Chapter I: Through the Portal of Shame: A Path Toward Self-Love for Fatherless Daughters Living in Patriarchy

Abstract

This thesis is a heuristic exploration, from a depth psychological perspective, of the relationship between shame and authentic voice for fatherless daughters living in a patriarchal culture. Literature is reviewed related to a definition of shame and understanding its etiology and psychological effects. Through a depth psychological analysis of the author’s personal experience of abandonment by her father, the path toward healing shame is revealed as the capacity to be vulnerable enough to tell one’s whole story in the presence of a loving and compassionate witness. This profoundly courageous act is what leads a fatherless daughter from a place of a silenced voice in the face of shame to a place of empowerment through sharing her authentic voice and moving toward psychological liberation.

 Acknowledgments

My Grouses! Our flock’s spiraling journey to the Self allowed me to have the strength and courage to love myself again. My therapist, mentor, and healing maternal figure, you have been such an incredible and magical guiding light in my darkest hour; you are a gift to me. Thank you for seeing me; you helped me save my life. My dear friend and soul mate, Delia Shargel, for graciously and abundantly opening your heart, home, and mind to me to write this thesis during my time of immense need; our epic conversations breathe through these pages and live in my soul. My Abby, you are a soul mate and light up life, thank you for always believing in me. My advisor, Barbara Boyd for your deep and abiding encouragement, support, and faith in my voice. My editor, Rebecca Pottenger, you rock at what you do, our collaboration taught me so much about the power of women working together, thank you for helping me strengthen my voice.

Dedication

To all my relations,
you are the birth canal of who I am.
To all the women in my life,
you show me the way more than you could ever know.
To my mother,
thank you for carrying the shadow of patriarchy in the best way you knew how, and for inspiring me to do the same.
I love you more than infinity, no givebacks.
And, to my father,
you have been one of my greatest teachers and allies through your absence in my life. Thank you for playing this most difficult role.

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Chapter I Introduction

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences betwe’en us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken. Lorde, 2007, p. 42

Area of Interest

This thesis explores the correlation that has been established between young girls whose fathers were either physically, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually absent and the tendency for the girls to internalize a sense of shame and core identification with a lack of self-worth or value (Leonard, 1982; Murdock, 1990; Reis, 2006). It proposes that in a culture with a history of thousands of years of patriarchal domination, the absence of a father results in lack of mirroring and validation of the daughter’s worth. This thesis also proposes that this abandonment produces a sense of being deficient and worthless and this causes a deep internalization of shame. Further, the shame internalized by young girls when abandoned by their fathers brings about a loss of the child’s voice, or ability to express her deepest desires, feelings, and dreams. This exploration will also consider the question of how shame affects the formation of self-image and the subsequent access a woman has to her authentic self and true creative power.

When a young girl internalizes shame as a core sense of identity, she quickly learns that it is safer to reject herself than experience rejection from someone in her life (Leonard, 1982). The outer abandonment of the personal father is internalized as an inner abandonment of the child to herself. The outer abandonment by the personal father is a shaming experience for the child. The child does not have enough differentiated self- awareness yet to understand logically that it is not her fault that her father has left her; the only way the child can comprehend the traumatic experience is to assume she has been left because she is bad rather than the parent who is experienced as godlike.

The egoic structure forms, in part, in response to this profound loss and defense mechanisms begin to crystalize (Bradshaw, 1988). The child learns how to protect herself from further pain and loss by hiding her authentic self because who she really is was rejected, not accepted, and abandoned. This experience is internalized as shameful and wrong. The child believes now that there is something wrong with her innate being; similarly to any other adaptive creature, she instinctively responds to the environment by creating various forms of armoring and false senses of self in order to survive. Among the defensive armors is the cloak of perfectionism. Perfectionism is an ideal armoring for a fatherless daughter in that it defends against the imperfect nature of the child that she believes caused the father to leave.

Perfectionism is also highly regarded in a masculine-dominated society as something to strive for on a daily basis in all areas of one’s life, for it is achievement and success that defines one’s value and sense of self-worth in patriarchy (Reis, 2006). When one is constantly striving to be perfect, there is no room for vulnerability or hard feelings like being scared, angry, sad, or jealous. There is no room for mistakes, taking chances, being creative, play, and wild abandon. There is only time to work, achieve, and be better than everyone else. There is no time to suffer, feel pain, grieve, or mourn loss. There is no time for the body, love, art, or music. There is no time to be, to see, or to be seen.

