Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Dissertation on shame. Chapter 27.4 Self-knowledge
Linda argues that as a child she had to hide who she really was and play different roles. Her self-esteem first improved when she understood herself better.
Linda: My self-esteem improved when I understood myself better. I understood more about what was happening to me in relation to the abuse I had experienced…I didn’t understand that I could have said no, it was just something that happened. I tried to escape from it but didn’t succeed. When I grew a little older, after starting school, then I understood that others didn’t understand my experiences. I had to start hiding them, and that’s when I started playing roles.
In my opinion, both reflection and self-reflection demands an impact and a confrontation (Pettersen 2001). Through ones self-reflection one is cast back against oneself, to something unknown. Benhabib (1986) argues that self-reflection implies a return to oneself with a condition which is hidden. Developing ones self-knowledge involves being prepared and willing to be confronted with oneself, and it is this confrontation which helps us to develop as individuals. Finding and accepting one’s self seems to be important in the healing process of shame and Knut says that his process started with him having to accept himself.
Kaare: Was it ok to talk to someone at the incest centre?
Knut: That was really all-right. It started a process which helped me set free emotions and accept myself and be able to look at myself in the mirror and say, I like you. It was like that. My self feeling and self-esteem were real low. My self-confidence was there, but not like ( )…I don’t feel very much shame anymore.
Accepting oneself as sexually abused and declaring one’s shame with others as a social act is in my opinion a difficult task which several of the informants speak in the interviews. Acknowledging one’s shame to oneself is important, but it must also be shared with others. This is because in the process of gaining self-knowledge the individual decides to illuminate the depths of ones shame and recognize it for what it is. But in order to develop the social self and create a new identity, the individual has not yet acknowledged its full character and meaning. What is left cannot happen any other place but in the depth of one’s own self, or as Buber puts it, within an “I-with-me” (German: ich-mit-mir) relationship, and it is exactly this depth that is to be highlighted. Since the self is a social-self I chose to expand Buber’s phrase by saying that the change must take place within an “I-with-me-in-the-world”. Ruth argues that the helping process must start where the other person is, not where she is as a helper. This is not necessarily an easy task. Finding the other involves demonstrating some self-knowledge and sharing oneself with others. Ruth says that if the person she is trying to help expresses anger, then that’s where she has to start. That’s where the person is, and that’s where the need arises.
Ruth: I have to meet the user where she is and start there. If she’s angry, ok, then we start there instead of talking about something else. I believe it’s very essential to meet people where they are, because that’s why they come with their needs.
Declaring one’s shame, as Ruth implies, involves dialog with others; exposing and sharing oneself with others. Confession in a religious context can be perceived as a dialog with one’s god who answers secretly from the unknown. Self-knowledge is in my opinion it’s most actual moment no longer a monolog between “I-with-me” and even less a monolog between an “ego” and a “superego”. Self-knowledge brings one to a point where all speech stops and words cannot be found and one experiences a silent shudder over being oneself. Without this strong ocean of light which lights up the abyss of mortality and Nothingness, a declaration of shame would in my opinion be without substance in the shameful or guilty person’s inner life and ones shameful or guilty plea would simply be pathetic talk which no one would listen to. John, Knut and Ivar discuss their shame in relation to showing others who they are, that they have been sexually abused. But now John calls the Incest Centre in Vestfold his second home because he has found himself here. Ivar says that he got his self-confidence back. He remembers when it felt good to tell the bus driver that he was going to the Incest Centre in Vestfold even though everyone on the bus could hear him. He was proud of who he was and where he was headed.
John: I’ve been at the local grocery store here to buy food for the Incest Centre. I remember the first time. ((Turns from side to side)) Everybody stared at me. And, and, all I wanted to do was to hide. ((Pulls his hood over his head and off again)).
Kaare: Was it embarrassing?
John: Yes. I guess that’s what I felt. But I have to call this place, if I may, my second home, because it brings out my positive traits and keeps them there. But the first time I was here, I came from XXX and taking the first step in here was a giant leap. That was two or three years ago. (.) Just walking from the bus stop and up here, well I wished I could have crawled through the sewer instead.
Knut: I’m glad they have a back door here. I used the back door. It’s at the back. Nobody could see me. Nobody recognized me. Nobody knew me either.
Kaare: Was it all-right to talk about the abuse at the incest centre?
Knut: It was really all-right. It started a process that let me free some of my emotions and to accept myself so that I could look at myself in the mirror and say I like you, to put it that way. My self-esteem and self-image were at zero. I had some self-confidence, but nothing else. Now I don’t feel as much shame anymore.
Ivar: Umm (.) I got my self-confidence back. I remember when. It was here at the Incest Centre. I got on the bus to come here and just didn’t care anymore whether anyone knew what had happened to me. The bus driver asked where I was getting off, and I said load and clear so everyone on the bus could hear me, to the Incest Centre. That felt good.
Both Ivar and Knut found it helpful to gain new experiences with others and in so doing gain a better self-image and self-esteem. This is in my opinion a daring leap (vågestykke) which demands courage. Linda argues that shame engulfs the whole body and it seems impossible to rid oneself of it and concludes that helping others demands the courage to travel into the depths of the lives of others and willing to feel their pain.
Linda_1: It’s shame that makes you look away and not meet the eyes of others. That takes a long time for some people… It’s shame (.) You’re ashamed of (.) things that have happened. You’re ashamed over things you have experienced with your body. (.) So I’d say that umm your whole body is full of shame. That’s what I mean. (.)…The thing I like the most about working here at the Incest Centre is being able to go into the depths of the lives of our users. I was abused from the age of five or six, maybe before that even, but I can’t remember anything before that. I just can’t remember anything before that. But I’ve found out how to manage with my abuse, I use mechanisms to keep it at a distance and know how to tackle my everyday life…I learned in a way how to live two or three lives parallel to each other. You have to turn off some of your emotions in order to work here. But at the same time I have to be close and dare to travel into the depths of the lives of our users. I have to dare to feel some of their pain. When I’m finished with one conversation, I have a cigarette and then I’m ready for the next conversation.
In my opinion, if a person only felt shame in relation to the self, one would have a lot to endure when walking through the doors to self-knowledge. It would be hard to meet the demands of ones conscience when it is at its most punitive. But humans are always shamed before the eyes of others, before the world, before all those people one comes close to in the course of a lifetime. In order to meet these demands, the individual must travel two roads. The first road has already been mentioned and leads to the doors of self-knowledge. The other is the road of expiation. Expiation denotes an action which springs out of one’s conscience and which corresponds to compensation in the judicial sphere. When it comes to existential shame, one cannot strictly speaking, right the wrong that has been done – as if the shame and its consequences could be taken back. Expiation means first and foremost in my opinion that one reaches out to the person one feels shameful toward (myself and others), acknowledges one’s existential shame and receives the respect and recognition others give in order to get past the consequences of the situation(s) which is the direct cause of one’s shame. This also applies when the person one feels shame in relation to, is oneself. One must reach out to one’s self and acknowledge one’s shame in relation to oneself. Expiation must be an unconditional expression of one’s struggle for respect and recognition in the world, and this can only happen in my opinion through a changed relation to the world, and through a new serving identity with renewed human energy.
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