Thursday, September 13, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 4.1.4 The critique of ideal representations
Kierkegaard’s book Works of Love (1847/1995) is primarily about a critique of ideal representations which in my opinion is about the battle between the way we view ourselves, and the way we view others – and that these ideal representations must be deconstructed or destroyed so that we can humbly accept our selves and the other as we are. Giddens (1991) argues that the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is about ones anxiety which appears when the boundaries for ones conscience are crossed, while shame is about being unsuccessful in fulfilling ones ideal representations. He states that when it comes to ones self-image, shame is more important than guilt.
The arguments of Works of Love (Kierkegaard 1847/1995) and Sickness unto Death (Kierkegaard 1849/1980) are in my opinion inter-related. Sickness unto Death develops Kierkegaard’s concept of the self as a set of relations and these relations are analysed further in Works of Love. This analysis demonstrates that what a person does to others also affects the self. It would be interesting to explore the edifying aspects given in the Works of Love in relation to the concept and phenomenon of shame, but conducting such an analysis in addition to the analysis of despair in Sickness unto Death would not be within the framework of this dissertation. But it must be noted that I perceive Works of Love as Kierkegaard’s perhaps most important edifying work and an exploration of the importance of love in social work could draw many useful reflections from Works of Love. Love is also an important condition for Honneth (1996) in his theory of recognition
Even though Kierkegaard is critical of ideal representations, he retains the idea of the normative goal of becoming a self. The opening passage in Sickness unto Death (Kierkegaard 1849/1980) is normative. A human being is spirit and as spirit a self. Kierkegaard presents a clear definition of the normative nature of this process in his analysis of despair; the goal of normative development is to become one’s self. But this is also a definition of what it means to be a human being.
Dagny speaks of how the trust one feels in others gradually diminishes when you are abused as a child. I read this passage as an example of the ideal representations one has of one’s self and of others that are destroyed.
Dagny: You can’t say no because others have taken the possibility of saying no away from you. You have to do what others say all the time. You push yourself too far to please others. And then you sit there with a poor image of yourself, because you never get anything in return. And if you meet a partner for example, who abuses your trust, because you’re naïve and a very giving person, and he exploits you, and if this happens two or three times in your life, together with what happened when you were a child, then it starts to add up to quite a lot. And that’s when shame gradually grows and grows, and soon you don’t trust anyone anymore.
Dagny speaks of a shame which grows and grows, a development which seems to result in the distrust in others. Helping people in such a distrusting condition demand a lot from the helper, and I will in the following give an interpretation of what Kierkegaard means is the secret in the art of helping (Hjelpekunstens hemmelighet). In my opinion, this illustrates that Kierkegaard not only explores despair (which I relate to shame in this dissertation) but also shows how it is possible to help others out of ones despair (as with shame). I include this interpretation in this dissertation because so many of the participants in interviews in the Incest Centre in Vestfold speak of starting were the other is as crucial for helping others with shame.
Kaare T. Pettersen
Pettersen,Kaare Torgny, 2009: An Exploration into the Concept and Phenomenon of Shamewithin the Context of Child Sexual Abuse. An Existential-Dialogical Perspectiveof Social Work within the Settings of a Norwegian Incest Centre. PhD 2009 Department of Social Work and HealthScience Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management. NorwegianUniversity of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway. Doctoral theses 2009: 184