Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 20.4 In the eyes of others

20.4 In the eyes of others

10 of the participants speak of being seen “in the eyes of others”. This expression is used 27 times in the interviews (appendix 4) and has in my opinion much in common with Cooley’s concept of the “looking-glass self” as described earlier in the dissertation. Our social self is created and develops within a social context and need therefore the eyes of others in order to become a social self. Linda says that she felt that others could both see and smell that she done something wrong and seeing herself in the eyes of others made her believe that others can see that she has done something wrong.

Linda_1:         Yeah. My feelings about who I am and what I believe others think of me…Because there’s someone who has umm all that stuff in your mouth, it’s disgusting, someone has done something sexually with your body so that you smell (  ), you’re filthy, you stink. You feel that others can see that you’ve done something wrong (  ).

In the eyes of others, Linda sees herself as filthy, stinky and disgusting. Wilson (2001) argues that shame is essentially connected with a person’s appearance, either in the eyes of other people or in his/her own eyes; one may say that it is as much an aesthetic as a moral emotion. That is why one is ashamed of one’s body; of being too fat; having breasts that are too large or too small and so forth. Sartre (1943/1958) exemplifies the relation between shame and seeing oneself through the eyes of others in a story about a man who makes a vulgar gesture. Only afterwards does he realize that he has been observed. This realization makes him look at himself through the eyes of the observer. From the other’s perspective, the man realizes that his gesture is vulgar, and he feels shame. The man accepts the judgement of the observer and admits that he is acting in a vulgar fashion. It is not just that the man realizes that he has done something unacceptable; the new understanding changes his attitude towards himself – he feels degraded and shamed. Only by seeing himself through the eyes of another does the man feel shame. This is also a point made by Hector in Homer’s Iliad (700 B.C./1998) when he says that he feels shame in the eyes of others when he explains to his wife why he feels compelled to go out and fight:

I feel great shame in the eyes of the Trojan men and the long-robed Trojan women, if like a coward I were to skulk away from war. Nor does my spirit bid me do this, since I have learned to be a brave fighter, and always to do battle in the front line, striving to win honor for myself and my father. (Homer, Iliad, 700 B.C. 700/1998, chapter 6).

Tangney and Fisher (1995) also argue that shame is an emotion that is founded in social relationships. People not only interact in social relationships, they evaluate and judge both themselves and each other. Shame is a self-conscious emotion because it is built on mutual evaluation and judgement. People feel shame because they assume that someone is making a negative judgement about their behavior or character. They often respond by trying to hide or escape from being observed or judged. One feels small, exposed, worthless, and powerless. Individuals who feel shame often lower their heads; cover their faces or eyes, or turn away from other people.

Knut speaks about feeling small in the eyes of others. Feeling small seems to be associated with being looked down on, devaluated, and disrespected.

Knut:              I’ve done all that and been really, really down low and felt small in the eyes of others.

Nina, who asserts that she has no personal experience of sexual abuse, speaks of not being seen and that her parents never say who she was, having significant others not seeing who she really was, restricted her in developing her true self.   

Nina:                           I remember thinking that they hadn’t seen who I was. They had seen someone else, but I wasn’t able to get my true self out. There was in a way someone inside of me who was very strong but I couldn’t show any of this to my surroundings. That’s what I felt. (.) So I had in a way a kind of, a kind of security inside myself that was me, but it was impossible to show this to others.

Pia even tried to get attention from her parents by engaging in sexual activity she did not understand the consequences of.

Pia:                             The worst thing, absolutely worst thing, was the feeling of not being good enough at home. I think that was the worst. And I tried to punish my parents and tried to be seen by participating in sexual acts that I really didn’t understand (  ) ((Holds her hands in front of her mouth)). That was my way of trying to be seen, and I hoped that then they would give me some love.

I have in this section discussed the importance of others in relation to shame. The others who are mentioned by the participants are primarily significant others. It is understandable that the opinions that close relatives have of a person are more important than those of a complete stranger. The participants especially mention family members in regard to feeling shame. The socialization of emotions seems important in understanding why children react the way they do emotionally, also after being abused. Hiding and being seen “in the eyes of others” are also important factors with regard to shame. Shame in many ways involves wanting to hide, not wanting to be seen, avoiding the eyes of others.  I will now discuss the opinions on the relation between fathers and shame that were expressed in the interviews.

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