Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 24.1 Child-shaming

24.0 Children

Olga: Shame is very
painful for children

All of the participants in this study mention children in one way or another in relation to shame. They speak of children a total of 124 times in the interviews (appendix 4) and thereby being the form of significant others that are most referred to. This might indicate that children are the prime focus at the Incest Centre, both among employees and users. In this chapter, I will focus on Child-Blaming and Child-Shaming, which on the background from the informants, seem to be when children are given the responsibility for sexual abuse and condemned (both by themselves and others) through the use different form of shame, such as: exclusion; disrespect; humiliation; and stigmatizing actions. Child-Blaming and Children-Shaming has in my opinion much in common with Mother-Blaming and Mother-Shaming. Both children and women seem to experience abuse from fathers and husbands who oppress and victimize them to a degree that they at times become incapable of action. They are both in need of recognition and respect instead of being blamed and shamed.

24.1 Child-Blaming and Child-Shaming

One of the workers, Ruth, tells a story about a young girl who learned at an early age not to complain and to do as adults told her, even if this included being sexually abused. This girl found that protesting and crying only made the abuse worse. When her abuser burnt her hand on the kitchen stove, she was effectively silenced. Ruth argues that shame is an emotion which for some people develops over time. Shame can arise from a single act, but she argues that it often takes time for a child to realize that the abuse is wrong. This process often starts by the child feeling different from others and starts to believe that it is not the abuse that is wrong but that there is something wrong with them as children.

Ruth_1:           Children learn very quickly to do as grownups say (.) and often, I can give you an example ((lifts her hand and covers part of her mouth)). This girl learned early on that (.) complaining didn’t help, it only made the abuse become more severe, and it happened more often and got violent. It didn’t help to cry either. She would just be beaten even more. The earliest thing she could remember was when she was four years old ((she moves her hand under her chin, covers her mouth with her thumb and looks down)) when her hand has placed on a hot burner on a kitchen stove to get her to keep silent. It was her father who abused her (.). And from that day on, she never mentioned the abuse with a single word, not until she grew up…I think shame is something that builds up over time. That’s what I believe. But of course that shame can also come from a transgression or an action (.). But it develops over a period of time, when the child moves around in the world, and discovers that other children do not experience what they experience, umm they think that something must be wrong with them. What is it? Are they so ugly and terrible that they deserve all this? Umm shame in a way develops over time to become so profound, but it is connected to offences and results in the child feeling that it is different…When an act of abuse is over; the child hurries to hide, so that no one can discover or see her. I think shame also develops in relation to something, things (.) the child has been subjected to.

Ruth seems to experience shame while telling this story of sexual abuse through her non-verbal communication (appendix 20); covering her mouth and looking down. The little girl in this story is sexually abused at the age of only four and is tortured by being beaten and burnt. Her reactions are that of hiding and feeling that something is wrong with her. This seems in my opinion to be an expression of body shame which the child is showing, and this continues to develop by an increased negative self-image and self-esteem. Ruth also argues that shame is often used in the upbringing of children. She tells a story about how she herself shamed her daughter in front of a friend of hers. She could see how her daughter’s behavior changed and how her daughter blushes which in my opinion can be conceived as a handling strategy of shame (appendix 20).

Ruth:                          I believe, I believe that umm in relation to my own children, that I raise them ((gazes up at the ceiling)) by shaming them…For example (.) I remember that I was raised that way also. Not that I use it consciously but I catch myself doing it ((nods her head and holds her hand in front of her mouth)). I remember when my oldest daughter had a friend visiting her and she was about to go in to her brother’s room, and I said that she could not go in there, I told her to get out, and I scolded her in front of the others. Then I saw how this affected her…She acted really weird, her face was flushed, and she really felt ashamed (  ). I think we are very good at bringing up children with shame. “You should be ashamed of yourself.” When I think about it now, I believe that this is not good for children ((clears her throat)), yeah (  )…I was scolded as a child in front of others, and it’s not a good feeling…Sharpen up your act or pull yourself together while others are listening when you talk to your child in that way (  ) it’s not a good feeling. And then I can also feel shame…My father was an expert at scolding me in front of others. I can remember that very well. My little daughter’s face was blood-red…why do we raise our children by shaming them? 

