By Mari Perry
After Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdin died by suicide, a number of my Facebook friends posted suicide prevention hotline numbers. My friends wanted to help others in whatever capacity they could.
Most of us don’t know the debilitating mental anguish which leads a loved one to feeling their life and existence is not worthwhile; that their friends and family would be better off without them.
In certain cultures bringing shame to family and friends is a reason to die by suicide. It’s almost expected. It can be anything from the shame of an unmarried woman becoming pregnant, to the shame of failing in school, or doing something that is perceived as bringing dishonor to your family or group.
In the late nineteen-twenties, men jumped out of their top story office buildings because of the shame of losing all their money. They felt hopeless and worthless.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, shame is an epidemic in our culture. Shame is highly correlated with (to name a few) addiction, eating disorders, depression and death by suicide.
Take that in for a minute.
Shame makes you feel empty and worthless. As a woman who was once twice her weight, I know this feeling well and it’s one of the most sickening feelings I know.
Dr. Brene Brown says shame is often disguised as “not good enough.” And following not-good-enough is “who do you think you are?!”
Shame is insidious.
Shame is a focus on self, not on a behavior. Guilt is, “I did something wrong.” Shame is, “I am bad.”
Shaming is also a method of mind control. Manipulators know that if you can shame someone, make them feel small or inferior, or worthless, you can control and dominate them.
WHEN YOUR BODY IS “NOT GOOD ENOUGH”
A dear girlfriend confided to me that she’s been feeling depressed. She cried as she told me her husband is demanding she lose weight, and has made demeaning comments about her body for the pounds she’s never lost since having her second child, and from stress eating. She’s signed up and paid for all sorts of things to help her lose weight. She’s started about five diets since the beginning of the year. She told me she’s obsessed with her weight, and that when she looks in the mirror that’s all she sees now. To add insult to injury, her husband is upset about the money she’s spent while not getting a result. Every time I talk to her she sounds more desperate. The last time I talked to her she was thinking of going on a 400 calorie a day diet, and asked me what I thought.
This blog post is my answer.
I don’t judge my friends’ diets or nutritional programs but I do worry when their choices are made from a place of desperation, and not from a place of self-respect and care.
My girlfriend is a high powered business woman. She’s athletic, a leader in our community, an activist, a wonderful mother, dedicated to her family, a cherished friend, she keeps a beautiful home and has all the appearances of living the great life–except for the major point that she’s depressed, obsessed and feels not good enough for her husband. She’s added ten more pounds just from worrying, and now she drinks every day. She feels the hardest thing will be to give up her daily drinks because it “unwinds and unstresses” her at the end of the day.
Some of the weight my girlfriend’s put on is what I call living-the-good-life-pounds: baking Birthday cakes with her children, hosting friends in their lovely home for gatherings and great BBQs, eating exotic meals on some of the trips she takes, and from plenty of dates with girlfriends where we share appetizers and toast a great glass of wine (or a lemon drop).
In the middle of an apparently successful picturesque life is my dear girlfriend feeling “not good enough,” obsessed and depressed. I could venture to bet that Kate Spade felt that way, too. Kate was a highly creative woman, who was wealthier and lived grander than my girlfriends and I do. And yet, she took her own life.
My dear friend’s next step isn’t a new diet or to hire a personal trainer. That will continue throw more money after bad, all a huge waste. Her next step is to identify the shame that’s being projected onto her, and deal with it.
No diet, nutritional program, extreme exercise routine or personal trainer is going to be able to address the toxic situation my girlfriend is dealing with.
I had plenty of people shame me about my size, including me. One woman (I’d call her a friend, but looking back she was far from one) called me into her office to tell me I needed to lose weight and how (one salad a day). She used her position with me to lord over me with her arrogance and unsolicited advice. She told me she didn’t do double digits for clothing sizes, implying I shouldn’t either. Then she proceeded to tell me how wealthy she was. It was one of the most demeaning experiences of my life. I also had a “friend” who talked about my weight struggles behind my back passing judgement about me. She did this about all of us and while it wasn’t a shock that she did this to me, too, it was still hurtful. I ran into her at a Trader Joe’s recently and it’s obvious she has an eating disorder. She’s unhealthy and unhappy looking.
In twenty-five years of being with Jon, many of them with me overweight, he never once shamed me about my weight. Not once. I had enough shame for one hundred people; it would have only made things worse for me. I have deep appreciation for the respect Jon has always given me. He definitely appreciates that I’m healthier but mostly he loves that I’m happier.
Happy wife, happy life.
HOW DID I FINALLY LOSE THE WEIGHT?
I walked away, and stay away, from anyone who attempts to shame me–toxic people. I’m vigilant about identifying that sickening shame feeling. I won’t be shamed about my body, who I am, how I love, who I love, my home, my family, my friends, and what I feel and believe. And I won’t be shamed for my life’s story, how I came to be who I am today, nor for proudly sharing it.
MARI, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?!
Who-do-you-think-you-are is an attempt to shame you at your points of pride–the things you feel good about yourself, your confidence, your deep sense of self.
I’ve even had people attempt to project shame onto me because I proudly share my weight lifting workouts on FB. Really! The message was “who-do-you-think-you-are-posting-so-much-??? This very activity that is making me well and happy is not up for shaming or trying to make me feel inferior. I politely ask people who don’t like my posts to unfriend me. I’m not their kind. I’m really not.
Finding true wellness is achieved by ditching the shaming–and the shamers. Step away from the toxic people.
WHAT IS THE ANTIDOTE TO SHAME?
Empathy. Dr. Brene Brown says shame can’t survive with empathy.
I believe it.
I hope I’m not being over simplistic with this definition: “empathy” is being able to comfortably be in someone else’s shoes.
A few months ago, I spent a couple weeks with dear friends. They’re both doctors, both raised by loving families and lots of privilege, which they honor with their dedication to their patients and the family they’re raising. In those two weeks we had time to share many of our stories. I felt it was safe to talk about deep shameful aspects of my life. I opened up and shared. I didn’t get pity or condescension from my dear friends, who’ve had better lives. They didn’t act as if I’d said too much, which would have shamed me even more. They were empathetic. They listened. They asked questions in a gentle way. I felt they were there with me, trying to feel the insides of my shoes. I felt heard. My story mattered. They voiced their pride for what I’d created in my life, in spite of my life’s circumstances and the disadvantages I’d struggled with and had to overcome.
Empathy is a beautiful gift you can give another.
Becoming aware of shame is important to our well being, which includes listening to how we talk to ourselves. Are we keeping the I’m-not-enough-shaming alive in our heads? Are we saying to ourselves:
“I’m so fat?”
“If only I was (fill in the blank)?”
“I’m not good enough?”
Let’s change the message to “I am enough.” “I’m-a-good-person.” “I matter.”
From this place, if you feel you want to drop some pounds, add a few workout classes, give up the daily drink, then you have YOUR own power to do so.
And let’s raise our kids better. Let’s not shame them. Not about their bodies, their struggles, their intelligence, who they like, what they think or believe, nor who they really are.
You. Are. Enough.
STRONG and BENDY
(Pictures: left is with Jon many moons ago. The right is a few weeks ago at a Havana themed party.)
#massiveweightloss #shame #empathy #brenebrown #mariperry