Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 9.4. Shame and communal relationships

9.4 Shame and communal relationships

Isen (1984/1994) argues that communal relationships (built on common interests) between people seem to have unspoken rules which involve concern for the well-being of others. A consequence of this is that people in such relations do certain things simply because they wish to help each other, without anticipating the return of a good deed. This contrasts with partners in exchange relationships which build on the expectation of reciprocity in order to maintain a balance in the relationship. People seem to be ready to act together, even with strangers, in such a situation because they anticipate the possible development of a communal relationship. They respond to each others’ needs, even though nothing can be done to meet these needs there and then; they help their partners; they feel better after giving help (both in terms of mood and in a self-evaluation), and are more aware of their partners’ emotional condition.

Clark, Mills and Corcoran (1989) explain the connection between communal and exchange relationships in their article Keeping Track of Needs and Inputs of Friends and Strangers. They state that many relations are not pure communal or exchange relations, but a combination of both of these and therefore that guilt and shame in all relations primarily come from the communal component. Describing guilt and shame as interpersonal phenomena can mean very different things depending on whether one is speaking of a communal or an exchange relationship. Freud (1930/2005) argues that the social basis of guilt is totally explainable in terms of exchange relationships. He considers guilt to be a product of human habituation to life in a civilised society. The meaning of such habituation is that all members must give up certain inclinations and needs so that everyone can be protected from being offended by others. Guilt says Freud, is a result of an internal mechanism which makes each individual obey group rules and therefore makes exchange relations possible.

If one analyses guilt and shame in communal relations, the expense-gain analysis may have a different meaning. One might see that guilt and shame are formed to strengthen the common interests of communal relations, and to protect the interpersonal bonds between individuals. Upholding and restoring the function of guilt can therefore strengthen relations. It also seems that people want and perhaps also need communal relations, so that they sometimes react according to the strictures of communal norms, just because the other is a potentially accessible social relation. Many people will adopt an accepted form of behavior, simply because they believe that the person they have just met may perhaps become part of the relation. This is important in order to understand why some people react with feelings of guilt and shame with apparent strangers; these feelings would otherwise be reserved for more intimate partners. An example of this is when people visit the Incest Centre in Vestfold for the first time, without knowing a single person there. Even though they are all strangers, people still react with shame and guilt when they first arrive. Ruth describes the situation, first in the focus group interview and later in the in-depth interview as follows:

Ruth:               It’s connected with shame just to walk in the door here. Are you capable of saying hallo? I understand if you not able to touch me.

Ruth_1:           It’s so hard to come here the first time. I just don’t understand how you were capable of meeting me, as ugly and disgusting as I am.

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