Disgust, Shame, and Trauma: The Visceral and Visual Impact of Touch

  • Stephanie N. ArelEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Lived Religion and Societal Challenges book series (PSLRSC)


This chapter examines, through the acts and images of Pope Francis touching and kissing those he approaches, the way that physical contact or the perception of it has a positive affective impact on disgust, shame, and trauma. The paper argues that a lived religious practice of touching has both visceral and visual effects. Therefore, even photos of Pope Francis embracing followers, especially those who have been marginalized by society, impel and incite corresponding behavior, regardless of whether or not viewers consider this consciously. Ultimately, the essay shows how both images of the Pope’s actions and the actions themselves offer a counter narrative to shame and trauma that includes being vulnerable, exposed, and open to the other to confront stigma, counter disgust, and ameliorate shame.


  1. Aristotle. 2006. On the Soul, trans. J.A. Smith. Stilwell, KS: Publishing.Google Scholar
  2. Arocho Esteves, J. 2016. Foot-Washing Ritual Not Limited to Men, Vatican Says in New Decree. Catholic News Service, viewed 26 January 2016.
  3. Banissy, M., and J. Ward. 2007. Mirror-Touch Synesthesia is Linked with Empathy. Nature Neuroscience 10: 815–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blakemore, S.J., D. Bristow, G. Bird, C. Frith, and J. Ward. 2005. Somatosensory Activations During the Observation of Touch and a Case of Vision—Touch Synaesthesia. Brain 128: 1571–1583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bufalari, I., T. Aprile, A. Avenanti, F. Di Russo, and S. Aglioti. 2007. Empathy for Pain and Touch in the Human Somatosensory Cortex. Cerebral Cortex 17 (11): 2553–2561. Google Scholar
  6. Butler, J. 2010. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  7. Caruth, C. (ed.). 1995. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Chrétien, J. 2004. The Call and Response, trans. A. Davenport. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Damasio, A. 1994. Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. London: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  10. Dickerson, S., T.L. Gruenewald, and M.E. Kemeny. 2005. When the Social Self is Threatened: Shame, Physiology, and Health. Journal of Personality 72 (6): 1191–1216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dutra, L., K. Callahan, E. Forman, M. Mendelsohn, and J. Herman. 2008. Core Schema and Suicidality in a Chronically Traumatized Population. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 196: 71–74.Google Scholar
  12. Ekman, P., W. Friesen, M. O’Sullivan, A. Chan, I. Diacoyanni-Tarlatzis, K. Heider, R. Krause, W. Ayhan LeCompte, T. Pitcairn, P.E. Ricci-Bitti, K. Scherer, M. Tomita, and A. Tzavaras. 1987. Universals and Cultural Differences in the Judgments of Facial Expressions of Emotion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53 (4): 712–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Erikson, E. 1980. Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  14. Erikson, E. 1993. Childhood and Society. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  15. Fisher, J.D., and M.R.R. Heslin. 1976. Hands Touching Hands: Affective and Evaluative Effect of and Interpersonal Touch. Sociometry 39 (4): 416–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flett, G.V. 2015. Visual Technologies within a Consumerist Culture. Journal of Contemporary Ministry 1: 30–45.Google Scholar
  17. Fonagy, P., M. Target, G. Gergely, J.G. Allen, and A.W. Bateman. 2003. The Developmental Roots of Borderline Personality Disorder in Early Attachment Relationships. Psychoanalytic Inquiry 23: 412–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gallese, V., and C. Sinigglia. 2011. What Is so Special about Embodied Simulation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15 (11): 512–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ganzevoort, R.R. 2013. Introduction: Stories We Live By. In Religious Stories We Live By. Narrative Approaches in Theology and Religious Studies, ed. R.R. Ganzevoort, M.A.C. de Haardt, and M. Scherer-Rath. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ganzevoort, R.R., and J.H. Roeland. 2014. Lived Religion: The Praxis of Practical Theology. International Journal of Practical Theology 18 (1): 91–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gilligan, J. 1996. Violence: A National Epidemic. New York: Putnam.Google Scholar
  22. Goffman, E. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: First Anchor Books Edition.Google Scholar
