Three toxic yet common accompaniments to eating disorders are fear, guilt and shame. These emotions are often a response to a pain or trauma in a person’s life and deeply intertwined with that person’s disordered eating patterns. Let’s dig into these three emotions a little deeper.
If you grew up in a rigid, perfectionistic family, you may have developed an intense fear of failure and rejection. If someone you desperately wanted approval from conditioned that approval on unrealistic goals of perfect behavior, you got the message that no matter how hard you tried, you were never good enough. If that person conditioned approval on physical appearance, you got the message that being thin was the surest way to measure up.
You need to recognize the possibility that your eating disorder or disordered eating patterns have come about as a response to your need for this conditioned approval. If you were unable to gain acceptance in other areas of your life, you may have turned to your physical appearance as an avenue of acceptance. Your fear of rejection has metastasized into fear of being fat.
Children’s frames of reference for sorting out the jumble of adult actions and motivations are their own experiences. So there is a tendency for children to blame themselves for family difficulties. A child whose parents are divorcing will ask himself what he did wrong. A child whose mother is angry all the time will wonder how she can make her mother happy. Children understand when something they have done wrong produces pain in others. An immature leap in logic can produce the false impression that when they experience pain themselves, they must be the cause of it. And those feelings lead to tremendous guilt.
In order to control the guilt, an anorexic will self-restrict food and liquids. A bulimic will binge to comfort the fear and purge out the guilt. An overeater will binge to bring comfort and settle for despair as a way to appease the guilt. People who insist upon intentionally unhealthy eating may have already written themselves off because of guilt and lack the motivation to make better choices.
A dysfunctional relationship with food thrives in an atmosphere of shame. Without significant weakening in the self-esteem and self-worth of a person, these destructive behaviors could not stand. In the progression of the eating disorder and disordered eating, shame over her inability to control her own behavior settles like a suffocating blanket. The person who has learned to love and forgive herself would throw off that blanket. But to the person who has lived in an atmosphere of shame, that blanket is a familiar, acceptable place to hide.
The anorexic feels shame at never achieving impossible perfection. The bulimic and the overeater feel shame at the out-of-control binging. In addition, the bulimic who purges through vomiting or laxatives will feel shame at the very way the food is expelled from the body. The overeater feels shame at simply being fat. The disordered eater feels shame at being unable to control those urges. Together, they constantly attack self-esteem and promote self-doubt—the perfect breeding ground for shame.
At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we can help you or a loved one address these feelings of fear, guilt and shame. In fact, we will make sure we understand the deep, underlying cause for these emotions, and also how they have exposed themselves as an eating disorder. Know that there is peace from these toxic emotions, and that recovery is possible. If you believe you or someone you love is in need of recovery support, fill out this form or call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with an eating disorder specialist today.