Projet Nudité - Filial body shame and family rules for shame

In Kindliche Körperscham und familiale Schamregeln (Filial Body Shame and Family Rules for Shame) (PDF-Format, 363 KB), Prof. Dr. Bettina Schuhrke researches "the mutual structures between the incidence of filial shame and the parental dealing with intimate situations. The central questions thereby are, from which indications do parents conclude the incidence of body shame, how do situations of shame look like, at what age do they occur, where do parents draw lines, and how are episodes of shame being processed." [5: the pagenumbers to the original text are in between square brackets]

+General reconnaissance of the feeling of shame

+Reasons for body shame

Schuhrke defines body shame as "a covering up, veiling, hiding of the body."[10] There could be several motives for that. "First, the body can be hidden by a feeling of inferiority because it doesn't live up to the standards of attractivity and achievement, propagated in certain social subgroups. [...] Second, the hiding is led by social rules, and the individual will follow the rules which apply to his own group, in order not to endanger his status as a member." Schuhrke remarks: "It differs greatly between different cultures, and is subject to historical changes, which parts of the body can be presented or not by whom, in what situations, and in what form." [10] She mentions Elias, who describes how since medieval times in Western Europe, constraints from the outside are increasingly transformed into constraints from within, and how ever further domains of the body become occupied with shame, that is, driven out from the public into the private domain.

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Within the family, to a large extent can people be quite close to eachother, both physically and emotionally. Yet there are also here partial domains from which the children are excluded, for instance, the intimate relationship between the parents. A minimum of bodily restraint has been of all times and cultures, especially genital shame, and the hiding of sexual intercourse. Unfortunately, it has to remain unknown whether this behavior has biological or cultural grounds. "In biological theories, the genital shame serves the control of sexual arousal being evoked in others, and the restraint of sexual intercourse, the protection from being assaulted in a situation in which the participants are defenseless."[11]

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+Ranges of body shame

Body shame is largely sexual shame, and comprises nowadays in Western cultures "the visibility of the sexual organs, the excrements and actions that are associated with them", as well as "the smell of the body, respectively, several excrements and typical noises that go with bodily functions and actions." "The body related feeling of shame demands certainly a control of the visibility of the body, and the touches by others[...] Also in regard to the control of touches, mainly the sexual organs are concerned."[11]

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+Aspects of the shame process

+Introduction

How is the observance of social rules garanteed in the individual? Schuhrke replies, it is because of the "negatively selfevaluating emotions[..], among which mostly shame, abashment, painfulness, and guilt are reckoned. By these emotions, the individual is hampered in, or obliged to correct, deviating behavior."[12]

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+Shame

"Shame may occur, when a person observes a violation of rules, or a transgression of the accpted norm, with himself or with other persons, with which he experiences at least a passing liaison (for instance, a group of restaurant guests, his own family). In order for shame to occur, a public that, at least potentially, can judge a transgression, is essential. But these others do not need to be physically present. Also in situations in which a person is allone, the public can be present in the mind. To body shame it might mean, that in some cases, also in apparently private ones, one cannot free oneself from the rules which apply to the public domain, for instance the rule, not to touch your genitals.

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+Paralysation

In the condition of shame, the self is paralysed, because the individual undertakes in that moment a total self condemnation. Speech and thoughts are totally blocked. The experience is characterized by the wish to disappear, to hide, and the corresponding nonverbal expressions support this wish: the eyes cast down or turned away, a lowered head, a subsided upper body; these are the most commonly mentioned features. A real mimic expression is lacking. Blushing is not a typical feature of shame, because it also occurs in connection with the other selfevaluating emotions, and is all in all both with children and with adults a rather rare companion to selfevaluating emotions.[12]

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+Painfulness

In schientific litterature, painfulness is also often mentioned in connection with violation of body presentation rules. It's mostly conceived as a less intense and shorter persisting feeling. Accordingly, the expression charachteristics seem also to become less severe: no subsiding body, no interruption of speaking and thinking abilities, but instead a rapid change of the eyes direction and a specific grinning, breaking up eyecontact before reaching its strongest peak of expression.[12-13]

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+Abashment

Abashment already arises from mere attentiveness, an emphasis, wihout one being conscience of any violation of rules or norms. To feel the attentiveness of others directed onto oneself, however, may lead you to wonder, what the other might be thinking about you, how the other is appraising you, also in regard to bodily aspects.[13]

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+Guilt

Other than with shame, it is not the own self which is entirely being judged, but a specific deed. Thereby, the person remains sooner capable of action than with shame. Feelings of shame are often brought into connection with actions at which others are being damaged. They are connected to taking control of responsibility, remorse and the longing for recompense. The public is not central to guilt, even when it might exert a strengthening effect on feelings of guilt."[13]

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+The goal of selfevaluating emotions

"When an individual has transgressed social rules, and others recognize with him a suitable expression, pointing at shame, painfulness, or guilt, he can be sure that he will be accepted again by society. ,Shamelessness', on the contrary, leads to a strengthened rejection."[13]

