Sunday, October 21, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 16.1 Guilt
All of the participants talked about guilt in the interviews. Guilt is mentioned 168 times in the interviews (appendix 4), however, it is surpassed by; shame (293 times), body (225 times), the Incest Centre (224 times) and self-image (186 times). Since guilt and shame seem to be highly correlated (table 7), I anticipated that the number of references to guilt would only be exceeded by references to the concept of shame in the interviews.
How do the participants describe the concept and phenomenon of guilt? Do the participants understand shame and guilt to be the same emotion or as two distinctly different emotions? If they are related, how is this expressed? The participants in this study reflect upon these and other questions. Ivar says that he feels shame and embarrassment in relation to the abuse he suffered as a child, but that he does not feel any guilt. He sees shame and guilt as two distinctly different emotions.
Ivar: Well, I don’t feel any guilt with regard to the abuse I’ve experienced; shameful and embarrassed, yes, ((Nods his head)) but not guilt ((Shakes his head)).
Ivar was sexually abused by several perpetrators, both men and women, in his childhood. He describes the abuse he suffered as torture, and knows that the abusers are guilty, even though they were never reported to the police nor imposed a jail sentence. Guilt is more than being found guilty by a judge in a courtroom. Guilt is also a moral feeling produced because of a wrong doing. Ivar does not feel guilt, but he feels shame and embarrassment. Many researchers agree with Ivar that guilt and shame are two distinct emotions and that an important difference between them is in the degree of focus on the self (Lewis 1971; Tangney 1998; Eisenberg 2000). When a person experiences shame, the entire self can feel itself exposed, inferior, and degraded. Adults report that shame experiences are more painful and intense than guilt experiences and are associated with a preoccupation with the opinions of others. In contrast, guilt is generally less painful and devastating because, when one experiences guilt, the primary concern is with a particular behavior which does not involve the self (Ferguson et al. 1991, 1997, 1999; Tangney 1998). The person who feels guilt accepts responsibility for a behavior that violates internalized standards or causes another’s distress and desires to make amends or punish the self (Ferguson and Stegge 1998; Hoffman 1998; Tangney 1991) regardless of whether they are guilty or not, and a person can be guilty without feeling guilt (Leer-Salvesen 1991).
Even though Ivar can distinguish between guilt and shame, others experience that the two emotions are related. Sally says that shame is related to guilt in a way. If one first feels guilt and responsibility for a wrongdoing, the result can be shame.
Sally: I think shame is something that comes after guilt.
Showing oneself as a wrong doer might be a presentation of oneself which conflicts with ones self-image, and this might result in a feeling of shame. But it might also be possible that the first feeling of guilt which Sally speaks of, in reality is shame which she has defined as guilt. It might be that shame is so shameful to acknowledge, that it instead is defined as guilt. The illusion of guilt might diminish over time so that the underlying feeling of shame becomes uncovered. Grainger (1991) asks whether shame can be guilt in disguise, for example that shame can be viewed as the little boy or girl who resides inside each and every one of us and who feels shame but calls it guilt. We have all been children and a part of us will always remain child-like, still seeking to have its needs met. Is the feeling of shame we have as adults really the same as the feeling of guilt we had as children because we did not live up to the expectations of our parents? This is a possible explanation in some cases, but I believe Pia to be right when she argues that guilt a feeling one feels after doing something wrong as a child. Shame and guilt were easier to distinguish from each other in childhood years. Distinguishing between them as an adult is much more complicated.
Pia: Guilt? I think of a lot of episodes when I was smaller and did naughty things. I remember breaking a cellar window. I knew it was wrong. But the people who lived there, they weren’t fond of kids. So we fought back. We knew afterwards that we had done something wrong. (.) That’s what I remember as a child, it was much easier to know the difference between shame and guilt when I was a child than as a grownup…They overlap much more now.