When the father is physically absent the tendency for the child to constellate an inner father as an archetypal father figure becomes a magnified caricature in the child’s inner world (Reis, 2006). In the absence of the human father the void is filled with a larger than life and often impersonal presence. The impersonal father is both idealized in a godlike way carrying great powers and feared for his condemning and scrutinizing gaze that is always looking down upon the child. An actual father is fallible, has a shadow, makes mistakes, and is human with all types of qualities and characteristics. The impersonal father often only has one face with which the child learns quickly to become identified in order to avoid the archetypal father’s wrath and rejection. At this point he has become an internal aspect of the child that fundamentally rejects her as unholy and bad. The shame that can haunt a young girl’s life in the wake of the father’s abandonment can have devastating implications for her relationships and her psychological well-being. Guiding Purpose and Rationale

The emotion of shame prohibits human beings from feeling deeply connected to themselves and the world around them. Shame is the root of feeling alienated, isolated, and cut off from family, friends, community, spirituality, and the world at large. It is also at the core of loss of meaning and purpose in one’s life (Welwood, 2005, p. 11). According to psychologist John Bradshaw (1988) shame is the source of all addictions and compulsive behaviors (p. 35). This experience of fundamental disconnection blocks access to one’s creative potential, true desires, and a sense of love and belonging— central tenets of human existence. When one feels unworthy of belonging the psyche or sense of self fragments and becomes disjointed (p. 31). In shame the impulse is to silence and hide (Brown, 2012b, lecture).

The purpose of this thesis is to provide a deeper examination, from a depth psychological and feminist perspective, of shame in the life of a daughter abandoned by her father within a patriarchal context. Both the specific focus on the daughter-father relationship in which the undeveloped feminine is abandoned by the older masculine, and its analysis from a feminine psychological perspective, are important to the role of psychology in helping both clients and culture move toward greater wholeness.

The central path for people to begin to change their behavior in life is through empathic mirroring (Rowe & MacIsaac, 1998). Empathy is one of humanity’s greatest allies in the revolution from disconnection to connection. The values of patriarchy, however, do not foster empathic attunement and mirroring, vulnerability, and interdependence, but rather emphasize the individual over the whole, value homogeny over plurality and difference, and logical linear rational thought over feelings, emotions, empathy, and intuitive sensing. In that Western culture is patriarchal, structures of power and domination are wired into Western culture’s way of thinking, language, and modes of relating intrapersonally, interpersonally, and transpersonally. This discourages the compassion and human connection that is the basis of human beings coexisting in a creative way together on this planet. A recoding of these power structures needs to be the task of humanity today. This is an area in which the feminine, individually and collectively, once freed of shame, can contribute something of great value.

Patriarchal principles that tend to measure one’s worth based upon masculine qualities and values of rational, linear, and logical thinking, as well as achievement, autonomy, and radical self-reliance often have the effect of denigrating feminine principals such as emotions, the body, intuitive knowing, nonlinear thinking, the imagination, and interdependence (Reis, 2006; Woodman, 1985). As revisioned and reframed by feminist depth psychotherapist Maureen Murdock (1990), in her book The Heroine’s Journey,

a women’s quest in the world, given the current condition of Western culture, is to heal the split that tells us that our knowings, wishes, and desires are not as important nor as valid as those of the dominant male culture. Our task is to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us of the truth of life to hold the tension of not knowing the answers, and the willingness to listen to our inner wisdom and the wisdom of the planet, which begs for change. (p. 11)

 The task at hand during this time of the world’s unprecedented ecological, spiritual, and existential crisis of meaning is for women to heal their inner split, and to reclaim their authentic feelings, desires, visions, and dreams in order to be taken into consideration and listened to by the culture at large. The shame that stifles women’s creativity as fatherless daughters living in a patriarchal culture must be healed in order to access the eros or creative power that lies hidden in each woman and between all persons. If one is prevented from connection and avoids being truly seen due to shame then shame is not only a destructive force in the psyche, but is also the gatekeeper that blocks one’s creative potential and ability to truly love. The only way to cross the threshold is by learning how to be safely vulnerable (Bradshaw, 1988; Brown, 2012a).
It is in the shared temenos, the sacred container or vessel, of eros, the circulation of love and creativity between people, that true healing begins. This thesis explores the need for a deeper psychological move than empathic mirroring in the reintegration of deeply shamed and split-off authentic feminine. More than witnessing is required to heal shame and peoples’ sense of being disconnected: Consciously engaging with the unconscious in the temenos of eros is needed to give people back their sense of self in a deeper and richer way than before.
One of the main tenets of this thesis is that the only way to heal the relational wounds exacerbated by the values of patriarchy is to reclaim the disavowed aspects of humanity. The key to humanity’s future and the success of the species lies in the space between people, and this requires radical interdependence through self-love and acceptance in order to truly love and accept others and the differences that allow the unimaginable complexity and diversity of life that is needed for the thriving of any species. When a person descends into the depths they rediscover who they are, and are no longer solely defined by a cultural construct, but by their soul’s deepest inner knowing. Healing patriarchy is about healing a relational wound of disconnection, the disconnection from divine nature. In this severance, human beings tend to forget that they are an integral part of the web of being, not separate and meaningless but wholly meaningful and deeply connected. In patriarchy, a woman’s story is narrated by a male- dominated paradigm that dictates that the masculine subjective experience is the objective truth by which all is measured and valued. This thesis takes the position that it is an ethical imperative for each person to be free to tell his or her story and to listen to each story from a place of love, compassion, and understanding. Speaking and listening from a place of raw vulnerability and truth is erotic, in other words, creative and connecting. Such deep listening may finally end mass genocide and homogenization of the soul on this planet.

