Shame vs. Embarrassment

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I eat in the middle of the night.

Not a balanced meal informed by the food pyramid (or color plate or whatever the hell we’re using these days). No.

A box of cereal
A “row” or more of Oreos
A pint (or more) of ice cream

Crap, basically.

There was a period a few years ago where I stopped, but I can’t say exactly why. It came back though.

I started therapy in the hopes of conquering this problem, as this habit could literally kill me. As first, the conversations were mostly about my upbringing, family history, relationships, etc.

Eventually, we hit upon an interesting thing. I told her I was embarrassed about eating all that stuff, so I waited until the middle of the night to do it.

She said, “You’re not embarrassed. You’re ashamed.”

What’s the difference? I thought.

Being ashamed is tied to your actions. You can be embarrassed for someone else, but you can only be ashamed of yourself.

It really feels different. If you’re embarrassed about something, maybe that’s not so bad. You can feel embarrassed about public speaking or performing karaoke, but I suggest that these are situations where it’s wise to go ahead and battle the embarrassment. Push forward anyway.

I can’t think of any case where I’m ashamed of my behavior and I should rise above it.

“I’m ashamed about how I snapped at Sally.”
“I’m ashamed about how I lied to my boss about being sick when I wasn’t”
“I’m ashamed about murdering half a bag of cookies in one sitting at two in the morning.”

If we’re ashamed, it’s probably a big red flag that something needs to be fixed, either in your behavior or in the form of an apology to someone.

Through therapy or serendipity or a combination of the two, I’ve been able to avoid night eating for two weeks now. Maybe labeling my behavior as shameful rather than merely embarrassing was enough of a catalyst.

I’m happy about this, but I suspect Nabisco and General Mills are not. Sorry, guys.

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