Pia argues that there are two forms of guilt, doing something wrong and being guilty and the feeling of guilt. Baumeister, Stillwell and Heatherton (1995) argue that there are, as Pia indicates, two forms of guilt. One form of guilt can be seen as a mechanism that alters behavior in the service of maintaining good interpersonal relationships between long-term partners. Feeling guilty can be associated with higher rates of lesson learning, changing subsequent behavior, apologizing, confessing transgressions, and recognizing how a relationship partner’s standards and expectations differ from one’s own. Inducing guilt can therefore be an effective way of influencing the behavior of relationship partners. The other form of guilt develops as we become a part of society and conform to society’s rules. This makes it complicated to explain guilt. These rules may differ in various countries and in different societies within our own country. The rules of society may differ from Northern Norway and Southern Norway, between village in the country side and in larger urban areas, or even within different parts of a city. Several participants in the interviews also reflect this difficulty. Camilla says that guilt can be forgiven while Helga wonders who made her feel guilty. Dagny says guilt comes from doing something wrong and shame comes after feeling guilt; shame is thus both a cause and an effect of doing something wrong. Ellen has a bad conscience for everything and nothing; she says that she uses the word guilt even though she feels shame. They show the many different faces guilt can have, but they agree that it has to do with doing something wrong.
Camilla: Guilt is something that can be forgiven
Dagny: Guilt is in a way, how can I explain? (.) In a way, something I’ve done, that I can be guilty of. Shame is a cause, an effect, of doing something wrong. That was weird. Well, guilt is umm one feels guilty about what one has done, while shame is something that comes afterwards, after feeling guilt.
Camilla: But what about me? I still feel guilt about something I’m not guilty of. If I feel that I deserve to feel good, then I have to work on that in order to do something about my shame. I have to work with my feeling of guilt.
Ellen: I have a lot of guilt feelings. I feel that a lot. A bad conscience for everything. For everything and nothing. I can feel shame in some situations…but I use the word guilt.
Helga: I often wonder about the fact that there must have been someone who gave me this feeling of guilt.
Ellen says that she has a lot of guilt feelings and that the shame she feels is something she also calls guilt. She seems to characterize them as a single emotion. Harris (2003) has carried out a study in order to examine whether theoretical distinctions between shame and guilt can be empirically supported. The expected distinctions between shame and guilt were not found in this study; instead shame and guilt seemed to occur as a single emotion. The results could suggest that shame and guilt are emotions that are indistinguishable in some scenarios. In response to a wrongdoing, an individual might have a certain amount of guilt that is focused upon their actions, but they would also experience a certain degree of negative self-evaluation and shame. Harris (2003) argues that in many contexts both emotions will occur and will be in proportional intensity. Keeping guilt and shame from each other is a difficult matter in some situations. Olga explains that she does not know the difference between shame and guilt; she only knows that she has a lot of both. Pia also explains how complicated it becomes to see the difference between shame and guilt, especially because she blames herself for the wrongdoing and everything seems related.
Olga: I have an example (.) of just that (.) umm I felt very guilty when my mother died. I was seven then. Later on when I started to work on that guilt feeling as an adult, I found out that I felt shame about not having a mother. It was both. ((Lifts up both hands and waves them back and forth)). I tried to keep them apart, but that wasn’t easy…It involved shame because she wasn’t there anymore, and because we didn’t have the things that other children had. We didn’t have the same clothes, we didn’t always have someone to look after us (.) things like that, and we didn’t always have food or good food, and there were things we lacked that are natural for children to have…We felt both guilt and shame, but what’s what? I remember struggling a lot with that. ((Looks at the other three)) (.) I really did, also after becoming an adult. I still don’t know the difference. What’s what? I just know I have a lot of both ((Nods her head)). I have both of them inside of me.
Pia: A lot of people say that everything takes time; we have to talk about it, and it becomes smaller and smaller. And I believe it’s so. But when they’ve placed the blame somewhere and it’s not my fault. The person who had the responsibility was to blame, and then shame is easier to work with. But when you don’t know who’s responsible and feel you are to blame ((Points to her chest)) and the shame, then everything seems related. It becomes chaotic. If you get it out, it’s much easier to work with the shame. Talk about it and get it out. ((Moves her hand from her mouth and outwards).