The use of shame in the upbringing of children seems in my opinion, to be viewed as an effective way to make children realize they have ignored social norms or moral values. Ferguson, Stegge, Miller and Olsen (1999) argue that studies on shame and guilt in children are difficult to compare directly because the research linking self-conscious emotions to psychopathology in children typically focuses on one emotion while ignoring the other – examining only shame or guilt, but not both, in relation to other variables. They have carried out a study on guilt and shame in a sample of 86 children.  Their results show that children demonstrate that guilt and shame are two distinctly different, self-conscious emotions in children. There was a high intensity of guilt responses on the scenario-based scales which signal their awareness of the pro-social or moral values that guide behavior, their acceptance of responsibility, and their desire to make amends for bad behavior. Shame proved to be associated with self-oriented explanations, in which children were less likely to distance themselves from the painful feeling by viewing the action as uncharacteristic of the self, by minimizing the self, or by excusing the self. Acknowledging shame in children’s minds was the same as implicating the self in what happened. This study shows in my opinion the importance of exploring both guilt and shame in children, and that even though children may seem to distinguish between the two emotions; they seem in my opinion to merge in certain situations, such as in sexual abuse.

The child may experience shame in my opinion, when social norms and moral values are threatened but believes instead that the fault lies within oneself. This shame is often embodied; it indicates that there is something wrong with the body. Linda speaks of a child who was sexually abused by her uncle. The child believed that she was being abused because there was something wrong with her body. She also tells us about a child who was given the responsibility of telling her abuser when she wanted the abuse to stop, and this was something that she did not dare to do.

Linda_1:         There was a girl who said to me that umm, she was being abused by her uncle, and she had a sister who wasn’t. She wasn’t very old. Maybe seven or eight I think. And she said ((looks down on her shoes)) umm she said that there was something wrong with her body. Because he didn’t do it with her sister. That’s what she said ((scratches the back of her ear)). She was really looking for something here ((scratches her forehead)). She didn’t say that she was being abused ((hides behind her hand)). She said that umm her uncle was like that because of her and her body, because he wasn’t like that when her mom and her sister were there. That’s what she said. So that umm (.) and then she wondered whether it was the way she walked, the way she sat, or what it was about her body?...Many abusers say that you have to tell them when you want them to stop. But the kid is just too scared and can’t say a word…And umm they also have a way of altering things. And I have had a lot of conversations about this, small children who tell me what they actually do. It can be anything; it depends on the situation in which the abuse takes place, and one of them said that she bit her thumb because the pain there was so strong that the abuse disappeared…She pretended to be sucking on her thumb and then she bit her thumb till the pain got so strong that umm what was happening under the quilt went away. They try to reframe the action.

Linda speaks of a child who experiences herself as defective, ugly and that something is wrong with her body. Wells and Jones (2000) argue that individuals who feel themselves to be naturally defective are also more likely to feel excessively bad about making mistakes. Feeling that one is defective may thus cause individuals to feel excessive guilt fused together with shame. I notice in this story that Linda seems in my opinion here to show non-verbal markers of shame (appendix 20) when speaking of this child who was sexually abused; looking down and hiding behind her hands. This indicates the difficulty workers also feel in receiving stories of sexual abuse; some will feel shame and for some also past emotions related to their own sexual abuse might become re-activated, some might also show signs of re-victimization.

Olga argues that shame is very painful for a child. When children are abused, they are not just physically damaged, the relation between adult and child changes, and it is within this damaged relationship that shame develops.

Olga:                           But I also believe that ((braids her fingers together in front of her)) a little child who experiences this, that it is not just physical damage, something unconscious also happens ((moves her hand up and down from her head to her stomach)), because of power, I’m not very good at finding the right words. But something happens between an adult and a child in a situation like that…Shame is very painful for a child.

Sexual abuse seems to be related to power and not just the physical acts that are committed. Olga claims that something happens to the child on an unconscious level because of the power dimension which is involved in the abuse. In my opinion, Olga is speaking of the relation between children and adults that is characterized by a difference in power. When the relation can also be characterized by trust, as with parents, and the consequences of sexual abuse might seem to be greater. When the trusting relationship is replaced with a misuse of power, the shame which Olga speaks of here becomes even greater in my opinion for the child.

In this section, I have taken a closer look at the relation between Child-Blaming and Child-Shaming, and in my opinion these categories have much in common with Mother-Blaming and Mother-Shaming, with the possible same destructive spiral for the development of self as a result.

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