Stop the Cycle of Shame
By Julie Morris, RN
“Congratulations!” she said cheerfully, not realizing that her words would send me spiraling into shame.
She continued, loud enough for the other nurses and even some of the patients in the ICU to hear, “Congratulations on your pregnancy!” Suddenly seeing the horrified look on my face, she changed her tone and said quietly, “You are pregnant, aren’t you?”
No. I wasn’t pregnant. Totally humiliated, I mumbled something about my new uniform not being very becoming and busied myself with one of the patients. During the rest of the shift, I swore that I would starve myself until I was bone thin, but I went home and did something unimaginable: I ate everything in sight. I didn’t understand why I ate so uncontrollably then, but I do now:
When people feel ashamed, they often do things that only add to their shame.
Tim was shamed as a child because his dad screamed at him all the time. Whenever his dad got upset he glared at Tim and spewed a cruel, “What’s the matter with you?” or “Can’t you do anything right?” Now that Tim has children of his own he is shocked to hear himself asking them the same hateful questions. The last thing he wants to do is to harm his children the way his father harmed him, but that’s exactly what he is doing.
Susan feels ashamed because her house is such a mess, but she continues to let things pile up because she is overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it up. “I don’t know where to start,” she moaned, “and I’m sure that if I do get it clean, I’ll never be able to keep it that way, so I’ve just given up.”
Tim, Susan and I made choices that added to the shame we felt, but after years of searching, I finally discovered how to reverse the process. I lost my harmful extra pounds over 25 years ago and, since then, have been helping others to lose weight and other things that have weighed them down.
Here are some of the things that help us to stop the shame cycle:
Recognize things that cause you to feel ashamed. Many of us are so busy that we don’t stop to think about what we’re doing or whether our actions are helping or hurting us. Sit down for a few minutes and prayerfully list things that make you feel ashamed.
Rely on God’s help. When you identify things that need changing, don’t get overwhelmed thinking that you’ll never be able to change. Instead, admit that without God you can’t change, but with him, you can do anything—if you take it one day at a time. Write a brief prayer to read every morning asking God to give you the willingness and ability to make changes that day. Then praise him for his help.
Refrain from making excuses. Make a list of the excuses you have used to justify your actions. For example, here are some excuses I repeated to “give myself permission” to keep overeating:
• I can’t help it. It’s impossible for me to quit overeating.
• I have a slow metabolism.
• I’m not as large as some people.
• I’ve been this way my whole life. There’s no changing now.
Review daily goals. Identify the biggest thing that brings shame into your life. Make a list of several small things you can do every day with God’s help to change this, and review these goals daily. Make your goals achievable and measurable. For example when I was trying to stop overeating, my goal wasn’t “I’ll stay on my diet.” Instead, my goals were “I won’t eat in front of the TV.” “I won’t eat second helpings.” “I will record everything I eat each day.”
Report your progress. Meet weekly with an accountability partner so you can pray together and let this person know whether you are achieving the goals you set for yourself. When goals are not met, accountability partners don’t lecture each other; instead, they ask thought-provoking questions such as “How could you have made more effective choices?”
I believed that I was hopeless—doomed to continue overeating for the rest of my life. But in 1982 all of that changed when I began learning how to cooperate with God as he changed me. I couldn’t just suddenly quit overeating, but I COULD recognize the harm that I was doing, rely on God to help me, refuse to make excuses, review daily goals and report my progress.
God will do for you what he is doing for me so that you, too, can stop the cycle of shame!
Author of 12 books and dynamic motivational speaker, Julie Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Step Forward www.stepforwarddiet.com, a Christian weight-loss program and Guided By Him www.guidedbyhim.com, a lighter and easier version of Step Forward. She is The Christian Pulse Health and Fitness Team Leader. © 2009