So much SHAME.
I think the thing I feel most of all, day in, day out, is shame. In fact, it’s a secondary emotion for me that seems to be attached to every single other thing I ever feel. Feeling happiness quickly becomes shame. Anger becomes shame. Sadness becomes shame. And so on. I think this is because I’ve spent my lifetime being ‘not allowed’ to show my real feelings, as well as striving to keep them hidden for myself.
The shame part, a lot of that comes from being brought up to believe I was a horrible, unworthy person. It’s hard to let go of that, when it’s been indoctrinated into you from birth. It’s a long slow process involving noticing the thoughts, accepting that I’m having them, figuring out what I really feel, and being kind to myself too – using my wise mind to refute lies I tell myself that emotion has me believe and which (not using) my Reasonable mind ‘confirms’ to me that they are ‘true’.
This is another thing I had to learn young – to hang on to my truth. I never was like the rest of my family – I stuck out like a sore thumb. My values often seemed the polar opposite to theirs. But could I live among them and hang on to my values? Not openly. I had to pretend to follow their lead. I had to obey my mother who was racist and forbid me from hanging with my Indian and Vietnamese and Samoan friends. I disobeyed her – I loved them too much. It meant keeping secrets, and realising that those were ‘okay’ secrets. I also kept my own spiritual beliefs safe in my heart – lest they be stamped out. That little voice that said to me “No matter what they say or do to me, they cannot change MY TRUTH.” was my Wise mind speaking.
Wise Mind is a DBT skill – it is the overlap between your Reasonable mind(I tend to call it Rational mind, as that’s easier to remember), and your Emotional mind. It is that deep down knowing. Some call it instinct. Everyone has one. It’s a matter of finding it and listening to it. The illustration below shows Rational mind as ‘Logical mind’. Rational, Reasonable, Logical – you get the picture.
But this isn’t what I’m blogging about today.
The past few days, I’ve seen some things that have made me very, very sad. I’ve seen people using the word ‘fat’ as a derogatory term. I’ve seen someone use another person’s eating disorder as a tool against them – capitalising on their shame. I’ve seen people criticise each other for all number of things – which is a normal part of life I guess (sadly), but… for the love of God, why must so many of us keep the stereotypes, the secrecy, the shame going? These things fuel our own self-hatred and the ignorance and intolerance of others towards us.
Take the word FAT. Since when is FAT an offensive term? Last I knew, it was the opposite of THIN. Thin isn’t offensive – or isn’t meant to be. Neither is TALL, or SHORT, or WIDE or NARROW. They are just adjectives. Descriptors. You can have a FAT wallet, a FAT dog, a FAT sandwich. And a FAT person. And that’s all okay. You can also have a THIN anything. And that’s okay too.
I read the blogs of some really amazing women who blog for fat acceptance – my favourite is Kath Read of Fat Heffalump. I’ve learnt a lot by reading her blog. We are ALL people. All of us. And we are all worthy and deserving of the same respect as any other person on this planet – and there are NO buts. None whatsoever. Basic respect is a right. Unless you are a mass murderer or paedophile in my opinion – but even they have rights. (Kath, I really apologise if anything I say in this is off the mark – I’m learning.)
The way many of us treat people who don’t look like ourselves is pretty horrible. But it seems that being fat is the last ‘okay’ thing to abuse people for. (Hello – it is NOT okay.) People abuse others for being fat without having any clue of why they are the weight they are, of whether they are healthy or not, and they constantly believe absolute lies because they are fat, and we can, can’t we? For starters, Causation and Correlation are NOT the same thing. LOTS of things are correlated with being overweight or obese – diabetes, death, etc – but this is NOT causation. Being fat or obese does NOT necessarily CAUSE these conditions. In fact there are many fat people who are far healthier and live longer than those who are thin or ‘normal’ weight (whatever normal is!).
Where I’m going with this is that we as a society have burdened people who happen to be fat with a heaping of SHAME that they do not deserve at ALL. So they are fat – so what? What right has anyone else to comment on that, to abuse them for that, at all? MY body is MINE ONLY, as yours is yours only. Their bodies are theirs only. None of your business – keep your nose out of it. Their health is their doctors business, not yours. So is their intake, their activity, their everything. Butt out.
In the same way, people with eating disorders have been heaped with shame for as long as eating disorders have been known about. We bear the shame of behaving like ‘spoilt little brats’. The shame of the bingeing and purging that happens. The shame of the financial difficulties. The shame of having no real control over our lives, but being controlled by something that’s ‘all in our minds’. The shame of not coping with life when everyone else around us seems to be. Of being sucked in to dieting and weight loss when we know it’s stupid and pointless and dangerous. The shame of so many other things – in the comments, please add your shame – what do you feel shame for? I’m sure we could make a huge list of the ways we have been made to feel awful about ourselves.
I have always felt great shame at what I perceived as my failings. Such shame at having an eating disorder. I remember back in year 11 biology class – we were sitting in the lab and Anorexia Nervosa was being discussed. At that point, the brief explanation of our teacher was the most I’d ever heard about it. Two girls in front of me whispered “That’s what Fiona’s got.” (Oh the joys of lip reading).
And I RAGED! How dare they think I had anorexia? How dare they think I would ever have something like that, it was a spoilt brat illness. I had absolutely no understanding, and imagine my utter shame to finally be diagnosed with it not even two years later.
