Saturday, October 20, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 16.0 Emotions
All of the participants speak of emotions in the interviews. They speak of emotions in general for a total of 166 times. They distinguish between many different emotions, where shame is mentioned most often as a specific emotion, totally 203 times. Thereafter follows guilt which is mentions 168 times in the interviews (appendix 4).
Margaret argues that shame is more than an emotion; it involves memories that are stored within the body.
Kaare: Is shame an emotion?
Margaret: It’s more than that.
Margaret: It’s a whole lot of memories that are stored within the body…But there’s also a difference between our emotions and our physical bodies.
Margaret continues to explain that the first rule is to accept your emotions. Ruth explains that many people try to harm themselves after seeking help for their shame; they feel that they have betrayed someone by speaking of the abuse they have suffered as children.
Margaret_1: The first rule is to accept that you have the emotions you have. It’s very confusing to feel that you love your mother and at the same time despise her.
Ruth_1: Often, after a conversation here, so I’ve heard, people have been here for a conversation and afterwards they go home and harm themselves. Some of them have done that. They are so ashamed about it, about being here, about coming here, about saying something about a secret which nobody has heard before. They may feel that they have betrayed someone in their thoughts, that they have revealed something about their abuser.
Connor (2001) argues like Margaret that shame is not just an emotion or condition. Shame is a whole mode of being, not a reduced version of ordinary, full existence. Shame is not just a flaw in being: it is an intolerable excess of being. Shame requires heightened attention. Guilt examines itself, seeing itself for what it is. Shame involves averting the eyes. Shame represents a judgement that appears to come from the inside, as that inside meets and massively amplifies a source or correlative in the outside world. Shame is intransitive; its subject is the bearer of it, not its cause. You cannot embrace, identify or acknowledge your shame, because you are completely covered in it: your you-ness is swallowed up in it’s It-ness. The person who feels shame cannot identify with his/her shame, because s/he is identical with it. Shame can engulf the whole person, including all of the person’s emotions.
Shame seems to be, according to the informants in this study, a crucial category at the Incest Center in Vestfold and the other Centres in Norway, but working with other emotions and categories than shame seems also to be important. Ruth explains that when they work with shame, they work with all of the emotions. It takes courage to feel, to let one’s emotions out. Some people cry for the first time, feel anger for the first time, and they ask what these new emotions mean.
Ruth_1: That’s what we work with here. Emotions…Emotions that are all locked up; crying, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, umm…all of them are a part of us. All our emotions are a part of us. Umm and they make us feel alive in a way, that’s what makes us different from other animals.
Ruth: It’s very exciting when emotions surface. It’s one thing to bring the emotions to the surface and help those who need help. One has to release the pain in order to get to the bottom of things. Not for everyone but for a lot of people. But it’s another matter when the emotions are there and you dare to feel what’s coming out for the first time (.) you wonder, because you have maybe never felt that emotion before. You don’t even know what it’s called. What does it mean to be angry? What does it do to you? Dare I show it to anyone? Are we allowed to express the emotion? They struggle with their bodies. No, I can’t, I just can’t. What will the consequences be and what happens if I get mad? It’s not allowed. What happens if I cry? Things will only get worse. I experience this often in conversations and I am there with them, in relation to shame.
It seems difficult to understand that some people have never cried, or felt emotions others view as normal. Crying for the first time as an adult can be a scaring experience. “What happens if I cry?” is a question some victims ask, and fear that life will become even worse if they show their feelings. Ruth has also worked for many years with psychiatric patients on a psychiatric ward and has observed how colleagues there have had problems coping with emotions. Patients who show their emotions by crying or becoming angry can scare those trying to help them. It takes courage not only to express one’s emotions but also to dare to be on the receiving end as well.
Ruth: Umm…emotions and psychiatric treatment were very important for me for many years, until I worked there myself and saw how people were afraid of patients who expressed their emotions. They were scared stiff when someone started to cry or got a little angry. They just didn’t know how to cope with it.
Emotional competence is an important field to focus on in the education and training of social workers and others who work with people with emotional problems. Daring to receive the emotions of a client or patient is also a part of finding the other and starting there in the art of helping. Roberts (1995) argues that emotions can frighten us because they can involve the self. The most important object of shame will be the self, but although this emotion is conscious, it does not mean that one is conscious of one’s self. It is one thing to be conscious of oneself, and another to be conscious of being in that emotional state.
Knut explains what happens when he shuts out his emotions. He shuts himself out, and is not able to feel anything, no sorrow or happiness. He becomes both a prisoner and his own prison guard, not permitting himself the freedom of an emotional life. When he tries to feel something at a later point, he only feels emptiness.
Knut: I’ve pushed away a lot of the unpleasant stuff, just closed the door. And I needed to open the door again when I was older (.). That’s the way I look at it, not that everything had become different, because (.) but I have gone around blaming myself for things and felt guilty because I hadn’t worked with this before…It’s a condition I have to work hard with…Living a life without feeling anything (.) was the greatest burden as time went by. I knew that I had problems relating to other people because of this. I was never happy.
Kaare: Never happy?
Knut: No…I was never sorry for anything, never cried…didn’t have any ups and downs emotionally…I didn’t relate to anything. I didn’t even think about it. It was just a life passing by, friends and fun, parties and things; until I felt the need for a companion of the opposite sex. Relationships developed to a certain point, and then they stopped. I wouldn’t let anyone get too close. That became a heavy load for me when I got older…I wasn’t in harmony with myself at all. I can illustrate this with an example. I could lie down on the floor and really try hard to cry. I could bang and hit the floor and try to find some kind of feeling, but I was completely empty. I was burning my candle down real, real low.
