Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 18.6 Looking in the mirror

18.6 Looking in the mirror

Some victims of sexual abuse seem to try to detach themselves from their shame by creating several identities. Lewis (1995) argues that the most severe manifestation of this is in people with multiple personality disorder, where an individual tries to create other personalities to bear the shame. These people may have been victims of seriously traumatic childhood abuse, but it seems that it is not the sexual abuse in itself that creates the multiple personality disorder; it is according to Lewis (1995) the shame elicited by the abuse which causes this disorder. In my opinion, it would be interesting to explore further the concept and phenomenon of shame within the context of psychiatric institutions and to see how shame is related to various psychiatric disorders and conditions, by interviewing employees and psychiatric patients and collecting their narratives of shame as carried out in this exploration.

None of the participants in this study speak of multiple personalities, but several speak of having an alienated relation to their bodies. Gunhild is not fond of her body and never looks at her body in a mirror. She looks down and laughs as she tells that she sees herself as an old ugly woman, a wrinkled hag. She also believes she has many sores, wounds and cuts. The fact that she looks down and laughs while she says this might indicate that she it shameful to talk about this. Gunhild is women in her 30’s and has neither wrinkles, sores, wounds nor cuts that are visible in the interview.

Gunhild:         I never look in a mirror. I don’t want to see myself. There’s nothing of interest there. Why should I look?
Kaare:             Are you fond of your body?
Gunhild:         No, It’s not possible for me to be fond of it...
Kaare:             What do you think you’d see in a mirror?
Gunhild:         ((Looks down)) (.) Oh no ((Laughs)) I would see an old, ugly woman, that’s all, a wrinkled hag. I feel like I’m really old…with lots of sores, wounds and cuts.
Kaare:             I can’t see any?
Gunhild:         I do… and that’s a problem in the summertime when it’s hot. Everybody tells me to take my clothes off all the time. But I don’t want anyone to see my body… I even bathe with a t-shirt on….it is all about not liking my body. I don’t want to relate to it. Taking off my clothes means that someone can see it. I become visible.

Gunhild is painfully aware that her self-image is created as a result of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child by several men. Changing this self-image is one of the goals she has as a user of the Incest Center. She believes to be on the right way to create a new identity because she now can talk freely of her abuse and sees herself as a victim of sexual abuse. At the Incest Center, she is allowed to be herself and have new experiences of how others see her, contesting her own evaluation and gradually giving her the experience that change is possible.

In this section, I have focused on the relation between shame and the body. This relationship seems very complicated and I have only scratched the surface of this area of research. The participants seem to locate their shame in their bodies; shame is embodied. Some of them have developed the ability to leave their bodies and view themselves from the outside. Some continue to abuse their bodies. Some choose not to relate to their bodies. Some do everything possible to hide their bodies. The variations are vast and the demand for further research in this area seems overwhelming. Food and body are in many ways related, but I treat them separately in this study. Many people try to control their bodies through the food they eat. Eating very little or too much can have an effect on body shape, and be used as protection against further abuse. I will now take a closer look at what the participants say about food. 

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