Olga and Pia argue that shame and guilt share a number of important features and that are difficult to keep apart as different emotions. Lewis (1995a, 1995b, 2000) explains that both shame and guilt are self-conscious emotions; they involve self-referential processes that apply to some standard of the self or behavior. Tangney (1995) argues that shame and guilt are both negatively valenced emotions that typically arise in response to some personal failure or transgression, and says that the kinds of events that give rise to shame and guilt are remarkably similar. Lewis (1971) argues that both emotions involve the internal attribution of negative self-relevant events. I agree that guilt and shame have much in common, but still there seems to be a clear difference in that guilt has to having done something wrong while shame has to do with ones self-image. The focus of guilt is outwards, while the focus of shame is inwards. In some situations these will overlap. Doing something wrong causes a feeling of guilt for the fault committed, and if one feels that one has damaged ones self-image in the blunder, then shame also is induced. Ellen, Helga and Gunhild discuss the guilt they felt as children.
One of the participants, Ellen, brings forth what is for me a new concept; being “guilt-injured” (skyldskada), meaning in my opinion that one can become sick from ones feeling of guilt. She was given the blame for her father’s drinking problems and for his cancer. This is en enormous responsibility for a child to be given, and when it becomes intolerable, agony and suffering may develop into a sickness. She does not say what kind of sickness or injury guilt may induce. But Ellen herself is disabled; psychological immobilized and physically powerless, because of the suffering she experienced in her childhood. Ellen and Helga have had the same experience of being given the responsibility for their parent’s cancer. Helga was blamed her mother’s cancer and for not being the child her mother had hoped for. Gunhild also was given the responsibility for her mother’s schizophrenia. Being blamed by others created self-blame and they felt, and still feel, an enormous guilt. Gunhild says that guilt is sometimes so devastating that she cannot live with it.
Ellen: People become guilt-injured and can even get sick from it…When I was eight I was blamed for my father’s drinking problems; I was guilty of causing his alcohol problems.
Helga: Jesus. I heard that it was my fault that my mother got cancer.
Ellen: Me too when my father got cancer.
Gunhild: I have an enormous feeling of guilt about my mother. She was real sick. She had schizophrenia. I was the cause, it was my fault. Even if she dies, I’ll always feel guilt. And I really believed that it was my fault. I was ten when I felt guilty for this the first time. And ever since, I’ve felt guilt every time my mother was ill. She was ill because of me. It’s been difficult to live with. I can’t live with it. I was never the little girl my mother wanted… I feel awfully guilty about my mother.
Helga: Because you weren’t the girl she had hoped for?
Gunhild: Yeah. I feel really guilty about that. I’ve made her life so difficult. I can’t even give her a call or send her a postcard. I should have given her so much. But I can’t. I pity her and it hurts to see that she’s in so much pain ((Looks down)) and she has experienced so much.
Helga: I’ve felt guilt all (.) my life, but I’ve started to think that Christ, you just can’t give a little child the blame for umm (.)
Taylor (1985) argues, like Ellen, Helga and Gunhild, that guilt is an emotion of self-judgment. Both guilt and shame are about our selves; about who we are and also about what we do. We often do not make precise distinctions when we think about these emotions. We are likely to say that we are ashamed of something that we have done and say that we feel guilty about what we have done. We might also say that we feel embarrassed. However, all of these emotions indicate a process of self-judgement of our character or our actions, or both. Stempsey (2004) argues that the emotions of self-judgement provide us with a means of evaluating ourselves. Evaluation is a comparison of how things are with how things ought to be. For this reason, both guilt and shame are usually recognized as moral concepts.
