Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 19.0 Food

19.0 Food      

13 participants talk about food in relation to shame in the interviews, and they mention food a total of 79 times (appendix 4). Food was also a topic spoken of in relation to body, being a means of control; some try to take back control of their body by controlling their eating routines in distorted ways. Camilla, Dagny, Bodil and Anne were all in the same focus group and discussed amongst other things their relation to food. They seem to show that they have different relations to it. Camilla and Bodil deny themselves food while Dagny and Anne eat abundant quantities of food. Even though they use food in different ways, they all seem to understand each other and why they relate to food the way they do. The common denominator in their mutual strive to control their eating seems to be shame. They’re ashamed both when they eat too much, when they do not eat too little, and just eating enough. The relation to food which Camilla and Bodil have has put them in situations where their health has been at risk. Both seem to have anorexia, and in periods as adults weighed close to 30 kilos. Weighing so little has made it necessary for hospital treatment, which again is experienced as shameful, because they once again lose control of their body. It might seem that victims experience that others once again take control of their body and therefore shame is induced, making life difficult.

Camilla:          I feel ashamed every time I eat ((Smiles)) I feel ashamed then. I really do. I feel that I’m doing something I’m not supposed to. Then I feel shame.
Kaare:             How little have you weighed?
Camilla:          I’ve been a patient several times.
Kaare:             You have? Have you weighed less than 40 kilos?
Camilla:          I’ve weighed as little as 33 kilos. I’m much better now, but I still feel ashamed every time I eat. When I weighed 33 kilos I knew I had to go to the hospital. It was awfully shameful to gain weight again. I felt that I lost control. I’m terrified of losing control. Even though I have a normal weight now, it’s very difficult to cope.
Dagny:            I can relate to that ((Nods her head towards Camilla)) about food and eating. But for me it’s the other way around. I can sit there and think my body looks fat and sloppy, and the next second I can sit there eating everything I can find. I eat until I go to bed, and when I wake up, I usually eat in the evenings, when I wake up the next day I’ve a whole lot of problems with my conscience for eating so much. So I try to compensate by not eating the rest of the day. That’s not very smart. My blood sugar goes up and down. And when the evening comes again, I eat everything I can find before going to bed, and the next day, I have an even guiltier conscience. ((Twirls her hands around and shakes her head)). Everything goes wrong.
Camilla:          It has to do with trusting others. At least for me it does, (  ) it’s not dangerous to eat.
Bodil:              ((Nods her head)) I know everything about that, ((Laughs)) in periods I’ve had problems with food and eating.
Kaare:             Have you also weighed 30-40 kilos?
Bodil:              Oh yeah.
Anne:              There are a lot of tricks you can do with food and eating. Not eating, eating real fast, or a whole lot. Those are the tricks I’ve used. I’ve got diabetes and that makes eating much more complicated. Or it has greater consequences when I don’t eat. I can’t have periods where I don’t eat at all. I’m either ashamed of feeling so stupid, horrible, and completely useless, and therefore don’t deserve any food. And then everything can change the other way and I eat much too much and feel ashamed about that afterwards. ((Laughs))…Both are just as shameful.

Camilla, Bodil and Anne smile and laugh when they say that they are ashamed of there eating disorders, and thereby seem to show, in my opinion, paralinguistic markers (appendix 20) of feeling shame when speaking on this subject. Speaking of this seeming shameful subject in a focus group was also in my opinion an advantage. They spoke freely together, making alliances and supporting each other in a manner that would have been impossible with in-depth interviews one by one. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.6 Looking in the mirror

18.6 Looking in the mirror

Some victims of sexual abuse seem to try to detach themselves from their shame by creating several identities. Lewis (1995) argues that the most severe manifestation of this is in people with multiple personality disorder, where an individual tries to create other personalities to bear the shame. These people may have been victims of seriously traumatic childhood abuse, but it seems that it is not the sexual abuse in itself that creates the multiple personality disorder; it is according to Lewis (1995) the shame elicited by the abuse which causes this disorder. In my opinion, it would be interesting to explore further the concept and phenomenon of shame within the context of psychiatric institutions and to see how shame is related to various psychiatric disorders and conditions, by interviewing employees and psychiatric patients and collecting their narratives of shame as carried out in this exploration.

None of the participants in this study speak of multiple personalities, but several speak of having an alienated relation to their bodies. Gunhild is not fond of her body and never looks at her body in a mirror. She looks down and laughs as she tells that she sees herself as an old ugly woman, a wrinkled hag. She also believes she has many sores, wounds and cuts. The fact that she looks down and laughs while she says this might indicate that she it shameful to talk about this. Gunhild is women in her 30’s and has neither wrinkles, sores, wounds nor cuts that are visible in the interview.

