Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 22.1 Mother- Blaming and Mother-Shaming
Ruth’s story includes these elements when she speaks of the experiences she has in working with mothers at the Incest Centre. Many have a picture of a caring mother, being there for their children, and protecting them. But Ruth claims that some experience having mothers who are passive to the sexual abuse and leaves the child in the painful situation.
Ruth: A mother who has not been there for her children for example (.) yeah, they often miss having a caring mother. Where was Mom? Why didn’t she see me? Why didn’t she do anything? (.) Why wasn’t she there for me? Umm ((Lifts her hand up under her chin and covers her mouth with her thumb)). They also miss the family they never had. They might have a picture of the perfect family in their minds, and in the process they understand that their family wasn’t so fantastic. They’ve never had that family when they see the reality they live in…Mothers are often looked upon as the person, from the time we are very small, who takes care of us, that’s the picture we have of a mother, which most people have I believe. An image we have inside our heads. Umm when we grow up, we realize that mom wasn’t the person we thought she was, or the person we needed. A lot of people say that Mom must have known that something was wrong ((holds her hand over her throat and looks away))…They often feel ashamed of having such a mother, who hasn’t, who didn’t have (.) who wasn’t there for them, who didn’t take them away from the pain, that they have a mother like that ((shakes her head)) who didn’t take care of them. That a mother can stand there and watch, a mother who leaves her child stuck in a painful situation. Time and time again…
It might seem that Ruth experienced a feeling of shame while telling this story when one considering the non-verbal communication she conveys (appendix 20); covering her mouth and throat and looking away. She speaks of shame as something some victims of sexual abuse feel towards there mothers because they were not there when the children needed them at the most. Many expect mothers to protect their children from all kinds of abuse, even if that means going against the stereotypical passive, submissive female role in a patriarchal family. Placing blame on mothers has, in my opinion a tremendous impact on the mental health of all women generally and specifically on women who are mothers in families in which a father has sexually abused his daughter. McIntyre (1981) has studied mother blaming and argues that criticism of mothers falls into four categories concerning:
1. the way the mothers are involved in the incest,
2. the personality characteristics they possess,
3. the nonfulfillment of their roles as wife and mother,
4. and their reactions on discovering the incest.
All of these elements seem in my opinion to be present in the stories given in this chapter. Jensen (2005) argues that Mother-Blaming is so strong that is seems to prevail despite the fact that many mothers in fact support their children after disclosures of sexual abuse.
Camilla, Bodil, Dagny and Anne, who all have been sexually abused as children and are in the same focus group as users of the Incest Center in Vestfold, discussed their common experience of having a mother who wasn’t there for them in their childhood. They speak of sadness and shame in relation to their mothers. Camilla and Bodil say that they have mothers who were aware of the abuse of their children but didn’t do anything to stop it. Camilla says that in spite of this she has protected her mother. Dagny argues that it should be the other way around; parents are expected to protect their children. Camilla, Bodil and Anne are ashamed of their mothers and miss not having had a mother who stood up for them.
Camilla: I have a mom whom I am very ashamed of because she didn’t do anything, and she should have.
Bodil: Yeah, me too.
Camilla: They should have stepped inn and found out what was happening…My mother knew.
Dagny: My mother just blocked it out..
Bodil: Mine did too.
Dagny: Couldn’t say anything to Dad because he could get angry ((laughs))
Camilla: ((laughs)) that’s something I feel the strongest about and am most ashamed of.
Kaare: Are you ashamed of your mother?
Camilla: Yeah. And that hurts a lot. And it’s sad also.
Kaare: Are you proud of your mother?
Camilla: No ((shakes her head))…I think I’ve protected her, both her and myself.
Kaare: So you’re ashamed of her and at the same time you protect her?
Camilla: Yeah. That’s what I do.
Kaare: Ok. Is that a way of having control?
Camilla: Yeah. And I wish that everything could be different ( ). I hope it will be different someday.
Anne: I am also ashamed ( ). I miss having a mother who could stand up for me. Who would have been there for me and actually done something. I’m ashamed of her not doing anything and at the same time I miss having the kind of mother who would have done something.
Dagny: My mother’s an alcoholic and doesn’t remember anything and my father doesn’t remember anything…I can’t do anything about it. There’s so much I’ll never understand. There was my great-grandmother I told her about the abuse once when I was a child, but she didn’t do anything. It’s a mystery. You’d have to be a detective to find any answers. Finding some answers would solve a lot of my problems. If only I could find some answers and understand why things happened, then everything would be so much easier to live with.