Ruth explains the massive guilt felt by those who judge themselves as responsible for the abuse they have participated in. She gives an example of a user, who experienced pleasure in the sexual abuse, but still knowing that the actions were wrong and guilt inducing. This may seem as a paradox. Living in such a contradiction can be devastating and difficult to bring to an end. Sexual abuse is usually considered as morally wrong, physically and psychologically painful for the victim, and resulting in a vast number of negative outcomes.
Ruth_1: Many adults give their children the responsibility for and feelings of guilt about the abuse…They carry a feeling of guilt umm ((Rubs her hands together)) I can give quite a few examples of women here in conversations who say that they have had some pleasure (.) while being abused when they’d grown a bit older. (.) Umm ((Looks up at the ceiling)) Today they judge themselves (.) horribly; one of them says it’s because she hasn’t said anything about the abuse to anyone. She’s still being abused and she’s over 30. (.) Umm and she judges herself so harshly...she hasn’t said anything and feels guilty, she’s guilty of still living with the abuse…She feels that she’s part of the abuse. She’s guilty of the abuse.
Considering sexual abuse as something pleasurable is challenging to the established view of sexual abuse. The example given by Ruth is in my opinion important to reflect upon. People can be abused and not be able to escape out of the relationship and being able to live, because one might lack the will to break out of the relationship or because the feeling og guilt is so incredible that it becomes paralyzing. Margaret on the other hand says that she feels no guilt in connection to the abuse she has suffered, but she feels shame and her shame lies in her body. She wants to be herself, not her body.
Margaret: It’s shame. I don’t feel guilt ((Shakes her head)) for what happened, what they did to me. But I really feel an enormous shame. No. I know that it wasn’t my fault ((Dries away tears from both cheeks)). I know who is guilty but my body ((Dries her hands on her laps)) (.) now and then is not mine. If I could choose, then I wouldn’t want it. It’s a body. I want to be me. Not my body.
The way I read Margaret here is that she does not seem to have done anything wrong when she was sexually abused and or when she later placed the blame on her two perpetrators. This is something that Ivar and Knut agree with and argue that guilt has to do with doing something wrong.
Ivar_1: ((Coughs)) (.) Guilt, that umm, has something to do umm with doing something wrong.
Knut: I think of guilt and being guilty as doing something wrong intentionally. If you do something wrong, you’re in a way guilty. If you haven’t done anything wrong, you’re not guilty. I don’t know. But I think that sounds ok.
Knut underlines the fact that guilt has to do not only in doing something wrong, but the wrongdoing has to be intentional. Feeling guilt for an accidental mistake is irrational. Knut brings in the element of intend. In my opinion he might be correct speaking judicially. If one is found insane at the time of the crime, it is possible to be found not guilty by a court decision. The action is then not done intentionally in a sound mind. But psychologically, in my opinion, an irrational guilt may still torment the person through self-blaming with the extra feeling of not being able to expiate the wrong doing. This ending up sometimes in self-suffering and lacking the will to forgive oneself for the unintentional transgression.
In this section, guilt is described as an emotion that seems to be closely related to shame. Both are self-conscious emotions concerned with the self-judgement of wrongdoing. They often seem to overlap and are sometimes impossible to keep apart. This seems especially true when children feel they are to blame for a wrongdoing and over time this has a negative effect on their self-evaluation, resulting in shame. The two emotions thus seem then to become one. Guilt can also be seen as distinct from shame because it focuses on the wrongdoing, while shame focuses on the wrong-doer. The difference between the two emotions seems to have to do with the degree of self-evaluation. Another difference seems to be that guilt can have several positive functions in holding relationships together, while shame arises out of a threat to relational bonds or the severance of such bonds. This section seems to support the assumption that guilt and shame can be seen both as different emotions and as the same emotion. This seems to depend on several factors; age, situation, personal attributes, degree of negative self-evaluation, and the possibility of emotional disclosure. When emotions are enclosed instead of disclosed, and shame is silenced, anger seems to develop. I will take a closer look at anger in the next section and explore its relationship to shame.
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