Gunhild:         I never look in a mirror. I don’t want to see myself. There’s nothing of interest there. Why should I look?
Kaare:             Are you fond of your body?
Gunhild:         No, It’s not possible for me to be fond of it...
Kaare:             What do you think you’d see in a mirror?
Gunhild:         ((Looks down)) (.) Oh no ((Laughs)) I would see an old, ugly woman, that’s all, a wrinkled hag. I feel like I’m really old…with lots of sores, wounds and cuts.
Kaare:             I can’t see any?
Gunhild:         I do… and that’s a problem in the summertime when it’s hot. Everybody tells me to take my clothes off all the time. But I don’t want anyone to see my body… I even bathe with a t-shirt on….it is all about not liking my body. I don’t want to relate to it. Taking off my clothes means that someone can see it. I become visible.

Gunhild is painfully aware that her self-image is created as a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child by several men. Changing this self-image is one of the goals she has as a user of the Incest Center. She believes to be on the right way to create a new identity because she now can talk freely of her abuse and sees herself as a victim of sexual abuse. At the Incest Center, she is allowed to be herself and have new experiences of how others see her, contesting her own evaluation and gradually giving her the experience that change is possible.

In this section, I have focused on the relation between shame and the body. This relationship seems very complicated and I have only scratched the surface of this area of research. The participants seem to locate their shame in their bodies; shame is embodied. Some of them have developed the ability to leave their bodies and view themselves from the outside. Some continue to abuse their bodies. Some choose not to relate to their bodies. Some do everything possible to hide their bodies. The variations are vast and the demand for further research in this area seems overwhelming. Food and body are in many ways related, but I treat them separately in this study. Many people try to control their bodies through the food they eat. Eating very little or too much can have an effect on body shape, and be used as protection against further abuse. I will now take a closer look at what the participants say about food. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.5 Nakedness

18.5 Nakedness

Ellen and Margaret both speak of their bodies being abused; without respect and recognition. Instead of placing the responsibility on their abusers, they think that their bodies are to blame. Something about their bodies seems to them to be wrong. In my opinion, sexual abuse has changed their self-image, destroying it and replaced a positive self-image with shame. Shame has to do with being seen; a feeling of nakedness. Stempsey (2004) argues that when someone feels body-shame, that this is particularly associated with nakedness. The Greek word for genitals, aidoia, is derived from the word for shame, aidòs. This is also represented in the Norwegian word for the outer and inner lips of the vulva (Latin: labia majora and labia minora) being called the “shame lips” (skamleppene) and the Norwegian word for the pelvic bone (Latin: os pubis) as the “shame bone” (skamben). If one is caught naked unexpectedly, a natural reaction for many will be to cover oneself, especially what we call our “private parts”. In such situations many are likely experience to a sensation of embarrassment or even shame. The story of Adam and Eve (The Holy Bible, Genesis, chapter 3) also makes this point; they disobey God’s commandment, and then “they knew that they were naked”; “Adam and Eve hid themselves”, and Adam says that he was afraid “because I was naked” (not because he had disobeyed). Guilt, one might say, goes with doing something bad: shame with appearing in a bad light. Knut, who was sexually abused in his youth by an aunt who lived next door, feels very vulnerable when he is naked.

Knut:                          When I’m naked, when I feel that I’m naked, then I’m vulnerable. I have rooms inside of me that are mine only, where I can be naked. I don’t want to be open for everyone. Then I’d feel real naked. I have to have control

Shame is usually associated with nakedness, being exposed, as with the story of Adam and Eve mentioned above.  In the same fashion we try to hide our nakedness by covering our face with our hands. It is of course irrational to believe that one will disappear by hiding in this way. But one at least has the benefit of not seeing the eyes of others when hiding in this way. Of course, similar feelings occur in other situations that are unrelated to the nakedness of ones genitals. Shame is, in my opinion, not just being “naked”, but by being seen as naked by someone whose opinions matter to us. Most people are not ashamed of criticism from an observer whose views we do not respect. For example; being stopped by a stranger on the sidewalk and being told that your ugly, can be experienced as much less brutal and shameful, than if ones loved one says the same thing when having a romantic dinner together. Furthermore, actual observation by others need not occur, in my opinion. Shame is an emotion involving self-evaluation. One can feel shame when merely imagining acting in a shameful manner in the presence of a person or persons whom one deems to be important in relation to the situation. It is possible to feel shame being completely alone. Shame is then, in my opinion, a self evaluation which incites the disapproval of an audience deemed as significant others (betydningsfulle andre), whether the audience is present or not. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.4 Worthlessness

18.4 Worthlessness

Being ashamed of ones body is also the subject of attention for Dagny and Gunhild. They have both been sexually abused as children and are now users of the Incest Center in Vestfold. They speak of their bodies as filthy and do not want to relate to their bodies. They say that everything about the body is difficult. 