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+Shame-fear and modesty

Often one gets a signal warning for a shame situation, thereby being able to avoid it, or reducing the probability of the occurrence of a painful situation, for instance by retreating into a dressing cabin. The psychoanalyst Wurmser calls this "shame-fear". Further, he defines "modesty" as "a kind of self-respect, an instruction to a reaction, a preventive hiding of oneself, but also a restraint which impedes the intrusiveness toward others." Schuhrke calls this "shame feeling". [14]

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+Shame scripts and cultures

"Individuals develop during their lives scripts that deliver the entire scenario for the unwinding of shame events. One such prototypical script for body shame specifies the conditions under which shame should occur, how the acute shame reaction should look like, and which processes can help to cope with the occurring shame. The heart of the matter at the triggering conditions for body shame is actually always, that certain regions of the body are being touched by others. Around this heart, specific social rules of certain cultures or subcultures have been formed to the preventive avoidance of body shame. For instance, all possible forms of clothing rules, rules for the retreat at certain acts, and so forth. The non proper use of preventive action can in it self become a trigger for painfulness, for instance the open fly of a pair of trousers."[14]

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+Development of shame

+The first occurrence of emotion of shame

"Selfevaluating emotions can only occur, when a child has an objective selfknowledge at its disposal. That's to say, that it can step out of its subjective experiential flow, and start to look at itself as an object of contemplations and evaluations. This begins in the second half of the second year of life. Increasingly, also the ability will improve to 'think into' and 'feel into' the vision of other persons. The child can thereby recognize the needs of others and the meaning of its actions to them. Besides, it will observe itself as the subject of evaluation by others. Selfevaluating emotions also require the ability to assess the causes of events and the deliberativeness or unintentionality of behavior. Finally, an evaluation of the own actions can only follow, when a child understands rules and norms at all, and can measure its activities by them."[15]

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+Shame in very young children (<2 years)

Regularly, studies also encounter shame and painfulness in very young children (<2 years). How is that possible? "In order to answer that, it is necessary to consider the actual behavior of other persons as a trigger for shame and painfulness. In early shame reactions, the proces of 'social referencing' could play an important role, which can already be pointed out at the end of the first year of age. In new or conflictuous situations, in which, for instance, prohibitions with regard to an interesting toy are proclaimed, children are looking for emotional signals of their supporting figures, and regulate their behavior accordingly."[16] At a (repeated) negative feedback of the supporting figures, the child would begin to anicipate this feedback "and in the end also in the absence of the significant others who have thereby becom an internalized public. Naturally, the emotional component in the actual or anticipated reaction of other people also keeps its meaning later in life."[16]

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+Family and body shame

+Introduction

Schuhrke is of opinion that "in any case, an inducement by the environment is necessary in order to pass on or change the manyfold expressions of body shame, which not only appear in different cultures, but also within them, in subcultures, strata, groups, families and persons." [17] The impartment of rules for body shame within the family can be highly confusing for children, because it is situationally bound.

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+Class differences

According to several studies, there are certainly class differences at the socialization of body shame. Generally, mothers from the lower classes are more restrictive in controlling filial body shame than middle class mums. "In the upper and middle class, mothers try to neutralize the dawning sexuality sooner by a relatively open contact. It should be imparted to the children, that one should follow the dresscodes, but basically should not be ashamed for one's own body. Lower class mothers, howerver, try to oppress the sexuality of their children. The childish curiosity is considered as suspicious, as a dark force, which has to be controlled. In those children, feelings of guilt are being generated"[17]

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+The age and shame of parents

In general, older parents have more conservative attitudes regarding filial bodily restraint. What's also true, is that older parents also have older children, and parents of older children are more restraint than those of younger children. However, taking only the parents of firstborn children into consideration, especially "the families in which the parents at the birth of their child already have a relatively high age, appear to be the least shameful ones." Further, a larger sense of shame is encountered at laterborn children, because they are confronted with their siblings, "who already have developed a certain amount of modesty. They are also confronted with parents who exhibit yet a larger modesty because of the rather high age of their first children."[17-18] Generally, one can say, that parents feel most ashamed, when they are seen naked by children of the opposite sex.

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+Shame in different cultures

"In different societies, assumptions about an earlier bashfulness in one of the sexes have been reported, yet not unambiguously in favor of one of them. [...] Assumptions on the onset of shame in different cultures vary from 5 years of age up to puberty."[18]

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+Conclusion

"At the beginning, the motivation to body shame was on the one hand ascribed to the desire, to hide the parts of oneself considered to be little attractive or incapable of performing. On the other hand, it was ascribed to the wish to demonstrate oneself as a known member of a group, representing certain rules of body shame. Often, the body parts which are occupied with shame, are turned into 'ugly' ones. When a child does not experience any feedback on body parts that should be hidden early on in life in a highly situational way, the child will become unsure about the value of those parts. This, in turn, may reinforce the necessity, to hide them." Filial shame will stronger occur in children which are not rewarded with positive feedback on right behavior."

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Source: Schuhrke, B. [ unter Mitarbeit von Rank, A., Stadler, A., Pinz, D. & Hildner, B.] (1998). Kindliche Körperscham und familiale Schamregeln. Eine Studie im Auftrag der BZgA/Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung. 7. unveränderte Auflage, Köln 2003: BZgA.