Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 9.3. Shame and intersubjectivity

9.3 Shame and intersubjectivity

Kemper (2006) is concerned with “the power-status theory of emotions” and argues that we feel shame/embarrassment when we sense that we are inadequate. He builds his theory on the works of Goffman, especially The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Goffman 1959) and Behavior in Public Places (Goffman 1963). When we have done something we are ashamed of, the result is often an experience of lost honour. The way out of this shame is not through punishment, but through compensation:

An act or actions that reinstate the person as one who deserves the amount of status originally claimed that has been lost. Thus, if someone acts in a cowardly manner and has thus brought shame on himself or herself, the solution usually is to engage in immoderately risky behavior to show that the act of cowardice was an aberration and not characteristic (Kemper 2006: 100).

Because one is not conferring it in adequate amounts. This can lead either to guilt or shame/embarrassment, or both. If the reason for the deprivation of the other is a power tactic by the self, it will lead to guilt…If the reason, on the other hand, for the deprivation is an inadequacy of the self, then the emotion is shame/embarrassment (Kemper 2006: 101).

Guilt, in this theory, is “concerned with doing wrong to another via excess power, frequently in violation of a moral standard” (Kemper 2006:100). One feels guilt because of a wrong doing which makes one feel that “one does not deserve to receive the amount of status one has claimed for oneself” (Kemper 2006: 100). A person can feel both shame and guilt in the same situation, but according to Kemper it is important to keep them separate. They come from different forms of relationships and the methods needed to cope with them will also differ.

Some investigations into shame and guilt argue that they should be understood as social emotions that appear between people (Scheff and Retzinger 1997; Tangery and Dearing 2002; Turner 2002, 2006; Turner and Stets 2005, 2006). In social constructionist terms one can say that shame and guilt are social constructions that are defined by culture through learned vocabularies of emotions (Turner 2007). The concepts of shame and guilt seem to be found in many different forms of human activities, not just in transgressions but also where we find clear differences between people.

Baumeister, Stillwell and Heatherton (1994) state that shame and guilt serve many unifying functions, including motivating people to treat colleagues well in order to avoid transgressions, minimize differences and make it possible for less powerful colleagues to make their own decisions and to redistribute emotional despair. Both shame and guilt are common forms of despair and have an effect on many of our actions. Some may use them to excuse their offenders, to express sympathy, to manipulate others, to decline having sex, in the upbringing of children, as a support to self-control, and much more. We may avoid a surprisingly large number of behaviors because of the expectation of shame or guilt.

Shame and guilt are emotions that may be found between people as interpersonal reactions (Baumeister et al 1994). This indicates that they are interpersonal phenomena which are both functional and causally tied together with fellowship relations between humans. Their origin, function and development all have important interpersonal aspects. They can work in social relations so that social bonds are strengthened by producing confirmation of care and obligation. They are also mechanisms for smoothing out imbalances and differences in emotional despair within a relation and for exercising influence on others. Their social nature goes much further than the common understanding of moral standards. They appear throughout the lifespan, primarily in interpersonal relations. Some experiences of shame and guilt will naturally occur in the private sphere; in one’s mind and in social isolation. But still, most of these will be drawn from interpersonal processes carried out by well adapted individuals with internalised reference groups.

Attempts to construct clear and unambiguous definitions of shame and guilt often fail because the terms are used in many different ways, often disregarding the fact that they really are two different emotions, connected to different kinds of experiences. Baumeister et al. (1994) argue that psychologists are mainly interested in subjective feelings of guilt. Approaching guilt as a subjective state of being entails that other important and influential ways in which guilt is used become irrelevant. Judicial guilt e.g., has technical definitions that are quite independent of subjective feelings or even feelings of responsibility for past actions. Judicial guilt is based on violations of judicial rules, even though the technical meaning of judicial guilt has developed; it does not depend merely on the quality and quantity of the evidence. Lewis (1971) writes that people can be guilty without feeling any special emotion, as with the judicial definition of guilt. This is discussed further by Ortony (1987) in his article Is Guilt an Emotion?.  He is of the opinion that there are at least two forms of guilt; one that is socio-judicial and the other that has an emotional meaning.

Baumeister et al. (1994) understand guilt as an individual’s unpleasant emotional state of being in connection with possible objections to his or her actions, lack of action, circumstances, or intentions. Guilt is an emotional despair, which is different than fear and anger, and based on the possibility than one may have done something wrong and that others may believe that you have transgressed as well. Guilt differs from shame especially because guilt relates itself to a special action, and shame relates itself to the whole self (Lewis 1971).  Guilt can be differentiated from a fear of punishment since the despair relates to the action rather than to the expectation of the action. One can naturally feel guilt in situations where there is little chance of punishment and therefore little fear. Knowledge of having offended another person can be enough to create guilt, even if the offended person is not able to retaliate against the transgression. On the other hand, it may be difficult to fear punishment from others without feeling some kind of guilt, except when the other person reacts with hostility rather than feeling offended. When guilt is understood as a subjective emotional condition, this means that intra psychic processes are also present. Baumeister et al. (1994) argue that these intrapsychic reactions are significant because of their intrapersonal character.

From an interpersonal perspective, the most common cause of guilt would be causing injury, loss, or despair to a person one has a relationship with. Even though guilt is often tied to close relationships, it is not restricted to them. Proneness to guilt can be generalised from other relationships, including group relationships. Well socialised persons will probably also have learned to feel guilt about causing injury to strangers. An interpersonal perspective, however, means that reactions to guilt will be stronger and more common and meaningful in close relationships than in weak or distant relationships.
Kaare T. Pettersen

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