Monday, November 26, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 27.2 Taking oneself back
The good life according to existential philosophy has to do with becoming oneself, and this in my opinion is all about having contact with ones being wherever one is and when one is there (Heidegger’s concept of Dasein) and being-there with ones own will and power and personal motivation. The good life has to do with being-there, not living in the past but living in the moment. The self who becomes oneself, meaning taking oneself back as one of the workers at the Incest Centre in Vestfold described:
I believe that it’s important for me to help others take themselves back again. Being sexually abused often causes that one looses oneself; you’ve lost yourself and become something else. So it’s important to take oneself back again. My role in the centre is to listen to the users and help to change their situation. If the user is self destructive it’s important to help them change this so they can live differently with themselves. I know what helped me, so I can give some hints to what can help. But I try not to give advice. Each user must find ones own way.
I understand “taking oneself back” as referring to taking back both the center of ones personality and ones entire mind and body, including all of ones emotions (Møller 2008). This is not done all by oneself but with others in order to create a social self. In Homer’s Odyssey (700 B.C./2006), Odysseus is ashamed that certain people may see him crying. Shame is described as a reality between people. Ruth says it can be caused by a sense of loss, perhaps of something one has never had, and says crying can be experienced as a defeat:
Ruth_1: There are many emotions that we hide, crying, anger, frustration, fear, dread umm…The two most important emotions in the helping process are anger and crying…There are many ways to weep. Often crying is caused by a sense of loss, the loss of something they’ve never had. Then they cry over that. And they feel sorrow. In the helping process it’s important for them to place guilt and responsibility where they belong. They cry because the perpetrator could be so cruel and has wounded them so many times, loads of times. Crying is often very appropriate. It’s first after you’ve let yourself cry for the first time that you feel that it helps…but of course a lot of people think crying is a sign of defeat…For some people it has been dangerous to cry. The consequences could be great. They carry these experiences with them.
Crying might seem to be a sign of defeat, of giving up and losing control. Stempsey (2004) argues that those who observe someone crying may interpret this as showing a lack of courage or a defect in character. The function of shame can sometimes seem to prevent one from losing face in front of others. Shame should prevent people from behaving dishonourably. In my opinion, crying may open up the doors necessary to reveal ones emotions and be an important factor in the healing process of shame. Social workers need to have the insight that crying is not dangerous and allow those asking for help to cry when this is necessary. Sometimes social workers also feel the despair of the situation they are in with a person seeking help and feel the need to cry. In my opinion social workers should also be permitted to cry in order to reveal ones emotions and avoid the emotional consequences of hiding ones sense of loss and sorrow.
Several participants in the interviews describe their experience with crying. Margaret says that crying has to do with feeling powerless and despair. This seems to me to be a reaction to a situation characterized by hopelessness and in my opinion has much in common with the darkness and emptiness which in Margaret perceives as being the center of her personality and her entire mind and body, including all of her emotions.
Margaret_1: Powerlessness (.) that hurts. Crying ( ) when it’s there…It can be everything from anger-crying, anger-crying to umm real down in the cellar crying…When you really get hold of your powerlessness and despair, really feel it, and then you start sobbing..
By crying and revealing her emotions, Margaret illustrates in my opinion that she is starting to take herself back. She describes a variation of ways to cry. Observing the other person and perceiving the form of crying that is revealed seems to be of value in helping others. Dagny says that crying makes her partner feel like “shit” sometimes and at the same time it helps likes “shit”. Her partner seems to be uncomfortable with the crying situation.
Dagny: Sometimes everything turns upside down and my partner doesn’t understand why I’m lying on the floor and crying. I’m crying. Everything goes wrong when I lie there and cry and he doesn’t understand why. He feels like shit because I’m crying… It’s very complicated sometimes my feelings take completely off. I lie there on the floor and just cry and cry and cry. I can’t stop. It feels shitty, but it also helps like shit. It feels good to get it out… Just let it all out. You lie on the floor and shiver and weep and empty your insides completely. If you just dare do that, you have to feel secure, lay on the floor, nobody else is home, nobody can see you, you can’t scare anyone, there’s no danger of anything happening.
Helping partners to understand the emotional work that is necessary in the healing process should in my opinion be an important task in the social work with sexually abused men and women. It takes courage as Dagny says to open up and reveal ones inner self. Having a partner which can give respect and recognition in this situation is in my opinion an important resource in the healing of shame. But instead if scaring her partner and in order to feel safe when revealing her emotions, she cries alone. Crying can be experiences as losing face in front of others and thereby induce more shame. Anne feels shame when she cries because it signifies that she has lost control.
Anne: I’m awfully ashamed after I’ve cried, because I’ve lost control and not been strong enough.
Having control is important for many who have been sexually abused and need assistance to let go of some of their need for control. The informants show different ways of revealing ones emotions, not only crying. Instead of risking losing face when crying some chose more accepted ways of showing ones despair. Gunhild says she often laughs where she should be crying.
Gunhild: We often laugh instead of crying.
Several of the employees speak of laughing after having listening to horrifying stories of sexual abuse. Instead of crying after the conversation, laughter seems to be used to release emotions together with other employees. This might also be a marker for shame (appendix 20) and considered as a handling strategy, a way of coping with a feeling of shame. The sorrow and grief which is expressed at the Incest Centre is so immense that laughter is necessary so as not to create a depressed and miserable institution but instead be a place where joy and laughter also can come forth, even thought “outsiders” might seem the laughter to be misplaced. The employees use their many experiences in ways others might find difficult to perceive, such as crying in many different ways and laughing when standing in front of an abyss of Nothingness. In my opinion much can be learned by observing what makes the employees at the Incest Centre in Vestfold capable of helping other. This capability can in my opinion be called practical wisdom.
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