Culture and blaming

There really seems to be a difference between the guilt/blame dynamic in different cultures.

The struggle to understand eating disorders seems to be similar everywhere: shock, confusion, fear. And the "why, why, why" seems universal. It is a life-changing crisis no matter where it happens.

But it splits, it seems, when it comes to the guilt part. I'm not enough of a scholar of cross-cultural differences to explain it, but we Americans seem to do a lot more blaming and guilt.

Is this the the underbelly of "self-determination?" Of the American spirit of unlimited potential?

Freud didn't take off anywhere as well as it did here in the US. Though European, Sigmund and his friends found nurturing waters here. And perhaps that is a clue. Not that Freud messed us up - causing us to blame ourselves and each other for our temperaments and brain functioning - but that we were a willing environment for that sense that 'you can do anything' but 'you are responsible for everything' as well.

My interest in getting parents to stop the guilt and blaming isn't just palliative: these responses are also the most effective way to keep people from being effective in a crisis. If parents were kept outside the room and out of the loop and told 'not to worry' when a young person has leukemia we'd be poor supports to our children. Eating disorders are no different.


  1. I think alot of the guilt/blame comes from misunderstanding ed's. Even some of the dr's my daughter first saw, seemed to think this was a choice she was making. I must be a terrible parent, if my daughter is chosing to starve herself..... With research, I was able to better understand ed's and it help me to fight the ed more effectively for my d. Even well meaning friends and family, don't understand this illness.

  2. Asking why, however, seems to be pretty much a human universal. Before Freud, we looked for religious explanations. And so on.

    When you can't understand why, you at least want some explanation- and blame is the closest thing to it. Parents of children with cancer do the same thing. Did I live to close to power lines? Did he sit by the microwave? Did she not have enough sunblock? Society doesn't engage in that blame, true, but a hundred years ago it might have been written off as "God's will".

    I have found great freedom in trying to let go of the question. In saying maybe there is no good reason why I got sick. I can find meaning in my experience, but there was no meaning behind why I got sick in the first place.

  3. I like that: meaning in the experience rather than in the reason.

  4. I think patients themselves often seek a reason for something that seems (even to the patient) unreasonable but compelling ... "there has to be a reason why I need to do this" ... "why is food, weight, etc., such a big deal?"

    Sometimes, that reason might be reflected in behavioral rituals and magical thinking that help organize the chaos and nonsense and make life with anorexia seem more OK.

    Sometimes, I think reasons/blame can be deflected onto whatever source-of-the-moment promotes ... whether that be media and culture; parents; abuse; perfectionism; religious piety; athletic performance; peer pressure; living up to diagnostic labels; pro-eating disorder blogs/websites.

    All of those things may, indeed, be reasons but a "reason" or cause should be categorized differently than "blame." I think we are apt to call it one-and-the-same. And while we're at it, we double-dog ourselves with generous helpings of Freud.


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