Sunday, October 28, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.4 Worthlessness
Being ashamed of ones body is also the subject of attention for Dagny and Gunhild. They have both been sexually abused as children and are now users of the Incest Center in Vestfold. They speak of their bodies as filthy and do not want to relate to their bodies. They say that everything about the body is difficult.
Dagny: Everything about the body is difficult. You’re either too fat or too thin; it’s like that for everyone, too much of this or too little of that. If you also have had someone fool around with your self-image, it gets even worse. Shame, body and sexuality are very closely interwoven with each other… ((Nods her head)) (.) An emotional block (.) in your body which comes when intimate parts are touched, you don’t show (.) the proper (.) ((Waves her hands and laughs)) reaction that you should because you’re not, because you’re not as fond of your body as you could have been.
Gunhild: I feel like shit…I’m filthy…I don’t care about my body; I don’t want to relate to my body.
Kaare: Is that a form of shame?
Gunhild: Yeah, I think so.
Kaare: Are you ashamed of your body?
Dagny shows, in my opinion, that her body is difficult to talk about and shows paralinguistic markers (appendix 20) of shame by having several breaks in her sentence when she speaks of having her intimate parts touched by her abuser and at the same time laughs of the abuse. Johnson (2006) argues that this feeling of ones body being filthy, as Dagny and Gunhild have spoken about, has to do with feeling worthless and argues that at the most severe level of shame, we are afraid of any kind of self-expression because to be seen is to be seen as dirty, disgusting, worthless, and unlovable. To be seen by others can even sometimes be felt as putting ones whole extinction in danger. The only security lies in withdrawal and isolation because everyone seems knows or sees that one is completely worthless.
Ellen is also one of the users of the Incest Centre who speaks about being ashamed of her body. She argues that the picture of an ideal body in our modern society is that everything is supposed to be perfect, and she sees her body as ugly and disgusting. She also speaks of being tortured as a child; being beaten with a branch on her back and on the soles of her feet. This has resulted in a scratching obsession where she scratches everything that hurts or seems disgusting until she starts to bleed.
Ellen: I’m ashamed of my body ((Looks down at the floor))…I wish I could have another body…Shame. Everything is supposed to be so perfect. My body is ugly and disgusting. I can see it in the way others stare at me. I can sit and scratch my back till I start to bleed. I have sores all over the place. Try to scratch away everything that hurts, disgusting and awful, in a way.
Kaare: Why do you scratch your back?
Ellen: XXX, he was one of my abusers. He hit me a lot. I remember him standing there with a branch from a willow tree in his hands. I even had to fetch the branch myself. I just remember the branch swinging through the air and hitting my back. He didn’t stop until I started to bleed. I’ve got big scars on by back. I scratch and scratch and scratch because it hurts. I was punished, but I hadn’t done anything wrong. I could come home five minutes too late for dinner, especially if he was drunk. He could whip the bottom of my feet so hard that I couldn’t stand up afterwards. He hit the soles of my feet often. He did things like that, and then there was also all the abuse. My body developed quite early, with breasts and things. When I think back, I always had to sit on his lap while he hugged and kissed me and he put his hands on my breasts. He also abused my cousin from the time she was four till she was seventeen. My parents knew about it and, hell, they let me stay with him for two weeks every damned summer anyway. Maybe they thought that he wouldn’t do anything to me. I don’t know. I’ve never got an answer to that…I also scratch myself to take away some pain. I scratch myself till I get sores from it, they look like wounds you have after being burned, they feel wet and moist ((Points to her shoulders)) and then I continue by using a hairbrush I’ve bought especially for that purpose ((Laughs)) and it gets pretty ugly after a while. But this here inner pain I feel so strongly, it is overwhelmed by a physical pain that hurts like hell…I remember the branch flying through the air and hitting my back. It started to bleed. That’s why I have all these scars on my back.
Ellen’s body was abused; hit, abused, tortured. She continues abusing her body by scratching her skin with her fingernails or with a hairbrush. Margaret also feels that her body was abused, tortured, when she was a child. As a child she thought that she was to blame for the way others treated her body; there was something wrong with her body.
Margaret_1: My feelings are that my umm body was abused, used in an umm wrong, wrong, way. Sometimes I was tortured also. That made me think ((Points to her head)) that there must (.) be something wrong with my body that caused this to happen.
Margaret goes on to say that her shame lies in her body. Her self-value diminishes when she relates to her body. Living with a body she does not like is sometimes difficult and says that this is because her body has been used in many different ways. She tries to distinguish between who she is as a person and what her body is. This makes it possible for her to accept herself, without having to accept her body. She has placed her sexual abuse in her body. Talking about this makes her cry and she hides her face behind her hands, something that might indicate that she feels shame when speaking about her body (appendix 20). Margaret is an employee at the Incest Center and still has to work with her relation to her body.
Margaret: When it comes to my body, then I lose my self-esteem. If I can remain neutral about my body, then I can manage (.), but if someone makes a comment about how I look, then (.) I have to work a lot with that kind of thing ((Holds up her hand and makes a line in the air at neck level)) Yeah. I don’t like my body.
Kaare: Is that difficult?
Margaret: ((Nods her head)) Sometimes yes ((Starts to cry and holds her hands in front of her face)), sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes not. There’s been so much that this here body has been through. It’s been used in so many ways. ((Holds her hand under her chin)) And my shame lies in my body… I want to be me, not my body. I’m working with the idea that I’m not my body, I’m much more. That helps me a lot in accepting myself. I’m more than my body. All of my experiences lie in my body. All of my abuse lies there.
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