Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt ashamed of who you were? What about feeling guilty? Propagation of feelings of guilt and shame, whether we realize it or not, play a significant role in the delivery of American healthcare. And unfortunately, it’s women who end up suffering the most.
How do feelings of guilt and shame emerge as we try to pursue optimal health?
First, let’s begin inside our doctor’s office. Say you have arrived there for a health check-up. What’s the first thing your doctor’s medical assistant will do? Likely, he or she will tell you to step on the scale and get weighed.
Stop right here for a moment.
Although your doctor uses your current weight to measure a BMI or to calculate drug dosages, what does the well accepted practice of stepping on a weigh scale do in terms of your ‘thought’ environment? In other words, what thoughts are most likely to emerge from this simple act?
Many of us are concerned about our weight these days. The actual number on the scale may make us feel embarrassed, especially as we have to get measured in front of a stranger who’s carrying a clipboard and pen, and is ready to write that number down.
We all know that we “should” diet. We know that we “should” exercise. But as we try and stick to those promises day after day, week after week, we find that we’re only human and yes, we fail despite our best efforts.
Stepping on a scale often evokes a strong emotional response. I’ve even seen women turn around so they don’t have to look at the number, or flatly refuse to get weighed. I know they feel judged, embarrassed and possibly guilty. They know what we’re going to say as doctors: “Jane, you should diet and exercise.” And frankly, they just don’t want to hear it again. It doesn’t mean anything anymore.
In addition to the guilt trip about dieting and exercising, we get measured up against something called “normal.” And all of us seem to fail. Why is this?
Because there really isn’t such a thing as normal, is there? It’s a concept that our society has created to stuff us all into some box which really only serves to perpetuate feelings of guilt and shame. And when guilt and shame form the basis of a healthcare encounter, no amount of preaching by a doctor to “diet and exercise” will ever lead us to optimal health. Those words mean nothing when placed against feelings of guilt and shame.
What’s a better solution then, when many doctors will have trouble wrapping their heads around this idea that we should stop weighing healthy patients?
My solution is simple. If you want to find your way to health, don’t go to a doctor first. You heard right. Don’t begin in a doctor’s office if you want to find health. It doesn’t make any sense to start there.
Doctors have been trained for many years to find a disease. They have not been trained to encourage you in health practices, although they will adamantly insist they are the ones well-equipped to do that. What they will do immediately, is search for disease, any disease, right from the moment you walk in their office door. And when they haven’t found a disease after a battery of tests, they will declare that you are healthy simply because you don’t have a disease. This is backwards logic.
The absence of disease does not equal health.
The absence of disease does not equal health. And so, to begin by asking you to step on a scale and get measured against a non-existent “normal” only serves to keep you feeling judged, guilty or shameful about who you are. This will never, ever help you find your way to optimal health.
So begin here to know and love yourself. How can you do that?
In my next blog, I’ll tell you a few stories of people who were able to find health, lose weight, and look gorgeous…without even trying!
Shame and guilt are powerful deterrents to happiness.
Shame and guilt are powerful deterrents to happiness. They have been perpetuated in the delivery of healthcare, and have served only to keep our minds well separated from knowing and loving our bodies and spirits. Recognizing when shame and guilt play a role in our interactions with healthcare providers will help us develop the strength to find new pathways to self-empowerment, choice, and ultimately, optimal health through the pure joy of living well.
- Natasha N. Deonarain, MD, MBA is the author of The 7 Principles of Health: Your Call to Health Consciousness, now available on Amazon. She is the founder of the Health Conscious Movement and blogs at www.health-conscious.org .