Thursday, November 22, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 26.3 Alienation
At first glace, self-harming seems to be a common reported consequence of sexual abuse at the Incest Centre in Vestfold. Several of the employees at the Centre report that a majority of the users of the Centre, and state that as many as nine out of 10 users of the Centre have self-harming as a problem in one way or another. Self-harming seems to have many different forms, such as; eating-disorders, cutting and burning oneself, excessive physical training, washing and scrubbing oneself, or the use of sex.
The findings in this study seem to indicate that self-harming is not a direct consequence of sexual abuse but from shame. Participants, who report to have been sexually abused and report a low degree of shame, seem to have little problems with self-harming. Likewise those who have been sexually abused and report of a high degree of shame, seem to show a higher degree of self-harming. Shame seems therefore in this study to be more the direct cause of self-harm and not the sexual abuse in itself. The inner pain which victims feel seems to weaken to a certain degree after the self-harming, although the results are rather limited, and the feeling of guilt and shame increases afterwards and thereby also increasing the inner pain. This would be interesting to explore deeper in further studies.
Shame seems to have a large impact on the view many of the participants have on their own bodies and I choose to call this phenomenon for body shame. Many seem to feel ashamed and alienated over their bodies and call themselves for; ugly, disgusting, horrible, dirty, soiled, unclean, abnormal, sick, or destroyed. It seems in my opinion that many place the cause of the abuse on their body; saying that something must be wrong with one’s body since others have chosen to abuse it.
Many participants in this study seem to be ashamed of the food they eat and in eating itself. Some food products remind them of the abuse, such as; milk, remoulade, mayonnaise, and yogurt. Some say that their relation to certain food products make them seem as difficult inpatients when in psychiatric therapy. People they meet might misinterpret their resistance to certain food products and try to force them to eat food that unknowingly has a symbolic value for the sexually abused person. Shame and control over one’s body seems to be related. Some participants seem to try to control the form of their bodies, one’s body weight and what goes in and out one’s mouth. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia seem in this study to be more directly related to shame than to the sexual abuse in itself, as with self-harming. Shame distorts ones self-image and may for some result in using food and eating as a form for self-harming or for some a way of having control over ones mind and body.
Several of the participants who say they have experienced psychiatric problems because of the sexual abuse they suffered as children seem to report not to have benefited from ordinary psychiatric treatment because of: an improper diagnosis; therapist without necessary knowledge within the field of sexual abuse; therapy which is symptom orientated; or just not being permitted to speak of sexual abuse. Some therapists seem to be orientated primarily in the here and now situation and do not encourage their patients to speak of past experiences. Some of the participants have expressed that they were not allowed to speak of their sexual abuse while being in therapy. Margaret tells about a woman who was required to sign a contract saying she would refrain from speaking about the sexual abuse she had suffered as a child before being admitted as a psychiatric patient.
Margaret: I remember one user here, several years ago, who had to sign a contract saying that as long as she was a psychiatric patient she was not to speak of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a child.
Not being permitted to speak of ones inner self as Margaret speaks of here may in my opinion serve as shame inducing and stigmatize the person asking for help. Several of the participants seem to feel themselves stigmatized by: doctors; psychologists; child care; and other helping institutions or the judicial system. They seem to have experienced that their symptoms from their sexual abuse are uncovered and categorized as: not normal; morally wrong; sick; illegal; or just not being believed.
I have created figure 3 to illustrate the relationship between the different kinds of alienated relationships, which I call in the dialogical terminology for I-It meetings. Treating oneself and others as objects instead of subjects, and inducing suffering, seem to provide a temporary relief from inner pain.
It seems characteristic for many informants that the brief relief from pain can lead to more suffering and be replaced by Blaming and Shaming. It is here in my opinion Mother-Blaming, Mother Shaming, Child-Blaming and Child-Shaming may lead to a destructive spiral of self-harming and the harming of others for many of the participants in this study.
Some participants speak of their abusers as being seemingly indifferent to the suffering they have induced on them through the sexual abuse. Figure 3 might cast some light over the situation experienced by abusers who themselves have experienced sexual abuse as children, and developed indifference as a prominent emotion. Treating children as objects and inducing suffering on them through sexual abuse, and feeling indifferent to the consequences, might explain the abusive spiral for some abusers. The complicated relationships within such a self-abusive and abuse of others spiral will demand further exploration, but the spiral seems to be relevant in relation to the information given from the participants in this study.
One of the participants, Olga, describes the shame she felt as a kind of suffering. She isolated herself, did not dare to go outside, and felt that everything in her family was chaotic.
Kaare: How did you experience your shame?
Olga: ((Bites her lips))
Kaare: How did it show itself?
Olga: ((Looks from side to side)) (.)
Kaare: Did you blush?
Olga: My life was all about suffering (.)
Kaare: What does that mean?
Olga: That means that I didn’t dare go out and meet others. I didn’t even pick up the mail ( )
Kaare: Were you afraid someone would understand what had happened to you?
Olga: Probably that to, but I was completely unprepared umm and I knew so little about ((Looks up at the ceiling)) (.) and it took so long before I understood (.) yeah. And everything with the whole family that was just ((Makes a throwing movement with her hand)) thrown up in the air and ( ) yeah.
Olga says that her life was “all about suffering”. What does it mean to suffer? Lindholm and Erikson (1993) have carried out a study of how one can ease suffering in an empathic culture. There findings suggest in my opinion that suffering should be considered as a state of being which is: a normal part of human life; a part of ones emotional work; not only as an emotion or a pain; meaningless in itself; a drama; possible to alleviated, but not eliminated; only be alleviated as Honnett (1996) argues through true compassion, affection, legal rights, recognition and respect.
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