Six Ways to Stare Down Shame in Eating Disorder Recovery

Feel like shame sometimes hijacks your brain and leaves you wounded and broken, laying bleeding on the sidewalk? You’re not alone. Most people grapple with shame in eating disorder recovery. Whether it’s shame about your body, shame about your eating disorder behaviors, shame about your thoughts, or even deep, dark shame that you even exist—shame can be so pervasive and paralyzing. It can be especially hard in San Diego, where the “beautiful life” exists all around you and you feel even more shame because you feel as though you’re not a part of it. Whether you live in San Diego or elsewhere, I want to let you know that it IS possible to overcome shame in your eating disorder recovery. I’ve outlined six strategies to stare down shame, borrowing some from Dr. Brené Brown, who is a shame, courage, and vulnerability researcher.

Brown (2013) defined “shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame is especially prevalent with people recovering from eating disorders because it’s about food, and it’s about our bodies—two elemental parts of what it means to be human. When you feel broken in elemental parts of yourself, you feel shame and unworthy of love. Also, an insidious characteristic of eating disorder behaviors is that you do them in secret, and shame thrives in secrecy. It is my hope that in reading these tips, you will take the first steps into a larger, shame-free world of self-compassion and self-acceptance.

#1 — Acknowledge the Shame It is so challenging even to admit that you are feeling shame, but it’s an important first step. You may be experiencing a lot of different emotions—anger, discontent, discomfort, disgust, frustration—and sometimes at the bottom of all of these feelings lies shame. It’s a core negative belief that you feel unworthy, and it is common in people grappling with eating disorders. So the first step is to acknowledge that it’s there. It may even be helpful to write down, “I feel shame because . . . .” Brown (2013) stated that “shame cannot survive being spoken.” So the first step is speak it.

#2 — Map the Shame The second step I borrowed from Narrative Therapy, founded by Michael White and David Epston. They came up with this intervention called mapping the influence of the problem. How I apply it to shame is to take a blank sheet of paper and draw a circle in the middle and write “shame” in it. Then, draw lines outward like spokes on a wheel, and draw other circles at the end of those spokes. In those circles, write the different areas of your life shame influences. Some examples might be, your feelings about your body, your social life, your sex life, your relationships, etc.

#3 — Feel the Shame After you’ve acknowledged and mapped the shame, it’s important to feel it. I’m not talking about wallowing or navel-gazing to the point at which you become intimately familiar with your belly button. I mean really walking through the feelings of shame that come up in the areas of your life you identified in your shame map. I suggest writing about it, talking about it with a loved one, or working through it with a therapist. Whatever you do, let yourself experience the depth of the emotions. The important thing to remember that after you do this exercise, bring yourself out of the intense emotions by doing some self-care or grounding exercises.

#4 — Target the Shame The best way to target shame is through vulnerability. Brown (2013) said, “shame cannot survive empathy.” The path to receiving empathy is to become vulnerable. I know that when you are in the midst of your eating disorder that the last thing you want to do is share with someone about your behaviors and your deep, dark pain and struggles. But it is by taking the risk and being vulnerable and bringing the shame to light that will kill it. Share your shame with someone you trust implicitly and let them respond with empathy. Remember, “shame is lethal” (Brown, 2013). Target it and let it die.

#5 — Release the Shame After you have explored, mapped, and shared your shame, it’s time to release it. You can write a letter to shame telling it to die (or divorcing it!). Sometimes doing a ritual can help with this process. In San Diego, you can go to the beach and pick up a rock and write “shame” on it and throw it into the ocean. Or, you can write what you feel shame about on pieces of paper and flush them down the toilet. You can hold a funeral for shame and invite loved ones, or do it in a therapy office.

#6 — Moving on From the Shame. Brown (2013) contended, “shame depends on me buying in to the belief that I’m alone.” Moving on from shame means creating a support network for yourself. That way, when things come up about which you feel shame, you can become vulnerable with one of your trusted people, they can respond with love and empathy, and you can move on. Shame is universal. It is a primitive human experience. Having people in your lives who support you through shame can not only help you recover from your eating disorder, it can help you develop a thriving and happy life.


Hey everyone, I really appreciate you reading my blog!  Have a wonderful day. :)  


If you are struggling to find eating disorder treatment in San Diego, give me a call for your free 15-minute phone consultation at (858) 699-3754, and I will help you get where you need to be! 

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