Thursday, October 18, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 15.7 Betrayal
Ruth tells Sally about girls who experience "physical pleasure" while having sex with their fathers. The resulting shame was probably the worst form of shame that the participants talked about in the interviews. This is because the body betrays the person being abused. They are aware of their shame, but feel that they are active participants in the abuse and do not try to stop it seemingly because they experience physical pleasure. Linda also speaks of abused girls who have experienced orgasm during the abuse. Their bodies enjoyed something their minds did not want.
Ruth: Umm ( ) I’m ashamed of my body. It’s horrible. What kind of things has it been through? Some girls say that their bodies even enjoyed having intercourse with their fathers.
Sally: Christ. That’s something to think about.
Ruth: The body has betrayed you so much that it even enjoys having sex with your dad.
Ruth and Sally seem in my opinion here to be talking about feeling shame and the betrayal of one body. They seem to say that as soon as shame shows itself one understands that one always already have been shamed; it becomes clear that one has been shamed all one’s life. Shame is a destiny of the self. It relates to the indefinite and therefore has something indefinite in its dialectics. Shame is not only dialectically different from sickness, but in relation to shame all signs become dialectical. Shame is, because it is completely dialectical, the sickness that it is the greatest misfortune not to have. It is at the same time the most dangerous sickness to have when one does not want to be cured of it. Linda says that this is also something that boy’s experience. Having sex with a woman as a child, even if this woman is ones mother can lead to a feeling of pleasure. The boys’ penis may become erected, intercourse might be carried out with ones mother, and ones body might experience orgasm. Men have been said to “like it” says Linda, but after a while it becomes disgusting that ones body has betrayed on.
Linda_1: Umm first of all you lose control over your life when you lose control over umm when the abuse happens, because you don’t understand what’s happening, and next you start to dread that it will happen again. You feel that it was awful and all that, but when something in your body enjoyed the abuse, especially boys report that they had erections during the abuse, ((Bites her lips)) (.) then you despair, your body reacts differently than your head. And then there’s your body, some like it, especially men, young men have said so. But umm if you had an orgasm, or felt a little excited and felt that it was ok, and then it’s umm something your mind doesn’t want. But your body liked it in a way, and then it becomes disgusting that my body betrayed me. (.) ((Bites her lips)) You have lost control of your body (.). Can you understand that?
Such experiences of pleasure during the abuse, which Linda is talking about, might result in not wanting the abuse to stop. The abuse may not at the moment be understood as abuse, but a form for recognition from someone one is in a trusting relationship with. This may seem as contradictory, being in shame and not wanting to be cured from ones shame. For what is left if one loses ones shame? Not wanting to be cured of shame can also be understood as having lost faith in oneself (and in others). Why should one be cured of ones shame and start to have faith in oneself or others? In many ways the opposite of feeling shame is to faith. The process of belief involves relating to one’s self, and to be one’s self is to have the self grounded in the moral foundation the self is built on. Shame is a weakness when it is shame related to not willing to be one’s self. In this form of shame, one is ashamed about not willing to be ones self, or ashamed about wanting to be someone other than one’s self, wanting to be a new self. Shame is strength when it leads to a self that grows stronger: to a higher form of belief in oneself and others.
Shame is not only connected to a lack of resistance (passivity) but also to one’s failure to act (action). Ruth says that shame has never been a problem for her, but after listening to Sally and Pia talk about their shame, she becomes conscious of her own shame. She remembers being abused together with another girl by the same abuser when they were children. Today as an adult, whenever she meets this girl, it causes her to blush.
Ruth: Umm shame has never been a problem for me. What I have felt guilty about…is connected to when I told my parents about what had happened to me. I was grownup. I lived at home with my son. I was divorced for a period. I knew that my abuser ( ) and this man here was a ( ) to my mother. It wasn’t just me; he had abused thirteen other girls as well. It was a big case. It was very difficult to live at home when I had to talk to the child welfare office about what had happened. I told my parents to sit down and listen to me. I felt guilty in a way that I have never felt before, not even after the abuse, but then I felt guilty because I hadn’t told my parents before. Umm the way they reacted, they reacted in a way I’d never seen before. They had never shown any emotions before. Never such care as those days after I told them…Umm but ((Gazes up at the ceiling)) I can’t (.) remember ever feeling shame about being abused…I don’t feel shame towards him, I’m completely indifferent towards him.
Sally: Uh-huh ((Nods her head)) Yeah (.) I remember being ashamed of myself the day he died, because I was so happy.
Kaare: Were you ashamed of being glad?
Sally: No…He was my stepfather. I wasn’t ashamed at all. I was only glad that he died. But I was so afraid even (.) when I was 34, it was Christmas, ( ) was six years old, she was the same age as I was when my (.) abuse started. (.) Umm I was visiting my brother when I saw my stepfather walk past on the sidewalk, and I just folded up in a foetal position on the sofa. And I was 34 and I’m not ashamed of it.
Pia: Yeah, I felt a sadness and shame over never being good enough when I was there. If I was there and did what I was supposed to, it wasn’t (.) ever good enough ((Shakes her head)). No, at home I just didn’t fit in, I was never good enough.
Ruth: When we’re talking about shame now, something popped up inside of me. (.) Not in relation to my abuser, but to his daughter. (.) Most of the abuse happened to both of us together ((Looks over towards Sally)) and when I meet her, something we do very rarely, ((Holds her hand in front of her chin)) then I feel it (.) I felt that now. When I meet her, then I remember what we have experienced together. We’ve never talked about what happened. I’m blushing ((Waves her hands in front of her face and looks down)) I don’t know. It’s such a long time ago. At least a year.
This little dialog between Sally, Pia and Ruth show some of the positive usages of focus group interviews. They discuss shame from different perspectives, almost without any involvement from my side. Ruth speaks of not feeling ashamed from being abuse, but changes her perspective after listening to Sally and Pia. After saying that she doesn’t feel any shame toward her perpetrator, only indifference, she receives a recognizing nod from Sally with an extra confirming “yeah”. Then Sally tells how she felt happy when her stepfather who had abused her as a child, died. Something she first says she was ashamed of and right afterwards corrects herself by saying she wasn’t ashamed. For this she receives recognition from Pia with her confirming “yeah”. And she leads the conversation further by saying that she never felt good enough at home. Even when she did what was expected of her, she felt it wasn’t good enough. She felt she didn’t fit in at home. The stories given by Sally and Pia seem in one way or another to function as a “looking-glass” for Sally so that she re-evaluates her previous statement remembers something she had forgotten, and a blushing feeling arises and she looks down, which might indicate a non-verbal marker of shame (appendix 20).
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