Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 20.0 Others

20.0 Others

Other people, and especially significant others, are important in the development of our social selves. Cooley (1902/2006) argues that we use the reactions of others to visualize ourselves, and we use this judgment to establish a kind of self-feeling, such as pride or shame/mortification (Cooley 1902/2006: 184). 13 of the participants spoke of their families during the interviews. They mentioned their families a total of 53 times (appendix 4). In the following section, I will take a closer look at what the participants have said about how shame is related to others. I have limited the study of shame and others in the interviews to significant others; first and foremost family members. References to others other than family member that have been spoken of in the interviews are primarily teachers, neighbors, working companions, and friends. I will first discuss fathers and mothers, whom all the participants speak of. Thereafter explore the relation with at brothers, sisters, and children. Finally I will investigate relationships with partners with whom they presently have or previously have had sexual relationships with as adults. I will also mention grandparents, uncles and aunts, teachers and neighbors, when the participants speak of their abusers.

The Incest Centre in Vestfold has contact with many families in need of help after a history of abuse has been revealed, and those working at the centre have lots of stories to reveal. Some of these stories can be quite complicated with many people involved. Linda, who has the longest working experience at the centre, speaks of a family with many members; grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, children and grandchildren. A grandfathers’ abuse of many family members was revealed when a six year- old girl told her grandmother what her grandfather had done to her and her eight year-old cousin. The grandmother took her grandchildren seriously, told their parents, and this led to the disclosure of abuse not only of these two grandchildren, but also abuse with other family members. The grandfather had abused four of his own daughters and 16 of his grandchildren. 

Linda:                         We had a family here, a girl; there were two cousins, a girl around six and a girl around eight years old. They had been sexually abused by their grandfather, their mothers’ father. She said that their grandmother and grandfather often babysat for their grandchildren. The girl told her grandmother what had happened when her parents came to fetch her. That same day, or the day after, everyone in the family found out about it, and the person who tackled it the worst was their mothers’ mother, the grandmother. She felt guilt in relation to her husband, and her four daughters said that they had also been abused by their father, and then some of the other grandchildren told their parents that they had also been abused by their grandfather, 12 grandchildren, was it 18 or 12? No, it was 16 grandchildren. All this came to the surface because a six-year-old told her grandmother what had happened. We had everybody here from 9 AM till 3 AM the next morning. There were two of us who sat here with them all the time…All because of a six-year-old. And the one who took it the worst was the grandmother…She was completely broken to pieces…and then one of the grandmother’s daughters said that she had told her mother what her father had done to her when she was a child, but her mother didn’t believe her. It just wasn’t possible. She took to drinking afterwards. And then all the others started to tell their stories…and then we had to take care of all the husbands, the abused mothers and children. One of the fathers wanted to go and get the abuser, he wanted to kill him.

Linda reports that the grandmother felt guilty about her husband’s behavior and does not mention shame directly in this story. Four daughters and 16 grandchildren had seemingly been abused. One daughter had told her mother about her abusive father but was not believed. The grandmother started to have drinking problems. One of the husbands threatened to kill his father-in-law after hearing about the abuse of his wife. It was said the grandmother was the one who had the worst reaction; “she was completely broken to pieces”. What sort of sexual abuse the grandfather might have inflicted on all these family members is not mentioned in this story. It is possible that he has peeked at them while bathing, touched them indecently outside of their clothes, or had sexual intercourse. In my opinion, a clarification of what sort of sexual abuse that has been committed should be central at the work at the Incest Centre. The need for precise descriptions of sexual behavior, actions and intercourse is in my opinion crucial. This demand is not in my opinion meet in Linda’s’ story. The complexity in revealing such a story in a family is the focus point here. Many people become involved and many different emotions are elevated; sorrow, pain, grief, revenge, guilt. The fact that the first story revealed by the granddaughter grows and grows in dimension as other family members tell their stories, places a great demand on the Incest Centre to keep the development of the story under a certain control so that emotions are handled in an appropriate manner, and so that uncontrolled emotional outburst, such as actions of revenge, are prevented.

