in with myself. “How do I want to feel today?” “How do I want to feel by the end of the day?” I look at the food. I contemplate, "which food makes me good in my body?" I make conscious choices. I don’t place restrictions on myself because I know that if I do that this will only end in me binge eating. I can have a little bit of everything. What this does is stop the desperation in me of wanting everything because I have told myself I can’t have anything.
This is the clincher here, the tricky part which is important to understand:
The more you allow yourself freedom, the more you can begin to learn to trust yourself.
I did the same with exercise. What I learned was that the more I tuned in with myself and asked my body, "what do you need right now,?" the more I learned to respond intuitively to my body’s needs.
I choose now to move my body in ways that feel good to me. This has been such a life-changer. Rather than thinking about “I have to exercise”, I now approach it as a pleasure task. Some examples of this are gathering up the family for a walk at dusk after dinner, or standing on my deck and stretching when I wake up in the quiet of the morning. Dancing to music in my house when everything is getting all too much and I need to shake off stress or riding my blue bike, fast, down a steep hill when I am feeling trapped, or running when my head is full.
Use movement and food as a therapeutic act of self-care, rather than using it to reinforce the belief that you are not good enough.
Give shame so much compassion and care that it can't help but be driven out by the light.
Watch the way your life changes as a result.