“Soos 'n vuil hond het ek gevoel” : shame narratives in South African survivors of chronic trauma

Van der Merwe, Amelia (2013-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Both chronic trauma and shame, as well as the relation between them, are understudied phenomena. This is despite particularly high levels of both trauma- and shame-related psychopathology in South Africa (Edwards, 2005). I conducted a qualitative study exploring experiences of trauma, shame, post-traumatic reactions and coping mechanisms in single interviews with 19 South African survivors of chronic trauma (intimate partner violence) using narrative analysis. Results from the categorical content analysis indicated that all but one participant reported a history of physical violence perpetrated by her intimate partner. Sexual and emotional violence were also reported by the majority of the participants. The most significant reported mental health outcomes were persistent fear, depression and suicidality, dissociation and somatic complaints. Coping mechanisms included religion, support from family, counselling and substance misuse. Using smiling as a mask to conceal difficult feelings and keeping occupied were cited as the most effective defenses. Shame was viewed as a social emotion, and often described as humiliation (and sometimes embarrassment), which required the presence of a mocking, hostile audience. This was interpreted in socio-cultural terms. Eleven women presented with a split self – the authentic self who admitted to a great deal of shame when asked indirectly, and the false self who was described in surprisingly positive terms. I analysed this split using categorical content analysis and narrative analysis from a social constructivist point of view at individual (clinical) level, organisational (micro-cultural) level, and broader cultural level. I used Gee’s (1991) categorical form analysis to analyse five long complex shame and trauma narratives with the aim of determining if psychic fragmentation presents at linguistic level. I also analysed three short, compressed trauma and shame narratives. The structure of the short narratives tended to be circular, erratic, disjointed, and interrupted (Scarry, 1985; Simon, 2008). The three short, compressed trauma narratives were characterised by long pauses or silences, hesitations, avoiding eye contact, hunching over, covering the face with clothes, whispering, so making the narrative almost inaudible, crying, and defensive leaning in towards me, and laughing. These women were exceptions – most women expressed an urgency to talk about their experiences in great detail. Although the longer narratives are essentially fractured chaos narratives at linguistic level, they contain predominant trauma- and shame-related themes that are consistent throughout the narratives and that remain intact in spite of the signs of linguistic disruption and fragmentation. They are, in order of narratives, 1) shame/self-blame and deservedness; 2) truth/lies and bearing witness; 3) shame, humiliation and dissociation; 4) the concealed, shame-based self, including amnesiac-like disorientation of place and time; and 5) patterns of cyclical leave-return reflecting perpetrator-instilled abandonment terror, including disorientation of time. I have argued that although language, or narrative structure, continues to mimic and reflect narrative content (fractured narratives vs fractured selves) – there is also the intriguing possibility of a disconnection between form and content; and that thematic coherence or consistency and narrative fracturing can co-occur; co-exist. There are a number of clinical features in the narratives which are either related to, or comprise diagnostic criteria for chronic trauma syndromes such as chronic PTSD and DESNOS, and intersect with shame themes in the narratives I analysed. Consequently, I argue that there is a substantial intersection or co-occurrence between exposure to chronic trauma, and trauma-related clinical symptoms, including shame, which emerge from the narratives, which without exception, demonstrate significant linguistic fracturing. In conclusion, a number of gaps in the literature were identified. Future research should triangulate methods and chronic trauma prevalence and longitudinal studies are needed both internationally and locally.