I am far from the only person with an eating disorder expressing feelings of shame, and I see it all over the internet. It gets me wondering – how much of this shame is self-inflicted, and how much is in response to the fact that understanding is NOT widespread – even now in the 21st century – and people DO still believe myths like we are spoilt brats, we chose to have this, it’s all about looking like a glossy magazine model, it’s vanity, and so forth?
Often I feel like we have more shame about our behaviours than many people with addictions like alcohol or drugs do, or criminals do, or abusers… well definitely abusers. Show me an abuser who has felt shame about his or her actions and I’ll show you the needle in the haystack. They are out there, but they are far and few between.
I feel incredible shame about the bingeing and purging part of my illness especially, and most of all, the shoplifting that the bulimia meant I did. I’ve had people say to me that it wasn’t ME, it was my illness that was responsible. And while I do get that – we do have a mental illness that means impulses like that can be incredibly hard to resist, especially when we are actually starving, and we cannot think straight – BUT I felt that was absolving ME of responsibility for my own actions. I did it. I responded to my urges. And I know it was because I was sick – but I still did it. And I have hated myself for it for a long time.
I often wonder if people who suffer from eating disorders would get help a lot sooner if they didn’t often feel so much shame about what they were battling with that they didn’t dare to tell or ask for help? Would our suffering be less exacerbated by the reactions of others and their attitude towards us, if we didn’t feel such shame? And I’m sure that we would all be a bit less tangled up in the illness itself too, if shame didn’t create part of the big cycle that keeps it going – feel shame, hate ourselves, need to cope, and round we go again.
It’s not just people with eating disorders but mental illness in general. Yesterday, I was at my GP’s office with my case manager. Instead of continuing with the new psychiatrist I was going to see, my old psychiatrist offered to find me a good psychologist to do trauma work which was what I wanted in the first place. Well to access a psychologist through medicare bulk billing (and then only six sessions per year!) in Australia I need to have a Mental Health Care Plan in place with my GP, this process will take an hour and a half, so had to make a new appointment to go in and do it. At the reception desk, the receptionists whispered every time they said ‘Mental Health’. It was really annoying! I wanted to stand up and shout, “Yes, I’m making an appointment for a MENTAL HEALTH care plan!!! What is the big deal!?”
(And how do people who need to see a psychologist but are not already in treatment for a mental illness cope, if they cannot afford the HUGE fees for one? Because they can’t access those six bulk billed visits. I feel that’s very shortsighted indeed. Just one of many failings, sadly, of our health care system.)
Various people I care about have at some time or another in their life, had something used against them, something personal. Someone might have threatened to reveal this personal stuff to the world, or where it would hurt them, if they didn’t do what the blackmailer wanted. And this SUCKS. It’s the lowest of the low things to do to someone. And yet, it’s the victim who actually gives the manipulative person their power – through the shame they carry and the secrecy they hold on to.
This is what got me thinking last night – if there wasn’t such shame and stigma surrounding eating disorders, mental illnesses in general – there wouldn’t be any way someone could use that against you. People wouldn’t hide their history of a mental illness from their bosses in fear they would lose their job, even if they were recovered or managing it well. (I have several friends in this position). I can’t imagine a heart surgeon being not allowed to practice surgery because he once had a heart condition himself, for example. Why mental illness?
I have friends who are gay, who have been treated horribly just because they were gay. They are all lovely people – and some of them I knew long before they came out as being gay – even to themselves. They didn’t change after coming out, they were still exactly the same person – but people who had been friendly before, suddenly rejected them. People in the churches they were part of, turned against them. They were in essence, shamed for something I truly believe was born – because it’s part of them. It’s just who they are, who they were born. It breaks my heart.
People who have been abused often have what someone else did to them, used against them. “Don’t you dare tell or I’ll tell your mother” for example, often with kids – who know, because what was done is secret, and because of the way they’ve already been made to feel, that there is a lot of shame in what has happened. But now it’s used against them – YOU are the one at fault. No, you are not at fault for abuse, not ever. The shame belongs to the person who abused you, and those who allowed it to happen.
I could go on and on – but you get the point I’m making here, I hope anyway. All this shame – and so little of it justified. And this is part of why I blog. Part of why I speak up about parts of my life that I’ve always felt such shame about. Because now, I realise that it’s not all justified shame. And secrecy keeps that all going. I believe one of the first steps in taking the shame out of all these things, is putting them out there, into the open. “This is me, take me as I am. I am not going to apologise to anyone for what simply IS.”
I hope that in the future, people will be burdened with less shame about the people that they are, the illnesses they suffer, the mistakes they make, and so on. I hope that because society has learnt more about all these things, has gained a better overall understanding, and a greater acceptance of others, especially others who are different to ourselves – that life is easier and less distressing for many of us. And hopefully, those of us who struggle with accepting ourselves might find it just that little bit easier too.
Do not be ashamed of who you are, or what you have been through. Do not be ashamed if you have lived a struggle – be proud that you are a fighter. Be proud of having the courage to be who you are and to keep on going despite whatever hurdles you have faced. And when people do not tolerate you or accept you – remember that the shame is theirs – and that they are stupid, too stupid to learn about others and to not be afraid of those that are different for whatever reason.
How has shame affected you? What are you ashamed of? Is this shame justified? (I’m betting you it is not!)
How can you change your self-talk about whatever you are ashamed of, for example – “I accept that I feel ashamed of having an eating disorder, but it’s not my fault and I’m doing the best that I can do in this situation.”
Do you think that speaking out about being different might help others by lessening secrecy and therefore shame – why or why not?