It seems probable that other family members than the grandmother also felt guilt in this story, but shame is not mentioned. In my opinion, this might suggest that the abuse was less serious or that this is a family with close family bonds. Walter and Burnaford (2006) have studied the role of family and gender in relation to guilt and shame in a sample of 176 girls and boys between the ages of 12 and 20. Their study does not focus on sexual abuse in the family directly, but show that closeness with parents relates to self reported guilt, but not to shame. Closeness to siblings is also important in both shame and guilt. In addition, mothers, fathers, and siblings may play unique roles in girls’ guilt, but fathers appear to play a particularly unique role in boys’ guilt and shame. With regard to gender differences, girls reported higher scores of guilt and shame than did boys. Bybee (1998) argues that this gender difference is particularly evident at the beginning of adolescence, and that a girl’s experience of guilt is intensified by the adolescent girl’s own tendency for self-reflection as well as by a society that holds girls to higher standards of behavior. Walter and Bunaford (2006) also argue that:

It is likely that the family’s socialization of emotions is an important factor in adolescents’ guilt, and that socialization may come from parents as well as siblings (2006: 333-334).

They conclude that mother-, father-, and sibling closeness are positively correlated with guilt, but not with shame. Sibling closeness was more strongly correlated with boys’ guilt than with girls’, while sibling closeness was related to shame-proneness for girls but not for boys. In my opinion, a thorough investigation of the family’s socialization of emotions in the story given by Linda above, together with an evaluation of family bonds related to closeness and distance, might help explain why the family has functioned seemingly so well and why shame is not mentioned.

Since family closeness, according to Walter and Burnaford (2006), seems to have a stronger relationship to guilt than to shame other family factors, such as conflict, may expose the role of family relationships in shame-proneness among adolescents. They conclude that:

Given that shame is often considered a less adaptive, negative emotion in individualistic cultures, differences in adolescents’ shame-proneness may be predicted according to levels of conflict rather than closeness in the family. Given the distinction between guilt and shame, it is likely that there are different pathways leading to each (2006: 334).

Ellen, who was sexually abused by her father and uncle in her childhood, speaks of her struggle to be seen and recognized, something that has haunted her for years. This struggle for recognition is, in my opinion, for many victims of sexual abuse a central part of their feeling of being offended, of having their rights violated.

Ellen:              My psychologist says that I swim and swim umm struggle and struggle just to be seen, and nobody sees me anyway…It’s very difficult to be seen and recognized. Hello, here I am. ((Stretches up her hand and waves)). That’s a feeling that has haunted me for years and still does.

Not being seen at home, having parents who do not respect and give recognition to their children, has haunted Ellen almost all her life. The conflict that lies under the surface of the struggle for recognition may have had an important blow on Ellen’s adjustment in childhood years and may still be the cause of feeling exclusion. Several studies seem to support the notion that family conflict has a profound impact on adolescents’ adjustment (Borrine, Handal and Searight 1991; Enos and Handal 1986; Forehand and Thomas 1992).

Linda remembers that her mother treated her and her brother differently, and therefore felt that her brother was worth more in her mother’s eyes. Linda was living in a family where her father and brother abused her sexually, and her mother did not do anything about it. She describes this as having had a painful effect on her self-image.

Linda_1:         When I was little, I was  maybe ten, nine or ten, it was after he started (  ) and I was nine or ten, and I told, I remember that there were dinner sausages on the kitchen counter, and then I told her what he did to me. She said that she would talk to him. But she didn’t… She knew what was going on. And she treated him well anyway, because he was the oldest son. Her first-born son. He always got the most, if you can compare at all, it’s terrible to say this ((laughs)), but we often had fried potatoes ((scratches her thigh)) and he could always eat all he wanted before us other kids got anything. I have always been jealous because of that. I remember it as if it were today. It was more like, I wasn’t ashamed of her because she did not do anything, but I was more like hurt, it did something to my self-image. I wasn’t worth as much as my brother. I thought that umm in her eyes he’s worth more than I am, because he umm got to eat more fried potatoes. ((Laughs and plays with her necklace)). Fried potatoes was my favourite food, I loved eating fried potatoes.  

Linda also seems to struggles for recognition in this story. Jealousy between brother and sister is not amended by her mother. Instead of treating the two equally, the mother in one example lets her son eat all the fried potatoes he wants before Linda is allowed to take what is left. Linda naturally feels this unjust. At the time this story happened, Linda was being sexually abused by her brother, father and fathers friends. Linda tried to tell her mother about what her brother did to her, but was told that he was a boy, only just to confirm that she could not communicate with her mother on matters that where important to her.

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