Camilla: My mother can’t face it. But she’s honest in a way, but she say’s there’s nothing to be done about it now. It’s something she can’t face anymore (.) now.
Dagny: Your parents should protect you until the roles are reversed and you have to take care of them
These women speak of being ashamed of their mothers, but in my opinion this can be understood more seriously as being ashamed of being the daughters of their mothers, and thereby imply that they exclude their mothers as mothers. They speak of mothers who indirectly were involved in the abuse by knowing about it; of negative personal characteristics their mothers have; of not being the mothers they had hoped, and not reacting to protect them even though they knew of the abuse (McIntyre 1981).
Margaret, who has worked for several years at the Incest Centre in Vestfold, speaks of her mother who was not there when she needed her the most. She says that a mother’s betrayal is often experienced more painful than the sexual abuse committed by the father.
Margaret_1: My mother was incredibly old-fashioned and stupid. But I don’t feel a lot of shame towards her in relation to my abuse,…but I feel a lot of rage…Rage comes from feeling one has been betrayed of mother’s that just were not there. She did not see anything. ((scratches her neck)). A father can abuse his daughter and that does something to the daughter. But the feeling you get because your mother hasn’t noticed what’s going on is almost stronger (.) than the feelings you have because of your father’s betrayal…I’ve thought before that it’s unbelievable but I’ve heard about this so many times, and I know many people say that it’s almost worse that Mom didn’t do anything…It brings out a lot of rage. Both hate and rage.
Margaret claims that her mother was stupid and thereby induces a stigma on her mother; in my opinion she indirectly is saying that she also is ashamed of her because of this, even though she does not feel “very ashamed” of her because of the abuse she suffered from her father and grandfather. She describes her relation to her mother more characterized by hatred and rage, which in my opinion also can be consequences of shame (Scheff and Retzinger 1991). This hate and rage seems to be caused by what Margaret apprehends as her mothers blindness. She even means that the fact that her mother never noticed her being sexually abused is almost worse that the betrayal committed by her father. This story illustrates in my opinion the extremely complicated emotions between daughter and mother, and a story of shame, betrayal, rage, hate and expectations of dishonor. Trude says that her mother knew that she was being abused and still did nothing about it. She believes that she was abused when her mother didn’t want to have sex, and this was something her mother was aware of.
Kaare: Did your mother know about the abuse?
Trude: Yeah. When she didn’t want to have sex, he used me.
Kaare: And your mother knew?
Trude: Yeah (.)
Trude claims that her mother not only knew about the abuse she suffered as a child, but was also involved in it, even though no evidence for this claim is put forth. Trude, Pia and Ruth, who all were sexually abused as children and work at the Incest Centre, agree that having a mother who knows about the abuse and does not stop it is difficult because mothers play a special role for their children.
Kaare: Do you think your mother knew what happened?
Trude: Oh yeah. She wasn’t in on it, but she knew all-right. She always excused herself by saying she didn’t remember anything. But I know a different story…((bites her lips)) uhh ((nods her head)) she did nothing (.) nothing.
Kaare: Are you ashamed of her?
Trude: ((bites her lips)) Uh-huh ((nods her head)) yes I am.
Kaare: Have you always been ashamed of her or has that come with time?
Trude: I’ve always been ashamed of her. I’ve always (.) thought that she knew about it ((has problems speaking, clears her voice)). I have always tried to remember a single time when she stood up for me and defended me. But she never did, never ((shakes her head)).
Kaare: Have you protected her?
Trude: Yeah ((nods her head)) yeah. I did it then and I still do, even though I say to myself ((points to her head)) up here, that that’s how it was and I have to work with it, and it’s still there under my shoulder blade.
Kaare: Do you think she was implicated in the abuse?
Kaare: No doubts?
Trude: No. I’m sure…But I’ve protected her too.
Ruth: It’s weird that we protect our mothers.
Trude: Yeah. It’s like the last tie between us.
Ruth: That makes you feel ashamed in a way?
Ruth: Uh-huh ((nods her head)). A mother is a (.) I don’t know, but she has a very special role. It takes time (.) and a child has an impression of what a mother should be like. They see others mothers, umm and dream about how a mother should be…A mother who is always there and protects her child, for better and for worse…And when Mom’s not there, then something breaks, there’s a break in trust.
Trude: Uh-huh ((nods her head))
Ruth: It’s so piercingly painful and difficult.
