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I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)

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Updated March 29, 2012

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't)
Gotham Books | Cover Art by Nicholas Wilton

Guide Review

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a writer, lecturer, and research professor at the University of Houston. More specifically, she researches shame and related topics such as authenticity, vulnerability and courage. This book is a culmination of hundreds of interviews with women on the topic. Brown seamlessly integrates her research findings and her proposals regarding shame resilience in an easy-to-read and understand book. In addition to I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy & Power, Brené Brown has also written The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are, and Connections (a psychoeducational shame-resilience curriculum) and has been featured on TED.

Specific to eating disorders and related topics, the book examines the 'shame web' of our social, familial, and personal expectations regarding beauty, external appearance and food. The book notes that billions of dollars are spent each year marketing beauty products and weight-loss schemes to women, creating an expectation that we should all be thin and beautiful (but not overly obsessed with our appearance). Yet, when we are inevitably unable to live up to such unrealistic expectations we experience shame, causing us to feel disconnected from those around us and become self-critical, blaming and fearful.

Outside of eating disorders and body-image issues, many other topics which trigger shame are also discussed. These include motherhood, marriage, mental health, family issues, and the general pressure to look like you have it all together even when you don't. The book presents many personal stories from the women interviewed in Brené's research, allowing readers to easily connect with the material and truly feel as though they are not alone in their struggle with shame. As you might imagine from the title, the book also focuses on perfectionism and women's subsequent feelings of inadequacy - something I have found to be almost universal in my work both with eating disorders and with women who don't have an eating disorder.

In the book, Brown presents her Shame Resilience Model in which she promotes the idea that we can move from shame and disconnection to empathy and connection with others, by focusing on four areas. These areas are recognizing our shame and what triggers our shame, practicing critical awareness (realizing what's really going on), reaching out for support, and speaking shame (talking about it). She also presents short journaling-type exercises by which to practice this model and discover what your triggers are. She uses specific examples from real women she interviewed to exemplify each skill or area which builds resilience.

Overall, this is a wonderful and potentially life-changing book for many people - not just those with eating disorders. However, I believe it is a wonderful addition to the bookshelf of any eating disorder sufferer or family member. Shame is often a significant component of eating disorders and this is a wonderful book to address an incredibly difficult emotion. It also tackles the important concepts of courage and authenticity - concepts which permeate eating disorder recovery.

Who is this book appropriate for?

This book is written primarily for adult women. Its target audience is not necessarily those with eating disorders, so it is certainly helpful to others. Mature adolescent girls and adult men may also find the book informative and helpful as well.

Even if you read this book initially as a support person of someone with an eating disorder, you may find that it hits home for you individually. This book is also helpful even if you don't immediately connect the word 'shame' with your own experience. Brown details how shame can masquerade as other emotions (often guilt) so you may find that you have been thinking you were experiencing a different emotion, when you are actually experiencing shame.

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