Breaking women’s shackles of shame


Shame is one of the negative concealed emotions that usually impacts on an individual’s ability to live their best life as it triggers an internal state of inadequacy. Professors Kathryn Nel and Saraswathie Govender recommend interventions for dealing with this emotional breaker.

The two professors have contributed two chapters to the book titled The Bright Side of Shame, highlighting interventions that could be used to help individuals overcome feelings of shame, especially women. They jointly authored the chapters Interventions for Shame and Guilt Experienced by Battered Women (chapter 12), and Dealing with Shame Using Appreciative Inquiry (chapter 36).

Professor Kathryn Nel

In chapter 12, the authors highlight the plight of women abuse and its dire effects on women, causing shame for various stigma perpetuated by societal norms. Woman abuse is a severe challenge as it may take some time before a battered woman regains self-esteem and to understand her own situation. In many countries like SA, cultural values such as patriarchy lead to the physical, verbal and psychological abuse of women who need to know their place.

“Divorce or leaving a long-term partner when the payment of lobola [bridal price] is not yet complete and/or paid is seen as shameful and both the woman and her family experience anxiety and guilt as the community avoids them,” they assert, recommending that women tell and own their stories as the narrative may be therapy or a powerful tool in the context of a long-term abusive relationship.

Learned helplessness

“In both the developed and developing countries worldwide, abuse of women is rife, thus practical interventions are needed, which have a broad application,” they note, adding that victims often develop learned helplessness that leads to a belief that one deserves the abuse and that there is no way out. This mental state is called battered woman syndrome (BWS), which the authors say represents a specific set of psychological and behavioural symptoms that result from prolonged exposure to physical, sexual and/or psychological abuse.

Professor Saraswathie Govender

According to Nel and Govender, in sub-Saharan Africa, poor rural women are frequently unable to leave their abusive partners as their families compel them to hold on because of the shame attached to parting from their spouses. “Some women are unable to break the relationship and remain in the abusive partnership until their partner either dies or leaves them but a few manage to get out of the relationship,” they argue.

The authors highlight religion, narrative therapy, and brain working recursive therapy (BWRT) as some interventions that could help women who experience shame and guilt, arguing that these interventions could also mitigate psychological problems that are caused by aspects of shame.

The Bright Side of Shame

In chapter 36, they show the importance of appreciative inquiry (AI) in dealing with the shame and guilt experienced by individuals with HIV/Aids in a South African context. “AI gives people living with HIV/Aids a chance to discover positive things about themselves by avoiding dwelling on the negative things in their lives. It helps HIV /Aids patients affirm their strengths and successes as well as recognising their future potential.”




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