Honour-Related Beliefs as Vulnerability

Honour-related beliefs (especially those involving reflexive honour) are associated with a risk of interpersonal violence as well as the development of poor personal outcomes such as mental and physical health problems, self-harm and even suicide (Osterman and Brown 2011). These harm-related outcomes are the result of an interaction between honour-related beliefs held by individuals and the characteristics of the situations in which they find themselves. It is instructive to explore the mechanisms by which harm vulnerability might result.

Reflexive honour demands a violent response against the source of any challenge to an individual’s honour. Where this is possible, an individual may make an attack against the source of the honour-related challenge and in doing so will have responded as expected by the honour norms they live by. As such self-esteem will be preserved, and they are likely to maintain their membership within an honour group, perhaps even capturing greater esteem for their response. There is, therefore, a psychological value in the violent response, and the violence is not deterred by the social harm that it creates. Individuals who respond with violence to honour-related challenges of this sort generally feel vindicated and show no guilt or remorse for their actions (Roberts et al. 2013).

However, at times a violent response may not be possible or an individual may, for whatever reason, fail to respond to the honour- related challenge. Not making an acceptable response to a challenge represents a failure to conform to honour expectations and is likely to undermine an individual’s private sense of self-worth (Bosson and Vandello 2011). In addition, the individual is also likely to be judged negatively by other members of their honour group, causing damage to that individual’s reputation and potentially being excluded from the honour group (Cohen and Vandello 2001). As noted, losses of honour also give rise to distress from a combination of shame, reduced selfworth and depression (Osterman and Brown 2011). Not responding appropriately to an honour-related challenge, therefore, creates significant personal distress, and compounds their vulnerability.

Seeking some form of professional help could alleviate this distress; however, this is an unlikely viable option for those who value reflexive honour. This is because, within honour groups, individuals are generally expected to be tough and able to deal with problems and challenges themselves. Help-seeking may draw attention to failures, being an admission of weakness and signalling an inability to defend one’s honour (Osterman and Brown 2011). Therefore, for those who value honour, rather than alleviating distress, help-seeking may be regarded negatively and avoided as it has the potential to compound negative feelings and deepen their vulnerability. Thus the individual is trapped, excluded from the honour group, feeling lonely and worthless, unable to regain lost honour by using violence against the source of dishonour, and unable to obtain help for fear of further dishonour. Ultimately, vulnerability results from a failure to respond in an expected manner and a failure to utilise support mechanisms. Self-harm and suicide are possibilities that flow from this situation.

It is perhaps important to explore how suicide might result for those who fail to respond appropriately to an honour-related challenge. Joiner (2009) sees suicide as resulting from a combination of feelings of social isolation, feeling a burden to love-ones, and having the personal ability to act upon a suicidal wish through personal inoculation to pain. For those who hold honour-related beliefs, feeling a burden to others and social isolation may be the result of a failure to respond adequately to honour-related threats and the resulting shame and distress experienced (Osterman and Brown 2011). This is because, if an individual has failed to live up to honour norms, they may feel (or indeed are) rejected by others. The ability to act upon suicidal wishes and an inoculation to pain may stem from the increased likelihood that individuals from reflexive honour groups will have an expectation and/or experience of violence because of the honour group’s acceptance of violent retaliation (Osterman and Brown 2011). Indeed, individuals who are members of honour groups are more likely to be involved in violent altercations than others (Cohen 1998).

Ultimately, with no conceivable way of regaining lost honour, feeling depressed, worthless and rejected, and valuing violent solutions to honour- related challenges, self-harm and suicide becomes viable, indeed perhaps the only option available. Rather than attacking the source of dishonour, the individual attacks themselves in the hope that such a response may, at the very least, end intolerable distress and potentially regain lost honour. Ultimately, suicide could even demonstrate an individual’s commitment to reflexive honour norms and allow them to posthumously regain lost honour in the eyes of other honour group members.

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