Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hiding from humanity

In my PhD thesis about shame and sexual abuse (2009), I meet people at the point of breakdown of humanity, a place of existence that might be experienced as the point of no return for many; where the reults might bed severe psychotic illness, suicide and self-harm. Shame due to sexual abuse at different times in the life course may inflict symbolic burdens in the self to such an extent that people might exclude themselves from social relationships with others, understood as the place for respect  and dignity. People in shame might also try to "hide from humanity" as the American Philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum writes in her book Hiding from Humanity. Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004). She argues here that shame is:  

A way of hiding from our humanity that is both irrational in the normative sense, embodying a wish to be a type of creature one is not, and unreliable in the practical sense, frequently bound up with narcissism and an unwillingness to recogonize the rights and needs of others...Shame is likely to be normatively unreliable in public life, despite its potential for good...a liverat society has particular reasons to inhibit shame and to protect its citizens from shaming (2004: 15).

The background for my particular interest grew out from my work with victims of sexual abuse and sexual offenders over many years. This has given me a competence which was very important to have in my PhD thesis. My intention was to use a sound scientific approach, combined with a moral responsibility og not shaming those who shared their lives and experiences with me further. My aim was to treat all my informants with recognition and respect. I focused on shame in order to learn from my informants and because focusing og shame experiences gives the possiblity for moral growth. I felt that I had lived up to my aims when one of my informants, Linda, said at the aen of my focus group interviews:

 It's been, in a way, ummm, well all the groups say that the way the interviews have been conducted has resulted in us being more welded together than before. We have become better acquinted with each other as individuals. That's the way I felt. It was really all-right to be in the group I was in. It gave us a, umm ((Bites her lip)) umm it felt safe and you gave us umm a whole lot in addition or what can I say. It was a very positive experience.

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