• Phillip Koo

Global Perspective at Emotional and Physical Abuse in Light of Guilt and Shame

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Shame is rooted in many aspects of my upbringing. Growing up Chinese in an American society was difficult. Outside my home life, the society I grew up in encouraged people to be open and express their feelings. While in my family, sharing personal feelings that dehumanized or humiliated my family was harmful. According to Jackson Wu, Chinese culture has an integrative approach to family. There is a filial connection with social hierarchy and the primary contributor is Confucius. He was born around 550 BC and was a popular philosopher and educator. One of his primary texts is called the Analects. In his book, he developed five key relationships that my parents followed: ruler-subject, father-son, elder brother-younger brother, husband-wife, friend-friend.

A man who respects his parents and his elders would hardly be included to defy his superiors. A man who is not inclined to defy his superiors will never foment a rebellion. A gentleman works at the root. Once the root is secured, the Way unfolds. To respect parents and elders is the root of humanity.

According to Confucius scholar, Kwang-Kuo Hwang, “All social interactions are regulated by principle of the subordinate deferring to the superior.” This type of respect and filial piety became the quintessential element of Chinese society. Another Confucius scholar added, “Filial piety is the root of all virtue.” The family becomes the standard for all organizations from government to church.

This leads to an invaluable principle in Chinese culture: the understanding of public honor and shame. This is the concept of “saving face,” which is the culture’s “currency of power.” Rarely is there any admission of weakness, incompetency or guilt. “Shame disrupts social harmony, perhaps the supreme goal of Chinese thinking.” This type of system creates a balance of honor and shame. “Hence, outsiders, including people without guanxi or family, may be less socially restrained and opened to suspicion.”

But shame is not rooted in just Chinese or Asian cultures. Capturing the essence of shame, the theologian Bonhoeffer writes, “Shame is man’s ineffaceable recollection of his estrangement from the origin; it is grief for this estrangement, and the powerless longing to return to unity with the origin ... Man is ashamed of the loss of his unity with God and with other men.” Shame has its origins before the Chinese culture can lay claim to it. It can be overwhelming and can effectively deconstruct and destroy one’s well-being. Therefore, a good definition must be provided in this discovery. Shame begins with the real fear that the perception of inadequacy will result in the loss of parental [personal] love. Later this may also be internalized such that anxiety caused by the failure to live up to one’s wished-for-self-image reflects a past threat of losing parental love, or the present threat that one may lose super-ego’s [one who is in control’s] love.

Thus, this article will look at how shame correlates with emotional and physical abuse and how it relates to marriage and divorce. It will also look at statistics based out of a global campaign from the World Health Organization. From these statistics it will show how physical abuse is the main type of aggression against females. Although the abuse from females against males is present, abuse against females was extraordinarily higher and much more alarming. There will also be some information on psychological (emotional) and sexual abuse. Then the paper will look at a few case studies where shame culture impacted their desire to remain married or separate/divorce. Shame and cultural standards place a heavy burden on their decision(s). However, the most alarming tendencies through these stories reveal how traditions of shame, guilted many women to remain in abusive relationships. Finally, the paper will briefly look at Scripture and why focusing on the divine love of God be the preventive measure on how to treat women.

Statistics from the World Health Organization The result of these statistics originates from a global campaign from the World Health Organization, from 1990 to 2000 that reveal alarming statistics of battered women. The statistics are done by first defining what is abusive behavior and providing limited but effective global stats.

Abusive behavior is broken down to physical aggression, psychological abuse and sexual coercion. Physical abuse includes slapping, hitting, kicking, and beating. Psychological tactics involve intimidation, belittling, and humiliation. Sexual coercion involves forms of controlling behavior such as isolating a person from family and friends, monitoring movements, and restricting access to personal information.

In the stats, 48 population-based surveys were taken around the world. Upwards to 69% of women reported being physically assaulted by an intimate male at some point in their lives. “For many of these women, physical assault was not an isolated event but part of a continuing pattern of abusive behavior.” Research suggests that physical violence followed with psychological (emotional) abuse from one-third to over half of the cases. In Japan 57% suffered all three types: physical, emotional and sexual. In Mexico, 52% of the women also suffered all three types of abuse. The study in Leon, revealed that 60% of the women abused during the year had been attacked more than once.

A chilling paragraph in this article exposed cultures who have traditions of male honor and female chastity that puts the female at high risk to lose her life. In parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, a man’s honor is often linked to the “perceived sexual purity of the woman in his family.” Because of shame, if she is raped or commits adultery she is thought to “disgrace the family honor.” Killing the offending woman is the righteous act to follow. A study of female deaths in Egypt showed that 47% of the women were killed after they had sexual intercourse outside of their marriage. In Pakistan a husband owns his wife. Thus, beating a wife, to chastise, or to discipline her is seen as culturally and religiously justified.

Overall, the study shows culture and tradition plays a huge role in how women are perceived and treated. Any form of abuse should not be permitted. Recognizing shame and coercion and proper education of abusive factors is a move in the right direction. Protection and safety among women in abusive relationships, especially among the global community, is priority one.

Case Studies CASE STUDY 1: Pia Jian - India

Evidence shows from these next three case studies how shame can have direct correlation to how marriage and divorce is perceived.

This first case speaks of a 26-year-old young woman named Pia Jain. Moments after she had been married, abuse began. Four months later, she barricaded herself in her bedroom to call the police as her husband had forced her to the floor with his foot suffocating her. They began their relationship by being arranged by parents. Both she and her husband had spoken mostly over the phone. He was a financial advisor while she was running her own fashion label.

