Friday, October 26, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.2 A filthy body
Linda is one of the employees of the Incest Centre who have worked there longest, and she argues that all the painful acts her body has been subjected to make her whole body shameful. She seems not to be any doubt that sexual abuse and what I choose to call as body-shame (Gilbert and Miles 2002). She connects her body-shame to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. She says her whole body is shameful and filthy, and did not want to show her body to others. Not only did she have to endure oral intercourse, but she was forced to swallow her fathers’ semen. Not understanding why the semen did not come out again with her faeces, she tried to scratch a hole into her stomach to get it out, being afraid that her stomach might explode. After a while her handling strategy (appendix 20) as a child became to “cut out” her body in order to survive. By creating a distance to her body she was able to cope with her shame.
Linda_1: Yeah. My feelings about who I am and what I believe others think of me…Yeah, because I feel so horrible…Yeah, I think (.) it’s the shame (.) you’re ashamed of yourself and about umm (.) things that have happened. You feel shame, because of the things that have happened to your body. That’s why your body is so shameful (.). So I’d say that your whole body is shameful…That’s something that never goes away. All those experiences you’ve had that have made you feel horrible, disgusting and dirty and umm that’s something you don’t want to show others. Well for me ((Looks up at the ceiling)) when I was a child, it was especially my stomach that was special, because I had to swallow so much semen. I was only five-six years old, and I thought that what I ate had to come out. I often went to the bathroom to get it out again. But it never came out. I started to scrape my stomach to make a hole, because I thought umm that if I don’t get it out, all of that slimy stuff would make my stomach explode. (.) I just had to get it out. That’s why I have a very special relation to my stomach…It’s like that for a whole lot of those people who have come here through the years. It’s especially the stomach region or in the stomach, also in the mouth, and all those, all those thoughts you have about yourself, that you’re a misfit umm and others can see umm you have to hide it away. Some people hide themselves inside oversized clothes because they’re so ashamed of their bodies ((Nods her head))…It’s because the body has been umm used, it’s filthy, your body is not yours and someone has umm or you don’t think that someone has destroyed it but you think that it has been destroyed and umm (.) that’s why you are the way you are, or ((Clears her throat)) that this has happened umm because you have a body umm ((Looks from side to side)) it’s your body’s fault that umm you’ve been abused. You blame your body, when you try to find a cause for what happened. What’s wrong with my body since umm (.) umm it’s been chosen to be abused? Am I talking bullshit now? ((Laughs))…Why’s the body so disgusting? If you didn’t have just that body the abuse would never have happened. It’s filthy because it’s been polluted by sex organs, licking, and everything…I cut out my body ((Scratches her elbow with tiny movements)) all the way from the start (.) umm I was maybe five or six years old ((Drinks some water))…It’s about shame. It’s a shame (.) your ashamed of umm (.) things that have happened. That’s why your body is shameful. (.) I’d say that umm your whole body is shameful.
Linda speaks of how others she has met at the Incest Centre try to hide their bodies because they view their body as disgusting and filthy, and believe that also others view them the same way. Some also place the blame of being abused on themselves, saying that there must be something wrong with my body since I have been chosen to be abused and not others. Andrews (1997) has examined the body-shame that Linda speaks about and argues that body-shame plays a mediating role in the relationship between experiences of childhood physical and sexual abuse and depression in mature women. She has conducted a study where she investigated the role of body-shame in the relation between childhood abuse and bulimia in a community sample of 69 teenagers and young adult women. There was a significant association between childhood abuse and bulimia, but this was no longer as apparent once bodily shame had been taken into account. The results of her study suggest that body-shame may act as a mediator between early abuse and bulimia.
Sally argues that the shame she feels towards her body has its roots in the sexual abuse she suffered from her stepfather in childhood years.
Sally: I believe that if you’ve lived with abuse for many years (.) that this feeling of shame (.) becomes enormous and impossible like you said ((Looks at Ruth))…I believe that (.) for me shame has something to do with (.) what happened to me, during the years I was abused, I felt so dirty. No matter how many times I washed, showered, scrubbed and bathed, it was always somethng that wouldn’t (.) disappear ((Moves both hands up and down her body)) from your body. And that’s where my shame comes from. Shame is, it umm (.) is (.) it came to me when my stepfather did things to my body and made me feel filthy.
Sally’s shame seems to be focused on her body and she feels filthy trying again and again to wash herself clean, but her sense of being dirty would not disappear. In my opinion this form of shame may be identified as body shame and that shame has to do with being degraded, humiliated, abused, disrespected, and having ones integrity violated. All this seem to lead for some victims of sexual abuse to a feeling of a deformed and dirty body. It might also seem that Sally implies that the body has its own memory of the sexual abuse. The sexual abuse her stepfather has done to her are stored in her body as memories. In my opinion it seems imperative in order to change ones victim identity to a survivor identity that such memories which may lie in the body are shared with others in narratives and receive respect and recognition. Understanding ones past and telling ones life stories are essential for many in order to start living their lives forward instead of backwards.
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