How to Overcome Shame with Self-Compassion - Melissa O’Neill

What can we do when we feel shame? I suggest practicing self-compassion. Being self-compassionate means that you are aware of your own (and others) suffering, that you show yourself kindness, and that you are working towards alleviating pain and suffering. While there are a number of ways to practice self-compassion, researchers Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer have proposed five self-compassion practices for individuals with eating disorders.

We know that over 70 percent of eating disorder sufferers will not seek treatment due to a variety of reasons, including stigma and misconceptions about mental health treatment, a lack of education, and minimal access to diagnosis and care.
Working in Admissions at Eating Recovery Center for the past four years, I regularly speak with individuals, loved ones and professionals seeking treatment options. This has become a part of my professional, and, to a degree, personal identity. 
I continue to wonder about those who need help for eating disorders and, yet, don’t call. The age-old question “Why?” looms ever-present in my mind. There is not just one answer as to why people don’t reach out for help, although I do have a theory:
These people don’t call because they feel ashamed.
According to shame researcher, Dr. Brené Brown:
Shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging*. Shame thrives in silence, secrecy and judgment**.”
Eating disorders also thrive in silence, secrecy and judgment.

How can we handle shame?

If you feel shame coming on, I suggest practicing self-compassion.
Being self-compassionate means that you are aware of your own (and others’) suffering, that you show yourself kindness, and that you are working towards alleviating pain and suffering.
While there are a number of ways to practice self-compassion, researchers Dr. Kristin Neff and Dr. Christopher Germer*** have proposed five self-compassion practices for individuals with eating disorders

1. Develop a regular eating routine

Developing a regular eating routine is a way to honor your body by providing it the nourishment that it needs. This is an act of self-kindness. Here at ERC, we have teams of highly skilled dietitians who create individualized meal plans based on your unique needs. Together with our clinical and medical teams, they will support you in identifying and practicing your new normal when you sit down to eat a meal.
Learn about mealtime support at Eating Recovery Center.

2. Use positive language toward yourself

Have you ever heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it”? Even if you don’t believe it initially, using kind and compassionate language with yourself can have a profound effect on your self-concept. Shame loves, I mean loves, negative language. If you have a habit of saying negative things about yourself or others, try saying the phrase “and I’m doing the best that I can” after each negative thought crosses your mind.

3. Write a compassionate letter to yourself

Could you write a letter to yourself — one that lists your positive traits and demonstrates the love and compassion you have for yourself? How can you show yourself care and compassion in times of suffering? These questions can give you a place to start if you try to write a compassionate letter to yourself yet find yourself staring blankly at a piece of paper, pen in hand. We’ve made it easy to write a letter like this. Check out the link below.
Write a My Recovery Letter.

4. Create a mantra for self-compassion

Remember the character Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live? He had a great mantra! “I am good enough. I am smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.” Find a mantra that works for you and practice using it daily. Ideas here:
Create a positive mantra for yourself.

5. Take a breath and ask for help

When life seems overwhelming, take time to pause and breathe. Practice the four steps listed above. Have hope that things can and will get better. If you’re still hurting, and need someone to talk to, call us to speak confidentially to a Master’s level clinician on our admissions team: 877-711-1878. 
We are here for you.

Melissa O’Neill, MA, LPCA is the Clinical Response Manager at Eating Recovery Center and Insight Behavioral Health Centers. Originally from Nebraska, she and her family currently call North Carolina home. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her Master of Arts in Counseling from Eastern New Mexico University. Currently she is pursuing her Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision at Adams State University. Melissa’s passion for helping individuals with eating disorders began with personal experience. She believes that we all are capable of recovery, living freely to love and accept ourselves amidst the struggles life can bring. 

  • *Brown, B. (2013). Shame v. guilt. 
  • **Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong. The reckoning. The rumble. The revolution. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau
  • ***Germer, C., Neff, K. (2017). Mindful self-compassion core skills training. FACES Conference. Denver, CO.
melissa oneill
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