This emptiness seems to me to resemble the Nothingness which Heidegger (1926/1962) speaks of. This Nothingness is characterized by a constant self-blaming and feeling of guilt because he as a child had been sexually abused by his aunt. Without Knut recognizing himself as abused, he closes the door to his emotions and was not able to develop deeper relations to others. Ruth explains that the way Knut relates to his emotions is typical of a lot of those people who seek help coping with shame. They’re locked up and emotionally paralyzed. She argues that the key to understanding shame is to focus on the body and the problems people have with intimacy. Seeking help involves a search for intimacy with the object of their emotions; namely themselves.
Ruth_1: They’ve been locked up for many years, paralyzed, degraded, umm, without being able to have any control (.) no place to escape, they’ve been completely locked up in a corner ((locks her fingers together and tightens her grip)), completely locked. Our emotions are in our bodies.
Kaare: Does shame also sit in our bodies?
Ruth_1: Uh-huh (.). I often ask what they feel and they answer that shame is everywhere, when they try to explain. Where do you feel it? And I can see that they blush. Where do you feel shame in your body? Then they often say that it’s all over the body ((moves her hands up and down the upper part of her body))…Most of them have problems with intimacy. Being touched, receiving a hug, umm…and sometimes they ask; can I put my head on your shoulder? They’ve never done that before…Yeah ((smiles)) umm (.) they start to work with their shame after awhile with confidence and security. After awhile it becomes natural to give each other a hug…We had a person here a while back who lived here for a short period. She told me that on New Year’s Eve she had left a party and gone down to XXX in XXX and prostituted herself (.). She had felt so small, ugly, nasty, and was sick of being at the party, that she needed to (.) in a way (.) shame herself (.) umm…We don’t have many prostitutes here, but we have a lot of women who have had many sexual partners. Umm group sex for example where several have sex together. They don’t have very many boundaries. Some say that they are looking for intimacy and care. And that’s what they get, when they can’t get it elsewhere. So they injure themselves by giving their bodies to others. Sometimes it’s like that.
It seems confusing that Ruth argues that users are not able to have any control when it may look like that they are over-controlled. They seem so full of control that they become paralyzed. Had that been out of control, without boundaries, one would maybe expect them to be wild in their actions and not paralyzed. In my opinion, victims of sexual abuse are more characterized with being too much in control than too little in control, and that helping them to loose some of their need of control is necessary in order to build up new trusting relationships with themselves and others. Linda, in my opinion agrees with this view, and describes how many people use a lot of energy trying to control their emotions when they come to the Incest Centre seeking help. They need help with their emotions, but many do not have the courage to express them.
Linda_1: Some sit like this, straightening out their shoes all the time ((leans forward and looks down at her shoes)) in order to have something to concentrate upon, because their emotions ((points to her head)) are so difficult. I think that they are concerned about having control over their emotions. They don’t want to be exposed...It’s something that doesn’t go away. And it’s also because the incidents that you’ve experienced have made you feel so rotten, horrible, and dirty and that umm that’s something you don’t want to show anybody (.)…There are so many emotions here that take control of you and you can’t do anything about it.
Letting go of some of ones control and showing oneself to others is a risky business. Disappointments of being let down or not accepted can emerge at any time. Several of the participants speak of what might happen if one were to reveal one’s emotions, exposing oneself to others. Camilla, Gunhild, John, Knut and Nina are all afraid of being rejected, turned down, of being forgotten, or feeling inferior to others.
Camilla: I’m usually the one that is forgotten ((laughs)). One feels sorry for oneself. Feels? I feel that I’m not worth others’ time, in a way.
Gunhild: I feel that I’m not good enough, I feel (.) disgusting, yeah.
John: When one doesn’t feel valued by others, than one’s self image, or self-esteem, gets pretty low.
Knut: Because I was afraid of being turned down by others, I rejected myself. That’s something that frustrates me.
Nina: Umm I had an inferiority complex. I don’t know whether it had something to do with shame or not.
All five of these participants speak of the risks involved in becoming oneself and showing other who one really is. Instead of struggling for recognition, they reject themselves, become silent and excluded. Skårderud (2001) argues that this process of being silenced illustrates the disparity of shame. It develops in two directions simultaneously; expressing emotions is something we want to do and something we resist doing. A positive aspect is that shame regulates both self-esteem and intimate relationships. It protects the psychological self from being invaded by others; it helps one to keep danger at a distance. A negative aspect of shame is that too much can be destructive. The main expression of deep shame is silence; it is shameful to speak of one’s shame. Olga and Gunhild speak of this silence, of being locked up, and hating oneself:
Olga: He grew real silent. After moving from home he really locked himself away. Shame can be silence.
Gunhild: Umm. (.) I don’t know if I’ve felt that it’s my fault. I don’t know. It’s more a feeling of disgust, I feel that I’m worthless, I feel like shit. That’s more the type of problem I have. I don’t have any bad feelings towards anyone. Don’t hate anyone and I’m not angry. That’s because I’ve put a lid on myself… I’ve often experienced that umm (.) I’ve felt that I’m different from others (.) I’ve thought why am I the way I am? But that’s who I am. I don’t think I can be any other way. I just don’t want to hate. I hate myself much more than I hate others. I don’t hate anyone except myself.
This silence of shame is perhaps one of its prime trademarks, locking oneself up in Nothingness, feeling worthless, being different and hating oneself. In this section about emotions, shame is described as a mode of being that can engulf the whole person, including all of their emotions. In order to understand the concept of shame, it seems important to focus on the body and the problems people have with intimacy. Coming close to others puts one at risk; one may be rejected, turned down, forgotten or feel inferior. The main way of expressing shame seems to be through silence. I will now take a closer look at the relation between shame and guilt.
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