There’s a pair of best friends that can always be found together. They go by the names of Guilt and Shame. Some of their favorite pastimes are filling a person with self-loathing, causing lack of sleep and worry, and bringing a flood of resentment and secrecy into important relationships. Sometimes they can manifest because of things we’ve done, other times things that others have done, or perhaps they arise simply because of thoughts we have that are unwanted and embarrassing. I am no stranger to any of these; guilt and shame were present in my life for a long time.
Halfway through my first pregnancy, I made a confession to my doctor: I was terrified to gain weight. I was deeply ashamed to make this admission, given that I was not only putting my own health in jeopardy, but now also the health of my unborn child. What resulted turned my world upside down: living in an eating disorder wing of a hospital: 25 years old and pregnant. I felt the judgment of even the other women in the wing. “Why would have you an eating disorder as a pregnant person?” Yep. Why, indeed. I was filled with tremendous guilt and shame. And I had an incredibly tough time letting people I loved and cared about be there for me during that process. I still regret that, but have now slowly opened the door of letting loved ones into that dark, yet healing, chapter of my life.
Guilt and shame thrive in secrecy. In fact, the more they’re alone together, the more they grow. There’s nothing that nurtures their friendship more than keeping them in the darkest recesses of your mind. And they will spout many lies: “No one understands what you’re going through. People will think you’re weak if you tell them. No one will love you anymore. People will pity you. You’ll be labeled forever. There’s something wrong with you and you’d better not tell. You can solve this on your own.”
Does any of this sound familiar?
I lived like this, depressed and engaging in my eating disorder, for 10 long years.
The only way to unlock the chains of guilt and shame is to admit what you’re going through, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you. The sooner you do so, the sooner people can support and love you. This takes a tremendous amount of vulnerability, courage, and most importantly, discernment. Telling the wrong person what happened in your past, what’s happening currently, or even what’s happening in your head that’s causing shame can prove damaging and hurtful. So it’s so important to tell someone you trust. If you don’t have a trusted person close at hand, find a counsellor, or even tell your doctor. Speaking your truth out loud to someone can offload your burden in transformative ways.
I have experienced being deeply hurt when exposing my eating disorder struggles. When I first revealed to a friend what I was going through in high school, her reaction was to ask me to throw up in front of her. Years later, feeling desperate, I brought it up to a family member whose response was: “I wish I did that. I can’t seem to lose weight.”
These experiences caused me to close off and continue on silently for many years. Guilt and shame were not only present in my life, they became all consuming.
If you have been hurt before by sharing your burden, I am so sorry for you. Please, please try again. Find someone to walk alongside you, encourage you, and build you up.
Saying goodbye to guilt and shame and welcoming healing and vulnerability makes for a long road, and requires practice. The more practice you have, the sooner your heart, soul, and mind can be restored. You can’t let go of guilt and shame on your own, no matter how hard you try. We are meant to share our burdens, not keep them inside.
Be bold. Share your truth.
Most of us are limping into 2021, barely able to keep our heads above water. I don’t know about you, but the thought of making a list of New Year’s resolutions sounds exhausting. How can you be a better you when your mental health is at an all-time low? Well, how about improving your mental health by releasing guilt and shame? Now there’s a worthwhile and practical resolution for this new year.
Wishing you health and healing for 2021! Be kind to yourselves and let others be kind to you. Much love to you all.