Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 21.0 Fathers

21.0 Fathers

Trude: I remember feeling
shame the day he died,
because I was glad.

14 of the participants speak of their fathers in relation to shame. Fathers are spoken of 79 times in the interviews (appendix 4) and seem to be discussed in relation to the abuse fathers have committed. Both children (124 times) and mothers (123 times) are spoken of by all participants and clearly more often than fathers. In my opinion, this seems to suggest that after being sexually abused by ones father, having the possible consequence of emotional bonds being broken, and the development of distrust instead of trust, the abusive father might not be a significant other as before the abuse. Children and mothers might be more significant others than fathers. This might also have to do with traditional gender relationships within families in western society, that children have a closer emotional relationship to mothers than to fathers. Finding the motives which seem to cause these differences will demand further investigation.

One should perhaps suppose that victims hate their fathers after the abuse or at least feel indifferent to them, but such emotions are not confirmed in this study. On the contrary, only seven participants speak of hate and mention it only 12 times, and just two speak of indifference and these mention it only four times. When participants speak of hate, it is usually as self-hate and not hate towards others. This seems also to confirm my assumption that fathers are discharged as a significant other and made insignificant as a personal relationship. This might also be why some participants say they are themselves responsible for the abuse, and not their abusers. I will now explore closer the relationship between shame and fathers as it is told by the participants in this study.

First of all I feel it necessary with a notice of warning in regards to some of the stories to come which to a certain degree go into detailed description of experienced sexual abuse. These narratives are in my opinion not only painful re-constructions of sexual abuse, but also stories that show how difficult it can be to speak of shame.

Linda was abused by her father from the age of five. She has no memory of her childhood before this. Her father gagged her, threatened her and raped her. Before she was raped the first time she says she was Daddy’s little girl and that he was gentle with her. He continued to abuse her sexually until she was a teenager, and he died. Her brother was also involved and sexually abused her throughout her childhood and youth. Linda says that from the time she was nine her father used her to win money in poker games with his friends. She had to sit on the laps of the men who were playing cards and had to let them paw her. The one who won the poker game gave the winnings to Linda’s father to pay for being allowed to abuse her sexually after the game. Linda does not mention shame here, but her various body gestures suggest that some level of shame is present when she re-constructs the story of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child; she scratches herself often, looks away, stops talking often, bites her lips, and closes her eyes. Linda’s body gestures seem to include several of non-verbal markers, suggesting that it has been difficult and perhaps shameful for her to speak about the part of her life story (appendix 20).  

Linda_1:         I left my body ((scratches her elbow)), in the beginning (.) umm, I was maybe five or six ((drinks water)) then (.) maybe it was one of the first times when it wasn’t (.) I got a lot of attention and they were all so positive towards me. I felt that I was Daddy’s little girl. He was very gentle with me and everything. It wasn’t so bad then, but it became more violent in a way. When he raped me the first time ((scratches her head and looks away)), it was terrible (.) and I was abused in many different ways. One thing was the rape; another thing was that he tied a scarf around my neck and mouth so I couldn’t yell. It becomes (.) you become paralyzed in a way ((scratches her elbow)) when things happen. I was desperate afterwards because I was afraid that mom would realize what had happened and notice all the blood in the bed. So I removed the bed sheet ((scratches herself vigorously on her elbow)) and hid it by burying it behind the cemetery and ((breaths out deeply)) umm (.)…We sometimes visited a friend of my father after work and umm (.) they drank and played cards and that’s where it happened ((scratches herself intensely on her elbow and bites her lip))…It started with me sitting on a table, or I had been with them many times before, and I was with them looking for empty bottles and, and got some sweets from them. But umm in any case, my father got the money that was in the pot. I don’t know if he did it for money, but that was the start. The one who won in the end got to go to bed with me and my father got the money that was in the pot…The poker player, the one who won the money exchanged the money for me ((bites herself on the lip and closes her eyes))…Umm so I think my father did it for money ((scratches her elbow))…They all liked it. For every round in cards, I sat on the laps of the men and they sat and fingered with me and I was sent round the table…I felt how they reacted to me; I sat on their laps and felt them on my behind. I was nine, ten, no I was nine years old when this started…He threatened me and said I’d be sent to an orphanage if I ever said anything.

Linda says that she felt a close relationship to her father as a child, even when the sexual abuse had began. She describes her father as gentle during the abuse in the beginning. She even felt the recognition of being “daddy’s little girl”. But even if the abuse was what she calls gentle, she says she experienced leaving her body. A definite change happened when the abuse became more violent and she experienced being raped by her father, and she became frightened of the thought that her mother should discover the abuse. She tries to hide all evidence of what had happened, suggesting here in my opinion the feeling of shame. She also emphasises the effect of being threatened; of being gagged with the possible difficulty of breathing this implies; not being able to scream when she most likely felt the physical pain involved when a six year old has sexual intercourse with an adult man. The abuse did not stop, and it is possible to imagine that she felt an extreme amount of insecurity of not knowing when she would experience being raped again. The abuse continued throughout her childhood and evolved to also include her father’s friends and her brother.

One question I have struggled with from Linda’s story is if it is possible for Linda’s father, his friends, and her brother, not to feel any shame or guilt after abusing her? It seems difficult to understand how a child can be abused like this for years, without perpetrators showing any signs of shame. Proeve and Howells (2002) argue that there are actually a number of sex offenders who do not experience shame or guilt. They may have no particularly negative feelings about themselves or their actions. However, the many child sex offenders who describe that they feel bad are more likely to experience shame rather than guilt. They argue that child sex offenders are most likely to be characterized by shame and that it is to be expected that breaking the strong social prohibition against sexual contact with children would predispose offenders to experience shame. Committing sexual offences against children and being discovered would be expected to increase external shame more than internal shame, especially if offenders are strongly attuned to the reactions of others.

