Monday, November 5, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 20.1 The socialization of emotions

20.1 The socialization of emotions

Trude, who was sexually abused by her father, says that the abuse often happened in their cellar at home. Her father took her with him down and she believes that her mother knew what happened to her in the cellar. When she came up after being abused, she had to go through the kitchen, where her mother was usually sitting. She can still feel the shame she felt when her mother cast her eyes on her as she tried to sneak pass her.

Trude:                         And then I jumped down from his lap. It wasn’t just his lap, because he did other things with me down there also. I remember that I left the room and went out and under the cellar staircase and when I went upstairs; mom was always sitting in the kitchen. I remember that when I came in the door I always tried to sneak past the kitchen table so she wouldn’t see me. I was small then. ((Lifts  her index finger and nods her head))…I can still remember and feel my mothers’ eyes looking at me…I can feel it here ((Points to her chest)) and the feeling of shame; it’s something I haven’t been able to grasp completely. It’s not that I don’t function and all that.

Trude did what she felt was expected of her by her father but at the same time felt the eyes of her mother on her, after the abuse. It seems that the feeling of shame she speaks of is connected to her mothers’ watchful eyes more than to the sexual abuse committed by her father. Trude says that the situation made her feel small. In my opinion, it seems possible that Trude received recognition from her father for doing what he expected of her, but received disrespect from her mother. The feeling of disrespect from her mother at that time might have been the foundation for her shameful feeling rather than the sexual abuse committed by her father. Abell and Gecas (1997) argue that children may do what is considered moral or acceptable not because they understand their connections and responsibilities to norms or to others, but because of a fear of being found unacceptable or incompetent or of being rejected. In my opinion, children may also do what is considered morally wrong or unacceptable because of the fear of being found unacceptable, incompetent or of being rejected. Parental control characterized by the withdrawal of positive regard is likely to call more attention to the possibility that the parent-child bond is threatened more because of the child’s unacceptable behavior than because of violated norms. Thus the effectiveness of affective control for moral behavior lies in its arousal of anxiety and self-rejection, rather than in its ability to encourage other-oriented, empathic responsiveness. 

Abel and Gecas (1997) which are mentioned above have carried out a study of guilt, shame and family socialization with a sample of 270 undergraduate students. Their results suggest that for male subjects, there were differences in the effect of the same type of parental control depending on the sex of the parent. Mothers’ affective control was positively related to son’s guilt and shame, whereas father’s affective control was negatively related to son’s guilt and shame. Thus father’s threats of withdrawal and loss of regard appear to weaken son’s connection to norms, whereas mother’s threats of withdrawal and loss of regard appear to strengthen son’s connection to norms. Given that mother-child relationships are characterized by higher levels of parental involvement and monitoring than father-child relationships, as suggested by Crouter, McHale and Bartko (1993), mother’s use of affective control may be more effective in drawing children’s attention to their connections to norms because of the threat breaking those norms poses to the daily interactions on which children rely. Children become motivated to act more responsibly in order to maintain their connection with their primary caregiver. Whereas mother’s threats of withdrawal may be experienced by son’s as a signal to alter their behavior to conform to moral or social norms, father’s threats of withdrawal may be experienced as a signal of rejection that inhibits son’s feelings of commitment to these same norms. The findings of Abell and Gecas (1997) also showed that mother’s coercive control was associated with daughter’s reports of guilt, whereas father’s coercive control was associated with son’s reports of shame. This may help explain the reactions of Ellen and Linda above. These findings may reflect the different socialization goals fathers and mothers may have for sons and daughters. 

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