Shameflammation is present in every single one of us to some degree, and it can make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless, aimless, and totally disconnected from our intuition. It can be both the underlying cause and result of chronic health conditions—it’s often the one thing standing between us and optimal health. Shameflammation can make us feel like we’re constantly swimming upstream and at war with our bodies. Thoughts and emotions are like nutrients for your head, heart, and soul, and unfortunately, many of us have been feeding ourselves junk food for a long, long time.
So, now let’s answer the question I know a lot of you are asking yourselves: Why shame? Out of all the negative emotions in this world, why do we use shame for the term that represents the negative impact of our emotional world on the physical? Over the years, I’ve learned that shame is perhaps the strongest, most damaging negative emotion of all. Brené Brown, a renowned shame and vulnerability researcher, says that “shame is lethal” and explains that shame affects all of us and profoundly shapes the way we interact in the world.
After years of consulting patients with all types of health struggles, I can say that nowhere is shame more at play than when it comes to our bodies and our health. It’s often a huge barrier to healing. Let me ask you this: When something goes wrong with your body or health, big or small, how do you feel? The answer is probably a mixture of anger, fear, and maybe even some embarrassment, right? That sounds a whole lot like shame to me. The common thread between many emotions, especially those surrounding our body and our health, is often shame.
Research shows 1 that, as humans, we feel a lot of health-related shame and that shame can have a significant impact on our ability to stay healthy, heal from illness, and make healthy choices. Why? Because any type of shame—whether it’s related to food, our body, or a health condition—makes us feel unworthy of the vibrant health we crave, cutting us off at our knees as we try to get there. According to shame experts, shame exists on a spectrum, ranging from self-consciousness or embarrassment to a deep sense of inadequacy and fear, but these feelings all tell us one thing at the end of the day—that we don’t deserve that healthy and happy life.
Unfortunately, despite knowing that shame affects our health in big and small ways, we don’t know all that much else due to a lack of research in this area.
In one fascinating study, researchers posited that the impact of shame on our health “is unacknowledged, under-researched, and under-theorized in the context of health and medicine.” They go on to say that shame can have a significant impact on health, illness, and health-related behaviors and that shame’s influence can be described only as “insidious, pervasive, and pernicious2.” Pretty strong language, isn’t it? It is, but it’s also true.
Your healing can’t shine when it’s soaked in shame.
Excerpt courtesy of Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel. Copyright © 2023 by Will Cole. Published by goop Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.