Trude: She’s the first thing we smell, the first person we are oriented towards.
Ruth: That’s Mom.
Pia: Yeah. My mom wasn’t very talkative, but I was ashamed of her not helping me when she saw me cry, or when I went to my room and didn’t come out again, or when I went inside myself and they weren’t able to talk to me… That she didn’t protect me, umm but for me both my parents have been important in giving me this feeling of shame.
This conversation seems to suggest that mothers are expected by the participants to defend their children, but they have instead experienced having roles turned around and claim to have protected their mothers. When a mother fails to protect her child in my opinion, the basic trust between child and mother is weakened, and the conversation above says that this is painful. It seems in my opinion that all of the women above declare in a way that they are disappointed in their mothers, ashamed of them, ashamed of being their daughters, and at the same time tried to protect their mothers.
Mothers seem to be used as a target for some victims of sexual abuse, where almost all negative emotions can be cast upon. Sally argues that her mother should have seen what was going on but didn’t. The shame Sally feels is mixed with rage and a feeling of cowardice, but it is all directed at her mother.
Sally: Umm this shame of mine is very mixed up and is really directed at my mother, and the situation we have where she is not willing to listen to me (.) putting a lid on everything. My shame is mixed up with rage and cowardice over feeling that I just can’t confront her and make her sit down and listen; this is something we have to talk about and get finished with. It just can’t go on burning like this and being afraid of making a scene again. I’ve made a lot of noise before when I should have been nice at different parties. Umm I feel that a volcano is erupting inside of me. And it’s so unfair that she just sits there and pretends nothing’s wrong. At family parties she talks about being honest and everything after a bottle of Spanish wine and that’s when I explode…She should have seen what was going on. But she umm didn’t.
This short story from Sally shows in my opinion some of the tremendous emotions a daughter can have to a mother who according to Sally knew of the abuse, but did nothing to stop it. Sally feels like an erupting volcano towards her mother sometimes. Plummer (2006) has carried out a study concerning what mothers see and do when they find out about the sexual abuse of their children in an exploratory survey of 125 non-abusive mothers of sexually abused children. Mothers first become aware of sexual abuse through the verbal report or behavior of the victimized child. Almost half of the mothers sensed that something was not quite right prior to learning of the abuse. Mothers attempted to clarify what was going on in a variety of ways, including talking with their child or watching things more closely. The most convincing evidence that the child was being abused included the child’s own disclosure, behavior, and emotions. Factors increasing uncertainty included the denial of the abuser. They conclude that educating mothers about effective ways of confirming their suspicions and weighing the evidence for or against abuse may enhance protection and expedite investigations. The process a mother goes through in learning that her child is being sexually abused is often burdened with conflicting information and confusion. Plummer (2006) concludes mothers often respond to their suspicions and their children’s behavioral or verbal cues, and are willing to take action. Professionals and family members can assist mothers in this period of confusion by providing solid information and assisting mothers in resolving their dilemma in order to choose appropriate actions and reactions. This might suggest that the mothers like those Camilla, Bodil and Trude talk about above who suspected that abuse was going on, sensed that something was wrong, but did not know how to clarify the conflicting and confusing information. Plummer (2006) does not investigate mothers who knew about the abuse, or who were involved in the abuse, and did nothing to stop it.
The relation between Mother-Blamimg and Mother-Shaming seems complicated and these categories together with claims of abusive mothers and uncaring mothers need in my opinion further investigation. Most mothers protect their children, but the participants in this investigation seem to have perceived mothers as uncaring; they close their eyes, side with their abusive husbands instead of their abused children, or even fail to love their children and try to harm them. Instead of considering the possibility that mothers can be: oppressed; victimized; incapable of action; and therefore in need of recognition and respect. It seems in my opinion that they are instead often met with blame and given the responsibility for the abuse children have suffered and condemned through different forms of shaming, such as exclusion, disrespect, humiliation, stigmatizing.
Kaare T. Pettersen
Pettersen,Kaare Torgny, 2009: An Exploration into the Concept and Phenomenon of Shamewithin the Context of Child Sexual Abuse. An Existential-Dialogical Perspectiveof Social Work within the Settings of a Norwegian Incest Centre. PhD 2009 Department of Social Work and HealthScience Faculty of Social Sciences and Technology Management. NorwegianUniversity of Science and Technology, NTNU, Trondheim, Norway. Doctoral theses 2009: 184