Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 9.2. A working concept of shame

9.2 A working concept of shame

Lewis has constructed a working concept of shame (table 4) and explains the concept through six categories: stimulus, sexual desire, consciousness, self in the field, hostility, and defences (this table can be compared to a similar table for guilt in appendix 3). Her working concept shows that the concept of shame is complex and one should be careful not to fall for the temptation to use simple or superficial definitions.

Table 4: Working concept for shame

1. Stimulus
1. Disappointment, defeat or moral transgression

2. Deficiency in self

3. Involuntary, self unable

4. Encounter with “other”
2. Sexual desire
1. Specific connection to sex
3. Consciousness
1. Painful emotion

2. Autonomic reactions

3. Connections to past feelings

4. Many variants of shame feelings

5. Fewer variations of cognitive content (the self)

6. Identity thoughts
4. Self in the field
1. Self passive

2. Self focal in awareness

3. Multiple functions of the self at the same time

4. Vicarious experience of “others” view of self
5. Hostility
1. Humiliated fury

2. Discharge blocked by guilt and/or love of “other” discharge on self
6. Defences
1. Denial

2. Repression of ideas

3. Affirmation of the self

4. Affect disorder: depression
(Adopted from Lewis 1971:  90-91)

I asked Ruth if they experience shame at the Incest Centre in Vestfold and she gave an example of the complex nature of shame and how this shame is related to one’s self-image. Several of the above mentioned elements in the working definition of shame can be found in Ruth’s’ statement.

Kaare:             Have you experienced shame here?
Ruth:                          Uh-huh ((Nods her head)) Very often. Especially when they have experienced pleasure during the abuse. That makes them guilty. They try to explain that the abuser isn’t the only guilty person involved. I was there and I liked (.) it… And then they place the responsibility for the abuse with themselves (.) or they feel that they are ugly and horrible and filthy. Their whole body is shamed. They feel shame just coming through the door here, and saying hi. Does anyone here want to say hi back again? I can’t understand why anyone would say hi to me… They come in and sit down with the others here and they experience that the others can’t see that they’re dirty and filthy, there’s nothing strange about them. They change their self-image in the meeting with other users. Shame disappears when they expose themselves to new experiences. They challenge themselves and dare to experience umm that they might have to re-evaluate their self-image.

Ruth mentions here the difficult situations of sexual abuse experience in feeling pleasure while being sexually abused and the guilt and shame that is felt afterwards, and that their self-image changes through the meetings with others and through new experiences. This seems to be a significant part in the way the Incest Center in Vestfold helps other; receiving people as they are and starting a changing process there by giving them new experiences together with others.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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