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Sowel kroniese trauma as skaamte, en die verhouding tussen die twee, is tot dusver onvoldoende bestudeer – ondanks die besonder algemene voorkoms van trauma- en skaamte-verwante psigopatologie in Suid-Afrika (Edwards, 2005). Ek het ʼn kwalitatiewe studie onderneem en die ervaring van trauma, skaamte, post-traumatiese reaksies en oorlewingsmeganismes ondersoek in indiwiduele onderhoude met 19 Suid-Afrikaanse oorlewendes van kroniese trauma (geweld in intieme verhoudings). In my ondersoek het ek van narratiewe analise gebruik gemaak. Resultate van die kategoriese inhoudsanalise dui aan dat ál die vroue in die bestudeerde groep, behalwe een, ‘n geskiedenis van fisieke geweld gerapporteer het wat deur haar ‘partner’ gepleeg is. Seksuele en emosionele geweld is ook deur die meerderheid van die groep gerapporteer. Die mees betekenisvolle uitkomste in verband met psigiese gesondheid was voortdurende angs, depressie, selfmoordneigings, dissosiasie en somatiese klagtes. Oorlewingsmeganismes was onder andere godsdiens, berading en dwelms. Om ʼn glimlag te gebruik as masker vir die verberging van pynlike emosies, en om besig te bly, is genoem as die effektiefste verdedigingsmeganismes. Skaamte is gesien as ‘n sosiale emosie, en is dikwels ‘vernedering’ genoem (soms ʼn ‘verleentheid’), wat die teenwoordigheid van spottende, vyandige toeskouers impliseer. Skaamte is in die studie in sosio-kulturele terme geïnterpreteer. Elf vroue het 'n gesplete self vertoon – die outentieke self wat 'n groot hoeveelheid skaamte erken het wanneer hulle indirek daaroor uitgevra is, teenoor die valse self wat in verbasend positiewe terme beskryf is. Ek het hierdie gesplete self geanaliseer met gebruikmaking van kategoriale inhoudsanalise en ook van narratiewe analise uit 'n sosiaal-konstruktiewe perspektief – op 'n indiwiduele (kliniese), organisatoriese (mikro-kulturele) en ‘n breër kulturele vlak. Ek het Gee (1991) se kategoriale vorm-analise gebruik om vyf lang, komplekse skaamte- en traumanarratiewe te analiseer om te bepaal of psigiese fragmentering op 'n linguistiese vlak manifesteer. Ek het ook drie kort, gedronge trauma- en skaamtenarratiewe geanaliseer. Die struktuur van die kort narratiewe was geneig om sirkulêr, wisselvallig, onsamehangend en onderbroke te wees (Scarry, 1985; Simon, 2008). Die drie kort, gedronge traumanarratiewe is gekenmerk deur lang stiltes, aarseling, vermyding van oogkontak, vooroor buk, bedekking van die gesig met klere, fluistering (sodat die narratief byna onhoorbaar geword het), gehuil, defensiewe oorleun na my toe, en gelag. Hierdie drie vroue was uitsonderings – die meeste vroue het 'n dringende behoefte laat blyk om in fyn besonderhede oor hulle ervarings te praat. Alhoewel die langer narratiewe op 'n linguistiese vlak wesentlik gefragmenteerde chaos-narratiewe is, bevat hulle dominante trauma- en skaamte-temas wat konsekwent deur die verhale aanwesig bly ondanks die tekens van linguistiese disrupsie en fragmentering. Hulle is, in die volgorde van die narratiewe, 1) skaamte/selfblamering en verdiende loon; 2) waarheid/leuens en getuienis aflê; 3) skaamte, vernedering en dissosiasie; 4) bedekte, skaamte-gebaseerde self, insluitend die amnesieagtige disoriëntering van plek en tyd; en 5) patrone van sikliese vertrek en terugkeer, insluitend 'n disoriëntering van plek en tyd – 'n refleksie van die vrees om alleen gelaat te word, veroorsaak deur die gewelddadige optrede teen haar. Ek het geredeneer dat, alhoewel taal/ narratiewe struktuur geneig is om narratiewe inhoud na te boots en te reflekteer (gefragmenteerde narratiewe naas gefragmenteerde self) – is daar ook die interessante moontlikheid van 'n diskonneksie tussen vorm en inhoud; en dat tematiese samehang of konsekwentheid saam met narratiewe fragmentering kan voorkom. Daar is 'n aantal kliniese kenmerke in die narratiewe wat diagnostiese kriteria bevat vir kroniese trauma-sindrome soos kroniese PTSD en DESNOS, en wat verband hou met skaamtetemas in die betrokke narratiewe. Gevolglik redeneer ek dat daar 'n substansiële oorvleueling of saambestaan is van die blootstelling aan kroniese trauma en trauma-verwante kliniese simptome, insluitend skaamte. Dit kom na vore in die geanaliseerde narratiewe, wat sonder uitsondering deur linguistiese fragmentering gekenmerk word. Ten slotte is ‘n aantal leemtes in die literatuur geïdentifiseer. Toekomstige navorsing behoort metodes en algemeen-voorkomende kroniese trauma te trianguleer en longitudinale studies, plaaslik en internasionaal, word benodig.

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