Saturday, October 13, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 15.1 Despair
Shame strikes deepest into the human psyche;
it is a sickness within the self, a disease of the spirit.
(Kaufman 1980: xvi)
All of the participants talked about the self and mentioned this concept for a total of 186 times. This seems to confirm the notion that shame is closely related to who we are, not so much as to what we do. But this relation is complicated and interwoven with other emotions, like guilt. In order to define what a self-image consists of, I refer to Cooley (1902/2006) who describes self-image in the first step in his concept of the Looking-Glass self. He argues that ones self-image consists of a complex picture of our appearance, traits and personalities. In order to define the concept of shame (which I understand as a social-self-conscious emotion) it seems necessary to first explore the relation between shame and the self.
Margaret, who was sexually abused by her father and grandfather as a child, makes a connection between despair and shame by saying that shame is actually located inside despair.
Margaret: But shame lies hidden. That’s my experience. Shame is not obvious, umm (.) Those who come here to the centre (.) for the first time, they have probably not spoken to anyone about the sexual abuse they’ve experienced before. Maybe it’s because they didn’t want to. There are many reasons. ((Changes her sitting position)) But they have not said a word to anyone before. So when they come here with a hope of getting some help in order to live a better life, what you see first is despair. Why do I feel the way I do? Why does it have to be this way?
Kaare: Despair comes first?
Margaret: Yeah, that’s my experience…In my view it’s despair, and despair contains a whole lot. It’s inside of this despair that you find shame. But not only shame, you also find anger and hate, a whole lot of things. That’s my opinion. (.) Despair is a real big package with a lot inside. But when you open the package you first find soreness. That’s the wound. That’s umm (.) anxiety, a lot of anxiety…When you give security, give space so that they can just be themselves, and can feel that that’s ok, and they start to express their feelings, whatever they might be, shame, guilt, anger, hate, rage, whatever, but they have to let go of something here. Whatever it is… Becoming small again is the last thing we want to do. We keep our guard up until we die. (.) If shame had been obvious, we would be real easy to step on, even worse than before. By setting up a wall, you can appear to be someone else, you have a tough image, and then you can’t be trampled upon so easily.
Despair is usually understood as a state of hopelessness and not and emotion as shame as guilt are. As a state of being, despair seems to include many different emotions where shame is one. Margaret has worked at the Incest Centre in Vestfold for many years and argues from her experience that shame is hidden and not easy to find. People with shame do often what they can to hide this emotion. Despair, understood as hopelessness, is not a psychological emotion, but rather a mode of being, and as such it is not an easy subject for any science to investigate. No science can explain the transition between being and nonbeing. Cole (1971) argues the next best thing is therefore to study an emotion which is the supposition of despair; and in this dissertation the focus for the exploration is the concept and phenomenon of shame.
Tompins (1963/2008), Kaufman (1980, 1989), and Kaufmann and Raphael (1996) connect the concept of despair with the concept of shame in their examination of shame:
The root of shame lies in sudden unexpected exposure. We stand revealed as lesser, painfully diminished in our own eyes and in the eyes of others as well. Such loss of face is inherent to shame. Binding self-consciousness along with deepening self-doubt follow quickly as products of shame, immersing the self further into despair. To live with shame is to feel alienated and defeated, never quite good enough to belong. And secretly we feel to blame. The deficiency lies within ourselves alone. Shame is without parallel a sickness of the soul. (Kaufman 1980: 12)
The resemblance between shame and Kierkegaard’s concept of despair is, in my opinion, apparent in Kaufman and Raphael (1996) when they write that we feel divided and that the self feels ruptured by shame. It must be noted that Kierkegaard has not in any of his writings connected the concept of despair with shame. These reflections of the possible connection between despair and shame are mine own and appeared after hearing the stories from my informants and must not be misunderstood as Kierkegaard’s objective. Kierkegaard meant, in my opinion, that despair is a sickness of the soul which is a result of living a life without God. Kaufman above does not mention God, but says that shame is a result of sudden unexpected exposure in the eyes of others.
In the midst of shame, there is an ambivalent longing for reunion with whomever shamed us. We feel divided and secretly yearn to feel one, whole. The experience of shame feels like a rupture either in self, in a particular relationship, or both. Shame is an affective experience that violates both interpersonal trust and internal security. Intense shame is a sickness within the self, a disease of the spirit. (Kaufman and Raphael 1996: 18)
Kaufman and Raphael (1996) also explain the importance of the self’s relation with the self; it involves a conversation within the self, a conversation which heals.
Learning to accept, respect, and love the young, needy child inside of her was one client’s way of learning to nurture herself…Learning to accept, no longer fight against, being mortal, human, and imperfect is a way of talking to oneself which heals…Talking to oneself in such ways enables a much more satisfying relationship with oneself to grow and evolve. (Kaufman and Raphael 1996: 157)
Acceptance, respect and love are in my opinion essential in the struggle for recognition, for the healing of shame, and for changing ones identity from that of a victim to a survivor of sexual abuse.
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