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Are Shadow Comforts Starving Your Spirit?

CT coffee and ice cream

People often ask researcher and author Brené Brown, Ph.D, “Where is the line between pleasure or comfort and numbing?”

This is a powerful question to consider when thinking about how we tend to our needs, process our emotions and truly soothe ourselves.

In her newest book Daring Greatly, Brené cites Jen Louden’s term “shadow comforts,” which refers to the various devices we use to numb ourselves.

Brené writes, “When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.”

How do you know if something is a shadow comfort?

Look at your why. What you do rarely matters. It’s why you do it.

As Jen writes in her book The Life Organizer, “You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness — a real comfort — or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself — a shadow comfort.”

She further explains in this post:

You can eat pie to run away from yourself, your feelings, your truth or you can eat pie as a savoring sacrament. Are you using the pie (the shopping, the TV, the gossip, even reading!) to hide or to soothe or to celebrate? Are you using the pie to prove  you don’t deserve downtime, you can’t be trusted to take care of yourself, or are you connecting with the divine berry glory and letting it nourish and inspire you?

I can absolutely relate to Jen’s words. While I devoured dessert plenty of times in college, I did so with guilt. I didn’t savor it.

Instead, I hid. And I numbed. There was no celebrating or deserving or connecting.

When my dad passed away, I sought some solace in shopping, hoping that by acquiring new, shiny things that I’d patch up the inner holes. (Sure, it was fun. But it was punctuated with elements of escape and numbness.)

To figure out if you’re using something as a shadow comfort, Brené suggests reflecting on your choices, and listening to others, if they’ve raised concerns about your habits. (Dissecting this with a therapist can be valuable, as well.)

She believes that this really speaks to our spirit. And she includes several valuable questions to ask ourselves:

Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading to my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?

For instance, for Brené, sitting down to a delicious meal is nourishing; standing in front of the fridge, however, is a red flag. Watching a favorite show is pleasurable; flipping through random channels is numbing.

What are your red flags? What are your intentions behind certain actions and activities?

Delving into these intentions can help you better understand when you’re starving your spirit and when you’re nourishing it. And it can help you better connect with yourself and others.

Are Shadow Comforts Starving Your Spirit?

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Are Shadow Comforts Starving Your Spirit?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Mar 2014
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