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Understanding Shame and Vulnerability

I listened to this amazing TEDx Talk from a charming woman from Houston, Dr. Brene Brown, about the distinctions between shame and guilt and her study of vulnerability (embedded videos below).

I highly recommend a listen to both of her TED talks because there are great insights about one of the most underlying elements of anorexia and bulimia (shame) in both talks.

I’m going to boil down some of the quotes from her talk for you and if you have time, each talk is about 20 minutes, and worth listening to how she tells her stories.

Shame For Women

Your inner voice of shame sounds like “you’re not good enough” and “who do you think you are?” when you want to go boldly into something new/different.

Guilt is “I did something bad.”  Shame is “I am bad.”

Guilt is “I’m sorry I made a mistake”.  Shame is “I am a mistake.”

[woah, that’s a powerful distinction.]

Shame is trying to measure up to society’s expectations and trying to look good and fit in with those around us.  Our inner shame voice tells us…

“I have to do it all. I have to do it perfectly, and never let them see me sweat.”

Shame is tirelessly striving for the unattainable [conflicting messages from society] about who we’re supposed to be.

Shame For Men

The message men get from women (even those close to them) about shame is about not being weak.  Our western culture tells men they have to be strong, provide, and even be aggressive/violent.  They’re not allowed to be sensitive and compassionate and are told to put work first.

Shame and Empathy

Brene says that…

Empathy is the antidote to shame.  


Secrecy, silence and judgment are the three things that shame needs to have to survive.

If you have an eating disorder, this should sound familiar.  It definitely sounds like my  20 year struggle with bulimia.

The Antidote for Shame

Brene believes…

Vulnerability is not weakness.

Her definition of vulnerability is emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty.

She says vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.  To be honest with people about our stories, our struggles, our Selves.  To let ourselves be seen.  To really be seen by another person is to be vulnerable and squash shame so that another can show empathy.

This is why I feel so passionate about sharing bulimia and anorexia recovery stories.  There is so much relief you feel in the telling of your story.  You shed some of that shame that is keeping you from who you are and connecting with others.

Polly says..

Reach out.  Share your story.  Be vulnerable [for a change].

Brene says the most powerful words when we’re in struggle are “me too”.  I’m here to say “I had an eating disorder, too.”  You can read my bulimia story and others by downloading my ebook here.

Please, I’d like to hear from you.  Will you share your story?  Will you allow yourself to be vulnerable?