Dagny:            Everything about the body is difficult. You’re either too fat or too thin; it’s like that for everyone, too much of this or too little of that. If you also have had someone fool around with your self-image, it gets even worse. Shame, body and sexuality are very closely interwoven with each other… ((Nods her head)) (.) An emotional block (.) in your body which comes when intimate parts are touched, you don’t show (.) the proper (.) ((Waves her hands and laughs)) reaction that you should because you’re not, because you’re not as fond of your body as you could have been.
Gunhild:         I feel like shit…I’m filthy…I don’t care about my body; I don’t want to relate to my body.
Kaare:             Is that a form of shame?
Gunhild:         Yeah, I think so.
Kaare:             Are you ashamed of your body?
Gunhild:         Yeah.

Dagny shows, in my opinion, that her body is difficult to talk about and shows paralinguistic markers (appendix 20) of shame by having several breaks in her sentence when she speaks of having her intimate parts touched by her abuser and at the same time laughs of the abuse. Johnson (2006) argues that this feeling of ones body being filthy, as Dagny and Gunhild have spoken about, has to do with feeling worthless and argues that at the most severe level of shame, we are afraid of any kind of self-expression because to be seen is to be seen as dirty, disgusting, worthless, and unlovable. To be seen by others can even sometimes be felt as putting ones whole extinction in danger. The only security lies in withdrawal and isolation because everyone seems knows or sees that one is completely worthless.

Ellen is also one of the users of the Incest Centre who speaks about being ashamed of her body. She argues that the picture of an ideal body in our modern society is that everything is supposed to be perfect, and she sees her body as ugly and disgusting. She also speaks of being tortured as a child; being beaten with a branch on her back and on the soles of her feet. This has resulted in a scratching obsession where she scratches everything that hurts or seems disgusting until she starts to bleed.

Ellen:              I’m ashamed of my body ((Looks down at the floor))…I wish I could have another body…Shame. Everything is supposed to be so perfect. My body is ugly and disgusting. I can see it in the way others stare at me. I can sit and scratch my back till I start to bleed. I have sores all over the place. Try to scratch away everything that hurts, disgusting and awful, in a way.
Kaare:             Why do you scratch your back?
Ellen:              XXX, he was one of my abusers. He hit me a lot. I remember him standing there with a branch from a willow tree in his hands. I even had to fetch the branch myself. I just remember the branch swinging through the air and hitting my back. He didn’t stop until I started to bleed. I’ve got big scars on by back. I scratch and scratch and scratch because it hurts. I was punished, but I hadn’t done anything wrong. I could come home five minutes too late for dinner, especially if he was drunk. He could whip the bottom of my feet so hard that I couldn’t stand up afterwards. He hit the soles of my feet often. He did things like that, and then there was also all the abuse. My body developed quite early, with breasts and things. When I think back, I always had to sit on his lap while he hugged and kissed me and he put his hands on my breasts. He also abused my cousin from the time she was four till she was seventeen. My parents knew about it and, hell, they let me stay with him for two weeks every damned summer anyway. Maybe they thought that he wouldn’t do anything to me. I don’t know. I’ve never got an answer to that…I also scratch myself to take away some pain. I scratch myself till I get sores from it, they look like wounds you have after being burned, they feel wet and moist ((Points to her shoulders)) and then I continue by using a hairbrush I’ve bought especially for that purpose ((Laughs)) and it gets pretty ugly after a while. But this here inner pain I feel so strongly, it is overwhelmed by a physical pain that hurts like hell…I remember the branch flying through the air and hitting my back. It started to bleed. That’s why I have all these scars on my back.

Ellen’s body was abused; hit, abused, tortured. She continues abusing her body by scratching her skin with her fingernails or with a hairbrush. Margaret also feels that her body was abused, tortured, when she was a child. As a child she thought that she was to blame for the way others treated her body; there was something wrong with her body.

Margaret_1:    My feelings are that my umm body was abused, used in an umm wrong, wrong, way. Sometimes I was tortured also. That made me think ((Points to her head)) that there must (.) be something wrong with my body that caused this to happen.

Margaret goes on to say that her shame lies in her body. Her self-value diminishes when she relates to her body. Living with a body she does not like is sometimes difficult and says that this is because her body has been used in many different ways. She tries to distinguish between who she is as a person and what her body is. This makes it possible for her to accept herself, without having to accept her body. She has placed her sexual abuse in her body. Talking about this makes her cry and she hides her face behind her hands, something that might indicate that she feels shame when speaking about her body (appendix 20). Margaret is an employee at the Incest Center and still has to work with her relation to her body.

Margaret:        When it comes to my body, then I lose my self-esteem. If I can remain neutral about my body, then I can manage (.), but if someone makes a comment about how I look, then (.) I have to work a lot with that kind of thing ((Holds up her hand and makes a line in the air at neck level)) Yeah. I don’t like my body.
Kaare:             Is that difficult?

Margaret:        ((Nods her head)) Sometimes yes ((Starts to cry and holds her hands in front of her face)), sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes not. There’s been so much that this here body has been through. It’s been used in so many ways. ((Holds her hand under her chin)) And my shame lies in my body… I want to be me, not my body. I’m working with the idea that I’m not my body, I’m much more. That helps me a lot in accepting myself. I’m more than my body. All of my experiences lie in my body. All of my abuse lies there.