The goal of this thesis is to contribute to understanding the nature of and how to heal the shame that splits off the feminine self when a father abandons a daughter. This shaming is a microcosm of the patriarchal abandonment and shaming of feminine values at the collective level. As such, this thesis is committed to the role of psychotherapy in cultural change: It seeks to bring about a time when a woman needs no longer to be in search of approval from her father, personal or collective, a time when a woman no longer needs to look for validation by living a life that fits a mold that is not her own and no longer adheres to the standards of a male-dominated society that is destroying this planet, the people on it, and humanity’s future. Women must lead the way, for no man can give a woman her identity, and this is what this quest of self-discovery and self-love is about, the reclamation of a woman’s self.

Research Problem and Questions

This thesis responds to the need for psychological research from a feminist depth perspective, and in a woman’s voice. Liberating a woman’s voice and power means breaking the bonds that tie her to her inner and outer imprisonment, risking being rejected by her patriarchal society. A woman who has lost her voice and power to the patriarchal values either risks being rejected by a culture that has already made her inferior or signs up for a life in which she is dead to herself and the world. This means that women will have to liberate themselves. As the feminist psychologist Patricia Reis (2006) wrote,

Many women have a desire to write but feel they cannot find their voice. Finding one’s voice, written or spoken, is central to establishing a woman’s sense of self and is at the core of some our most mutinous and subversive relations with men. A compliant, dutiful daughter and wife does not speak or write her own mind. Instead, she serves the ones who own the language. (pp. 167-168)

 The field of psychology is replete with literature written from a masculine perspective using psychological constructs and referring to experiences that are assumed to apply across genders. This thesis models for the field and for the women who enter it, a female voice from a feminine perspective on lived female experience. The guiding research questions are these: How does a fatherless daughter living in a patriarchal culture experience shame around her self-worth and value as a woman? How do fatherless daughters heal this shame in order to give voice and radical self-expression to their own subjective truths that do not align necessarily with the values of a male-dominated society?

Research Methodology

A heuristic approach was used as a framework of this thesis. Humanistic psychologist Clark Moustakas (1990) described heuristic research as

a process that begins with a question or problem which the researcher seeks to illuminate or answer. The question is one that has been a personal challenge and puzzlement in the search to understand oneself and the world in which one lives. The heuristic process is autobiographic, yet with virtually every question that matters personally there is also a social—and perhaps universal—significance. (p. 15)
 My research question is one of the deepest personal challenges of my life in understanding who I am, where I come from, and how my sense of identity fits into this world. This thesis is autobiographic: My sole intention is to be structurally transformed through researching how shame has shaped who I am as a fatherless daughter living in a patriarchal culture by coming to a place of greater self-acceptance, understanding, and most of all love. I have tremendous shame around my voice; the only way I knew how to get to a place to be able to write this thesis was to study and analyze how and why I have shame around sharing my story, ideas, and reflections in written form. This thesis is a personal journey of lived self-analysis that perhaps may have universal significance that may serve other fatherless daughters in finding their authentic voices. All persons mentioned in my story have given me written consent to include them.

 Overview of the Thesis

Chapter II reviews existing literature that has offered definitions of shame and has discussed its etiology and psychological effects (Bradshaw, 1988; Brown, 2012a, 2012b; Tangney & Dearing, 2002; Welwood, 2005). It further explores research related to how to work with shame, healing it in one’s life (Bradshaw, 1988; Brown, 2010, 2012a; Sullivan, 1989). It also provides a discussion that contextualizes women’s experience of shame within patriarchal culture (Gilligan, 1982; Lorde, 2007; Murdock, 1990; Reis, 2006; Tarnas, 2006). Working from a depth psychological perspective, Chapter III is a heuristic analysis of shame as it relates to my experience as a fatherless daughter living in patriarchy and its healing through the process of sharing my story. Chapter III also includes reflections on the clinical applications of my findings in working with shame. Finally, Chapter IV gives a brief summary of what was explored in this thesis, concluding thoughts, and suggestions for further research.

5 thoughts on “Chapter I: Through the Portal of Shame: A Path Toward Self-Love for Fatherless Daughters Living in Patriarchy

  1. Reblogged this on A Life Un-Lived and commented:
    There are pearls among this filth. “This thesis is a personal journey of lived self-analysis that perhaps may have universal significance that may serve other fatherless daughters in finding their authentic voices.”
    Indeed. One hopes authenticity results.

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thank you so much for visiting my site, reading this chapter, and sharing my work on your site. I see that you graduated from Pacifica as well :). I truly value and appreciate the work your are dedicated to and I would love to engage in deeper dialogue with you, if you ever feel called, about the issues you are focusing on with Women. Healing. Violence.

      Warmest wishes,
      Jessica

      1. Thanks so much for reaching out, Jessica. I sensed the Pacifica influence! I really admire what you are accomplishing, and the importance of your topic. I would definitely like to connect.
        Thanks again,
        Laura

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