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Facing the Inner Critic
Summary: How confronting the inner critic supports eating disorder recovery.

Hijacked by Shame: The Inner Critic and Eating Disorders

Hijacked by Shame: The World Inside

Family, friends, professionals, even eating-disorder sufferers themselves find eating disorders perplexing. Why would an otherwise intelligent and competent woman refuse to do the most basic thing to keep herself alive — to eat, or refrain from overeating if that were threatening her health? While the behaviors do not seem logical, they do make sense in the context of the eating-disorder sufferer’s inner world.

The inner world of someone with an eating disorder is constantly being hijacked by self-hatred and shame. Although we’ve all experienced shame, few people who have not had an eating disorder can imagine the intensity of the shame for someone who has. Recall your most excruciating, humiliating memory. Were you panicked? Did you want to escape? Were you so desperate in that moment that dying seemed like a good option? You have barely begun to experience what someone in the throes of an eating disorder deals with continuously. Triggers are everywhere, from the number on the scale, to a brief glance in the mirror, to the perception that she said the wrong thing to someone.

People with eating disorders are often intelligent and passionate. The part of the psyche that creates the shame fuses this intelligence and passion to create a conviction of failure so strong that the ED sufferer experiences it at a cellular level. Because it feels authentic, questioning the conviction would be inaccurate, disobedient — even blasphemous. In this way, the shame hijacks her body, her mind and her emotions.

For example, take the assertion, “You’re fat.” Imagine that a well-nourished, but not overweight person is continually hearing that statement echo in her mind. She compares herself to models such as Gisele Bündchen, Kate Moss, and Niki Taylor — all of whom met the physical criteria for Anorexia at the time of this writing.[2] Strictly speaking, if that is the standard to which she is comparing herself, indeed she is “fat.” Her intelligence then tells her that the assertion “You’re fat” is accurate. This leads to despair, which she experiences as real because her passionate nature allows her to feel things deeply and directly.

The shame leads to a further conclusion: “Because you are fat, you are unlovable.” This produces such a desperate feeling of isolation and failure that the person would do anything — ANYTHING — to improve the situation. The easiest thing to control is her body, so the dagger of shame turns inward. The depth of the conviction that she is unlovable, corroborated by emotions that feel true at a cellular level, combine to make her want to die rather than eat or gain weight. (Conversely, the person may be dying TO eat as an escape from the desperate feelings inside.) What she is trying to control is not just her body, but also her intolerable sense of isolation and failure. Unfortunately, the eating disorder only magnifies what it seeks to assuage, since it amplifies her sense of weakness and despicability.

This article is excerpted from The Erasing ED Treatment Manual by Sheira Kahn and Nicole Laby, available on Amazon.

[1] A note on gender: Eating disorders affect women and men. Whenever possible, the authors choose gender-neutral language. When gender-specific language is necessary, the authors use “she” and “he” as reflected in the occurrence of eating disorders in the U.S. population, where 90% of the EDs reported are found in females, and 10% in males. (Source: www.ANAD.org Accessed December 14, 2010).