Putting Shame to Good Use

minst_re_de_la_honte_mOne of the very interesting topics discussed on the second day of Rob, Shona and Maggie’s workshop was the narrative use of shame.

Leaving the problem’s “territory” to create new landscapes, celebrating differences instead of controlling and molesting others to make them similar: this is the objective of the journey of men who use violence, an essential stage of which consists in becoming able to “walk in someone else’s shoes” in order to develop a plural understanding of life fed by multiple narratives.

Experiencing shame plays an important role in therapy with men who use violence. Shame offers a starting point for conversations on the absent-but-implicit of shame: “What kind of man do you want to be and does this shame refer you to?” This is a kind of door that can be opened, leading to the idea that being responsible does not mean accepting “guilt” or falling into repentance, but rather remaining in contact with an ethical feeling (A. Jenkins), with the impact of our life choices and practices on the lives of those around us, and with our identity project (who we want to be).

To reach this destination, it is not enough to use a preferred story and simply turn our back to prior abuse and practices: something must happen so that the abuse and its impact on the victim’s life can be acknowledged, which is possible if it occurs on a new platform located on “solid ground”. The restitution/reparation practices I referred to yesterday are part of this process. Shame, too, although poorly attributed. Often victims of violence feel shame, instead of the authors of violence. “Shame on who?” is a question Rob often asks in his work with these authors. Shame can constitute a starting point towards preferred territories and a conversation on honorable acts much more than on guilt, which refers back to the internal identity of a “guilty” or “criminal” individual.

Becoming able to feel shame is an important step in this journey (“What does the fact that you feel shame say about you?”) It also allows for a strong story to be built based on shame and facing up, although shame is often associated with a story of weakness in the standard definitions of masculinity. “How can you put shame to use and make it an ally?”

This work on violence in family therapy can be very naturally applied to institutional violence, in dealing with moral and sexual harassment in the corporate world, and also in working on corporate values and culture and the way certain forms of institutional violence originate from ignorance or turning a blind eye to these values.

On another topic, the Euroconference itself, the first of its type, starts tomorrow. It is already a success, having attracted more than 230 delegates. Just one disappointment: of these 230 individuals, the only one who refused to shake my hand was a French colleague. First (and in the first draft of this article), I told myself that we would stay on topic. But after thinking about it, I wondered whether something had happened in my relationship with this colleague that pertained to violence and that her attitude reflected her own way of dealing with it, and not necessarily a negative intention that was specifically targeting me. I therefore concluded that I should leave the door open and sincerely try to see the situation from her standpoint … and to let time heal. The fact that I am able to adopt this kind of attitude and draw this conclusion is proof itself of the impact of our work over the past two days.

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