Yesterday Liz gave me a handout about shame. Intellectually I realise that I probably have feelings of shame, but I don’t identify with the feelings or concept of shame as it pertains to me. To be honest, even after reading the handout, I still didn’t really get the concept. So, I went in search of the answers in the literature…
Tomkins (as cited in Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg, 2006) states that “guilt concerns what one has done, whereas shame concerns who one is.” Tomkins also considers that shame exists on a continuum from mild embarrassment through to humiliation, with chronic feelings of shame occurring when someone experiences humiliation for extended periods of time. If the person carries the shame overtly, they will experience physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, palpitations and hiding behaviours. If the shame if covertly carried, the person will still feel the shame, but won’t be able to recognise or name it. Shame will be described by those covertly holding it as feelings of being ‘stupid’, ‘feeling bad’ or ‘insecure’ (Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg, 2006).
As part of their study, Rahm, Renck & Ringsberg (2006) looked for word cues which lead to Indicator groups and their aspects of shame, as seen below:
|Indicator group||Aspects of shame|
|Feeling like an outsider|
This makes more sense to me than the quite abstract concept of shame. It becomes a tick-able list where you can identify aspects of your behaviour and feelings. It also helps to then draw the links to other experiences, behaviours and feelings – for example if you repeatedly felt betrayed by an authority figure, then this will impact on your ability to trust people and form attachments to those around you.
According to Feinauer, Hilton & Callahan (2003), “shame promotes a desire to hide and disappear and may intensify to the point of wishing to no longer exist”. Suddenly lots of little things about the concept of shame started to click into place… W has a rule that we must be invisible, she is also the first step on our road to suicidal intent. So it seems as if I carry shame not as an emotion, but as a symptom and indicator of the abuse and experiences from my past. It is chronic and covert in my life. What is confusing is that much of my serious self-injury is based around ensuring that I experience more shame. This makes no sense. I understand that we will look for what is comfortable and familiar; sometimes that comfort and familiarity comes from self-injurious behaviour. But why would I seek further humiliation? Another topic to research while I’m off work relaxing…
This really only touches on aspects of shame, but it’s all I can cope with at the moment. If I’m up to it later in the week I’ll expand on it so that I can process it in time for my session next week with Liz…
Wish me luck, I pick up the mother for another three week visit tomorrow…
Feinauer, L., Hilton, H., & Callahan, E. (2003). Hardiness as a moderator of shame associated with childhood sexual abuse. American Journal of Family Therapy, 31(2), 65-78. doi:10.1080/01926180390167115
Rahm, G., Renck, B., & Ringsberg, K. (2006). ‘Disgust, disgust beyond description’ – shame cues to detect shame in disguise, in interviews with women who were sexually abused during childhood. Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, 13(1), 100-109. Retrieved October 5, 2009, from CINAHL with Fulltext.