Linda says that she felt that she was Daddy’s little girl before she was raped by him the first time. Receiving recognition from significant others is an important factor in Cooley’s Looking-Glass self when he argues that we use the reactions of others to visualize ourselves, and use their evaluation to establish some kind of self-feeling, such as pride or shame/mortification (Cooley 1902/2006: 184). Linda says that she has met others who have given their bodies away just for the sake of recognition.

Linda_1:         A lot of them give away their bodies because that’s the only form of recognition they’ve ever received from their father for example, and they’re used to umm ((Scratches her side)) giving away their bodies because they know that’s what boys want. It gives them recognition.

This seems to signify in my opinion that recognition is an important factor in the development of identities. Recognition is so important that some are willing to give away their bodies in order to receive it. Ellen says that she did everything she could at home in order to get recognition. When something went wrong at home, she took responsibility and the blame. Even her father’s drinking problem was her responsibility when she was eight years old.

Ellen:                          And I did everything, everything to get recognition. I did a lot at home; I helped Mom with the washing, made dinner, and cleaned the house before Dad came home from work. My dad was an alcoholic and things like that. And at the same time I had to make sure that when something was wrong, it was always my fault. I did everything to be a good girl. And I didn’t succeed. And a little girl of six or seven shouldn’t have to have thoughts like that. But I found never being seen or recognized very difficult. Hello, I’m over here ((raises her hand and waves)). And that’s a feeling I still have, or can still struggle with…When I was eight; I was given the responsibility for my father’s drinking. If you don’t behave, if you don’t behave, an aunt of mine who had five kids of her own told me, and then your father will keep on drinking. There was so much noise at home, and that’s why my father drank…And so I carried this burden on my shoulders, too, and then I had to do everything I could to get him to stop drinking. But whatever I did, he still went on drinking.
Kaare:                         Was it your fault that he drank?
Ellen:                          No, it wasn’t. But I felt it was at that time, it’s starting to go away now. But I’ve struggled with this until six years ago. Five maybe…I felt the same way when my father got cancer. Why didn’t I see it?...I was told that umm if I hadn’t been born, then Mom and Dad wouldn’t have got married, and Dad wouldn’t have become an alcoholic ((Nods her head)).

Ellen does not seem here say anything negative about her father or feeling shame in relation to him. Her wish was to be conceived as a good girl and did whatever she could to be recognized as such, but says that she didn’t manage to achieve this. Being responsible for her fathers drinking problems is a burden she says she carried on her shoulders, which in my opinion suggest that the burden was heavy and kept her down and made her feel small, which can be regarded as an expression for shame.

Ruth argues that women who have been sexually abused by their fathers most likely do not feel shame towards their fathers. She believes that they feel that they themselves are responsible for participating in the abuse and that’s why they feel guilt. Shame, she says, is reserved for their mothers.

Kaare:                         Are they ashamed in relation to their fathers?
Ruth_1:           ((shakes her head)) No, I think they feel something else there, guilt and responsibility for their actions. They become a part of the action in a way (.) and give it to themselves, so that they have umm a role here. And therefore they don’t blame their father; therefore they don’t feel shame only in relation to their fathers. But often they feel shame in relation to their mothers.

Being victimized may for some be experienced as unexplainable that the only rational reason they find for the abuse is that they have done something wrong by being apart of the exploitation. Guilt and responsibility are therefore often taken upon themselves instead of placing them on the abuser. Ruth goes on to speak of speak of a woman she has met who was made pregnant by her father two times and feels shame when she thinks of the dates her children were supposed to be born.

Ruth_1:           Umm, there’s so much brutality. There are so many, so many cruel actions children and young people have been subjected to. Umm I thought of this in the break just now ((lifts her hands and covers her face)). (.) Some of them have been pregnant with their abusers. With their fathers…Yeah. One of them was 18-19 I think. She had been pregnant two times with her father (.)…And in all this she is ashamed over the dates umm for their birthdays, if she had given birth to the children. So last year, she had, then she should have had one that was two or three or whatever it was. She was ashamed that she actually thought of the dates. Her shame was related to (.) dates, and years (.). “You just ought to know, Ruth what (.) what I have done”, she said (.) and then she told me that she had been pregnant with her father’s child. “What do you say to that,” she asked? A little difficult, what do you say to that?

Some victims of sexual abuse experience becoming pregnant with their abuser. When a girl becomes pregnant with her father, the family taboo of incest is broken twofold. The victim Ruth speaks of here, does not say anything negative towards her father and does not mention any feeling of shame towards him. Shame is an emotion she experiences in relation to children she could have given birth to. It may seem difficult for many to grasp the many ways victimization can come into existence.

In this section, I have taken a closer look at the relation between shame and fathers. The participants in the interviews seldom mention shame in relation to their fathers. It seems as though they feel guilty about participating in the abuse with their fathers, and do not recognize feelings of shame in relation to their fathers. The shame they feel is directed at them as victims, but this seems to be an emotion that develops over time, as the child grows and understands that one has participated in actions ones friends have not experienced. They start to feel different; there must be something wrong with them since they are being abused. They start to hate themselves, want to hide, to die, or be someone else, and shame starts to dominate their lives. None of the information given indicates that the fathers show any signs of guilt or shame. This does not mean that guilt and shame are not present, they may be very much present, but simply not acknowledged. When these emotions are not acknowledged after the abuse, it may seem that the abusers are indifferent, and this could explain why the abuse continues. It seems difficult to understand how the abuse could continue if the abuser felt and acknowledged their feelings of guilt and shame.

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