  23. Grand, S. 2002. The Reproduction of Evil: A Clinical and Cultural Perspective. New York: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  24. Harman, R., and D. Lee. 2010. The Role of Shame and Self-Critical Thinking in the Development and Maintenance of Current Threat in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy 17: 13–24.Google Scholar
  25. Hartman, S. 2014. New York Photographer Turns Strangers into Friends. CBS News, viewed 15 December 2015.
  26. Herman, J.L. 1992. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  27. Herman, J.L. 2011. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder as a Shame Disorder. In Shame in the Therapy Hour, ed. R.L. Dearing and J.P. Tangney. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  28. Kaufman, G. 1996. The Psychology of Shame, 2nd ed. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  29. Keysers, C., B. Wicker, V. Gazzola, J.L. Anton, L. Fogassi, and V. Gallese. 2004. A Touching Sight: SII/PV Activation During the Observation and Experience of Touch. Neuron 42 (2): 335–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kristeva, J. 1982. Powers of Horror: An Essay of Abjection, trans. L.S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Lewis, H.B. 1987a. Introduction: Shame—The ‘Sleeper’ in Psychopathology. In The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation, ed. H.B. Lewis, 1–28. London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  32. Lewis, H.B. 1987b. Shame and the Narcissistic Personality. In The Many Faces of Shame, ed. D.L. Nathanson, 93–132. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  33. McGuire, Meredith B. 2008. Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. McLuhan, M., and L.H. Lapham. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet Books.Google Scholar
  35. Montagu, A. 1986. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  36. Nash, R. 1990. Bourdieu on Education and Social and Cultural Reproduction. British Journal of Sociology of Education 11: 431–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nathanson, D.L. (ed.). 1987. The Many Faces of Shame. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  38. Nussbaum, M. 2004. Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame and the Law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Perry, B.D., and M. Szalavitz. 2006. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  40. Pope Francis. 2013. Twitter Update, 27 March, viewed April 2015.
  41. Pope Francis. 2016. Twitter Update, 28 January, viewed January 2016.
  42. Positive Impact of Pope Francis on Views of the Church, Especially Among Democrats and Liberals. 2015. Pew Research Center: Religion and Public Life, viewed November 2015.
  43. Probyn, E. 2005. Blush: Faces of Shame. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rogers, A. 2007. The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma. New York: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  45. Schaefer, M., H. Flor, H.J. Heinze, and M. Rotte. 2006. Dynamic Modulation of the Primary Somatosensory Cortex during Seeing and Feeling a Touched Hand. Neuroimage 29: 587–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Scheff, T.J. 1987. The Shame-Rage Spiral: A Case Study of an Interminable Quarrel. In The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation, ed. H.B. Lewis, 109–149. London: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  47. Schore, A. 1994. Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.Google Scholar
  48. Sedgwick, E.K., and A. Frank (eds.). 2005. Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Snizek, R. 2013. Through Pope’s Embrace, 8-Year-Old Rhode Island Boy Touches the World. Catholic News Service, viewed March 2015.
  50. Tangney, J., and R. Dearing. 2002. Shame and Guilt. New York: The Guilford Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tomkins, S. 2008. Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  52. Truong, K. 2015. ‘Pope Francis’ Message Soften Hearts of America’s ‘Cultural Catholics’. The Christian Science Monitor, 7 September.Google Scholar
  53. Van Stegeren, A., A.O. Wolf, W. Everaerd, P. Scheltens, F. Barkhof, and S. Rombouts. 2007. Endogenous Cortisol Level Interacts with Noradrenergic Activation in the Human Amygdala. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 87: 57–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wedeman, B. 2013. Meet the Disfigured Man Whose Embrace with Pope Francis Warmed Hearts, viewed 15 January 2016.
  55. Wurmser, L. 2007. Torment Me, But Don’t Abandon Me. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  56. Zauzmer, J., and S.P. Bailey. 2015. Pope Francis Saw a Boy with Cerebral Palsy. This is What Happened Next. The Washington Post, viewed 15 January 2016.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.New York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations