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If you suffer from an eating disorder now or have in the past, please email Joanna for a free telephone consultation.


Eating Disorder Recovery
Joanna Poppink, MFT
Eating Disorder Recovery Psychotherapist
serving Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon and Utah.
All appointments are virtual.

Debasement puts you in an eating disorder trap

Debasement and Self-Criticism: The Trap

If you have an eating disorder, you often feel insecure and question your value as a person. You are certain that the criticism you give yourself is an echo of the criticism you believe is aimed at you from others. No amount of reassurance will alter your position. Reassurance, you believe, comes from people who mean well, are trying to soothe you, don't understand the reality of your worthlessness or are trying to exploit you by making you believe you are better than you know you are.

So, if I and others tell you that your self-criticism is a symptom of your eating disorder and that you are being severe and punishing yourself, you will not accept this position. In fact, this position may prove to you that I and others saying this are not to be relied upon because we are lying or wrong or stupidly oblivious to the reality of your genuine condition.

You may think we are setting you up to exploit you. If this is your experience with yourself and others, you are in the midst of a thorough debasement of yourself. This is not denial or self-sacrifice, although they seem related.


Base means the fundamental principle or underlying concept of your core identity, the center of your self-organization. Your base is the center from which your thoughts, feelings, decisions, perceptions, and activities flow.

Debasement means to cause your base to deteriorate or decrease in quality or character. The fundamentals of your core structure lose worth, value and dignity.

You don't decide to do this to yourself. It's an unconscious process. Most likely, you are attempting to make sense out of your experience in the world.

For example, if you were treated badly by people or forces you believed were correct and benign, then you believed that you deserved this treatment. Your sense of self-worth balanced itself with the treatment you received.

If you are treated badly, you believe your worth is equal to the value you imagine you are given by the forces that hurt you. Debasement takes hold of your belief system.

When you debase yourself, you accept ill-treatment as your lot in life. You have no psychological place to stand to observe and evaluate realistically what you are doing or have done. The only place to stand is on your base, and that has deteriorated.

Your lack of value feels accurate as if it's always been accurate. You accept it without question. Someone else is not debasing you. They accept the value you have placed on yourself and treat you accordingly, i.e., badly. You may suffer, but you accept poor treatment because you believe this is appropriate for you.

The pain from debasement is overwhelming. But, since you can't stop it at its source, you engage in your eating disorder activities to decrease your suffering. You overeat, binge or starve to dull your feelings, accepting that dullness as relief.

You may also put on a false facade, acting as if you were superior to others and deserve special treatment. This is an attempt to protect yourself. But this facade crumbles when you are confronted because you don't have a solid base from which to meet your challengers.

You are also susceptible to abuse and exploitation because you are already groomed for it. Because you have accepted debasement, you continue to reinforce it by debasing yourself.

You are certain that you must give all your time, energy, emotional capacity, worldly goods, etc., to barely receive less than adequate nourishment in your relationships, environment, workplace, family, and on and on.

Because it is self-debasement, you have no criteria for comparison. You don't weigh and measure your worth (except with your body weight and proportions) because you are living the experience of being debased. You have no options because your awareness limits you.

No one else can lift your self-debasement from you. And you don’t know it’s there.

Challenge Your Debasement Beliefs

Can you challenge these beliefs you have about yourself and entertain the possibility that you are worth more than you believe?

  1. Do you have more intelligence and creativity than your job requires?

  2. Do a list of negatives rise up in your mind when you contemplate making a positive change in your life? e.g., you're too fat, too lazy, too stupid or worse, plagued with an unnamable bad thing that everyone sees and that you can't do anything about?

  3. Can you give yourself physical, emotional, and intellectual nourishment even though you believe you don't deserve it? Can you give yourself the chance to grow beyond your debasement and let your genuine value emerge?

  4. Do you look for compliments and reassurance yet reject them?

  5. Do you have people in your life, or have you had them in the past who express a positive perspective toward you, which you reject? Can you rethink your position?

  6. Can you give yourself the gift of a more open mind and work on this issue with your psychotherapist?

Please be kind to yourself. Sit with your awareness for a while. New paths will open to you.

Reader Responses:

This is certainly a lot to digest, but it totally fits. I never thought of this before you wrote about it.

Reader's Response:

Wow...this is kind of interesting, as I'm finding that I am having to dig deep just to bat off the voices (which are mine, but carry the attitude of my parents, mother especially) which say that saying what I want to say in response to this article, is far too conceited, and "up myself," and giving myself more credit than I actually deserve.

It's like it's necessary to acknowledge the level of debasement that is there, just to be able to talk about debasement.

But pushing past those demons, yes, I can see very clearly that my abilities are not acknowledged or reflected in my lifestyle - as I am pretty intelligent, articulate, have good social and communication skills... but I don't have a decent job/career, don't have much in the way of a social life etc.

Given my abilities and talents, I'm very aware that I "should" be so much more, more "successful" than I am. It is the source of much heartache that who I appear to be on the outside doesn't reflect who I am on the inside or utilize any of my positive qualities. I feel that my lack of self-worth and my disallowing myself to value any of my positive attributes is what is responsible for people looking down upon me... it is almost self-fulfilling,

I have become the relatively worthless thing in other people's eyes that I am in my own eyes. What I am, in my own eyes, is what my parents saw me as and told me I was. They punished me for expressing anything that might indicate otherwise.

But all that said, I am aware of this, but I still struggle with how I can remedy this, and gain an adequate amount of self-worth and credibility in light of how others see me.

Joanna’s Response:

Try this for an experimental exercise. Put yourself in an imaginary house of mirrors at a carnival fun house. See yourself distorted into all kinds of absurd contortions because of the quality of the glass. Do you believe that each reflection is an accurate description of you?

If we made a fantasy horror show we could have the individual turn herself into such contortions so that the carnival mirrors reflect the distortion she creates. But if she knows she is creating the distortion herself, then we can play with what her agenda might be in this fantasy movie.

None of the reflections connect with the authentic person of value you are. However, awareness is not a cognitive experience. Awareness is not about soothing compliments, positive descriptions by others, talking yourself into believing something, etc.

You need to protect and nourish the spark of light within you to reach your awareness and valid sense of self. Drop your brain thinking and do the Healing Your Hungry Heart exercises - slowly and daily. See what happens over time.

You ask how you can "remedy this" as if it were a problem to solve. It's not a problem to solve. It's a journey to experience. It's your journey.

Reader's Response:

Thanks, Joanna...I guess when I say "remedy this," it's not the entire situation or the journey of discovery that I want to be free from. I want to be free from those ingrained beliefs and voices that I feel I am constantly battling against...the voices that won't even allow me enough self-worth to recognize that I have an eating disorder. They jump in and say:

"You're just making excuses because you are fat and lazy and just looking for ways to blame others because you look a mess.

“Throw that stupid Healing Your Hungry Heart book in the trash. It doesn't apply to you. It’s for people who really have problems, not lazy people like you."

And of course there is a part of me now, that can counter that argument, and knows it's not true, but it's not established enough that it overrides the other stuff naturally...I feel like I have to keep thinking and fighting or I will just succumb to all the negative stuff.

Joanna’s Response:

If you are struggling this hard with food and body image, then there IS a problem, and Healing Your Hungry Heart can definitely be of use. I think that when people think about eating disorders, they automatically think about the traditional eating disorder diagnoses such as bulimia and anorexia.

From what I have read, there are far more people who fit into a sub-clinical EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise identified) category, which is just as devastating emotionally and often physically. Binge eating disorder is also a clinical issue.

Do you feel that Healing Your Hungry Heart has helped you make progress? Then, don't throw it or your recovery work in the trash.

Reader's Response:

I am trying to understand this essay and had to read it several times. I think the biggest thing I take from this, as far as how it relates to me, is that, at my core, I do feel quite worthless.

I think many people who know me would be shocked to learn this. I spend an amazing amount of time faking a confident, happy demeanor, and it is tiring. I am working through all of this, of course, but I guess I am just saying that I do identify with what you are saying.

Joanna’s Response:

 Yes, it's a struggle to understand the depth and power of the debased situation when you are in it. The challenge is to know who you are with solid and unquestioning conviction and face the fact that you are wrong. It's not easy to do.

This is where trust and faith come in. This is where "trudging" (from Alcoholics Anonymous, i.e. “We trudge the path to happy destiny”) comes in. This is where you do the Healing Your Hungry Heart exercises without any thoughts about the outcome.

Your thinking will be entangled with your incorrect but solid beliefs about your identity. So, you need to challenge your thinking and outgrow this cognitive trap. How? You heal your way out.

You strengthen weak parts of yourself. You expand your awareness. You develop the strength and competence to tolerate what comes into your awareness.

You cannot reach inside yourself to pull yourself out of this. You have to nurture your entire being so you develop. That includes setting boundaries and honoring healthy proportions in everything - food, exercise, time with loved ones, time in developing yourself, work, play - the lot.

It's hard going because your defenses will rise up and tell you that you are not worth who or what genuinely cares for you and supports the best in you. So, you trust, have faith, feel bewildered, scared, mad...and you keep trudging!

Does this help?

Reader's Response:

It does, Joanna. And I journaled a little about my attempts at trudging by doing the Healing Your Hungry Heart exercises.

My therapist and I spoke about boundaries today, as a matter of fact. How I need to take better care of myself and put myself and my kids first. I spread myself so thin.

The trust part is hard because everything seems so hopeless right now...feel like I have tried and tried and tried. However, here I am, trying again. I guess that is the best thing I can do. I also shared with my therapist today how mad I am and how angry I am at being in a place like this emotionally.

Trudging is all I can do right now. I am glad that trudging is a good thing. I still have a little faith left in me that perhaps this time, things will be better.

If I didn't have a little faith, I would completely give up, which I have not done. Scared I will get to that point, but I haven't gotten there yet

It is nice to know that my supervisors are supportive and that I have a great track record at my job. I have always been a very reliable, dependable, and hardworking employee. I discussed limit setting with my therapist today regarding my work.

I tend to do too much, even doing things for others and their families. I genuinely feel for other people and want to help them. But lately, I have felt angry with them because I am spending all of my energy helping them and not enough on helping myself.

I am trudging, though, and trying to figure out ways to get some respite. I am planning a little vacation next month with just my kids...

Hey! I just realized I am doing future planning. I haven't done a lot of that lately. That is progress for me today.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Written by Joanna Poppink, MFT. Joanna is a psychotherapist in private practice specializing in eating disorder recovery, stress, PTSD, and adult development.

She is licensed in CA, AZ, OR, FL, and UT. Author of the Book: Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder

Appointments are virtual.

For a free telephone consultation, e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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