According to her testimony, “He would pull my hair and punch me so badly my contacts would fall out.” However, despite all this, she did not want to “shame her family with a divorce.” According to Dr. Manjula O’Connor, “An unsuccessful marriage, a single daughter, or a divorced daughter is a shame and stigma for most Indian-background families ... male patriarchal attitudes tend to be more permissive of domestic violence.”

CASE STUDY 2: Dong Fang – China In this case, Dong Fang and her daughter were victims. The brutal beatings left her partially deaf and her daughter receiving stitches on her hand. Even though in Chengdu, China there is a domestic violence bill, the same court that allowed for a restraining order to happen did not allow for divorce.

According to the judge, “The marriage was still on a very firm foundation and the husband should be given a chance.” This was done to promote family harmony and social stability. This is one of the most high-profile cases over the past couple years in China. The wife releases a video detailing her experience and requested for support. China’s argument is that there must be a period of time to pass in order to prevent “flash divorces.”

CASE STUDY 3: Cassandra Emma Moyo – South Africa Like the other three cases, culture and family play a huge role in how the wife is to be treated. Cassandra married a man who grew up in a family where women could be beaten into submission. This is the African way and many men think they can beat women.

Cassandra’s husband stabbed her in the back, striking her kidney.. After he had done this, he tried to force her to drink poison. She was pregnant at the time. Yet, she took him back and forgave him. “He was not coming home; he was not bringing any money. I was doing everything — paying the rent, looking after the child, doing everything. So he started abusing me again.” After five more years of constant abuse, she left him. Regrettably, because of shame and tradition, she had lost her “womanhood.”

These stories reveal the horrid sinful nature of humanity. Each of these women whether it is Pia Jian, Dong Fang, or Cassandra Emma Moyo were all affected by culture, traditions, and upbringing, but what is most revealing is the shame they all felt. With Pia, it was not acceptable in Indian society. Furthermore, she did not want to disappoint her family by bringing up abuse or divorce. Dong Fang’s story was similar. Divorce was disallowed in order to protect family and societal harmony. For Cassandra, the maltreatment of women in marriage is her culture. Conclusion Scripture has much to say about the value of women (in marriage and not) and it also reveals and shows the importance of the teachings and examples of Christ on Christians. In providing instructions for Christian households, Paul begins in Ephesians 5:21, by the importance of submission to one another in reverence for Christ. This is not a demand from power or hierarchical leanings, rather this is voluntarily submitting to one another out of love. In verse 22, wives submit to husbands as husbands are to do unto the Lord. Equally, in verse 25, husbands are to love their wives, as Christ loved the church. Paul does this also in the book of Colossians chapter 3 verses 18-19, but not before saying in verse 12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Another passage that reveals the glaring quality of compassion is 1 Timothy 5. Here Paul tells his protégé the importance of installing church leadership, but church leadership that requires the quality of Christlike humility and integrity. In this chapter, every person is to treat every person at every life stage well. In verse 2, older women are to be treated as mothers, and younger women as sisters, “with absolute purity.” The Greek phrase here, ἐν πάσῃ ἁγνίᾳ, is the phrase “with all purity.” The adjective πάσῃ signifies the whole or the entirety of the object it qualifies. The beauty of the noun, ἁγνίᾳ (hagneia) or purity is the idea of building up holiness or being pure in every thought. With the added preposition prior to the adjective and noun, think of the preposition as adding more weight into the phrase. Christians are to treat women with great purity in every sphere and in every space. This is the type of dignity Paul wants Timothy (and the church) to have towards others. Finally, the greatest example is how Jesus treated women. Given the task to shame the adulterous woman, the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus (see John 8). Seeking to trap Jesus, the Pharisees knew that the commandments of Moses said to stone such a person (v. 5). Jesus stood up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (v. 7). When everyone left, Jesus addressed her as “woman.” No longer was she the women caught in adultery or a harlot. There was no more adjectival or genitival description of her status or of her past. Jesus simply said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (v. 11). Jesus does not use her past against her, neither did he expose her affair. He does not shame her. He calls her woman and condemns her not.

In conclusion, Scripture puts importance in the covenant of marriage, but voluntarily, out of love and compassion, the husband and wife love one another. In 1 Timothy 5, Paul encourages Timothy to exercise “with all purity” in the treatment of people, especially women. And finally, Jesus shows throughout the Gospels great care and gentleness towards women.

As Christians we must look past culture and traditions and look from the eyes of Jesus. Laying foundations from Scripture, recognizing shame and coercion, providing safety and protection for abused women, treating all women “with all purity, and learning to properly respect and sacrifice for one another (as spouses and as individuals) is paramount in such a time as this.

Confucius, The Analects of Confucius, trans. Simon Leys (New York: W. W. Norton and Company Ltd., 1997), 92.

Kwang-Kuo Hwang, “Filial Piety and Loyalty: Two Types of Social Identification in Confucianism,” J Soc Psychol 2 (1999): 167-9.

N.H. Ko, “Familism in Confucianism,” International Conference of Women’s Global Connection, San Antonio, TX (2004): 4.

Wu, Jackson, “Authority in a Collectivist Church,” Contemporary Practice, 4. 5 Ibid., 5. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics, New York, NY: 1955, 24.

Creighton, Millie R., “Revisiting Shame and Guilt Cultures: A Forty-Year Pilgrimage,” Ethos, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sept 1990), 279-307.

See more Violence By Intimate Partners. Geneva, World Health Organization, Chapter 4, 2001, 89.

Harita Mehta and Alana Calvert, “How the Shame of Divorce Keeps Indian Women in Violent Marriages,” July 16, 2018, March 27, 2020, violent-marriages.

Dui Hua Foundation, “Three Years On: The Anti-Domestic Violence Law,” March 19, 2019, March 17, 2020, domestic.html

Jodi Bieber, “Survivors: Domestic Violence in South Africa,” 2019, March 17, 2020,

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