Recovery from childhood abuse : a cultural context
Lake, Rossana Paola
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The purpose of the present research was to examine and understand, within a cultural context, the subjective experiences of recovery from child abuse of adults who have not sought the help of mental health professionals. Examining the cultural context of recovery permitted a glance at the environmental climate in which people came to understand, respond, and make sense of their child abuse experiences. To achieve this objective, dominant themes regarding beliefs about recovery were gathered from cultural documents, specifically, popular books on recovery from abuse, and from individual accounts of recovery from abuse. The present study was qualitative in nature and conducted within the framework of an ethnographic inquiry. The data were content analysed for themes of recovery. A comparison of recovery themes in popular books and participant interviews revealed that participants’ descriptions of their recovery mirrored those described by popular books, with a few exceptions. Factors considered helpful for recovery which emerged from both sources included education/information, relationships (e.g., support and resolution), attending to one’s feelings and beliefs about the abuse (e.g, re-experiencing), self-care (e.g., coping with stress), and spirituality. In both popular books and participant stories, value was placed on the survivor looking inward, and differentiating oneself, one’s feelings and beliefs, from those of others. This orientation served to delineate clear boundaries from others, and to allow one to assert oneself and to develop an independent view of oneself (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). As such, it reflects Canadian/American cultural values of agency, autonomy, and personal control (Kirsh & Kuiper, 2002). The participants’ experiences of recovery enabled them to reconstruct their views of themselves, their abusers, and people in general, in a way that enabled them to assert their differences and distinct values from others. Although support was emphasized, its role was confined to helping the participants gain new understanding of their experiences. Their disclosures of abuse experiences to supportive others were guided less by the need to create harmony or to fit in with an in-group, as would be expected in collectivist societies, than it was by the need to assert oneself, one’s feelings, and one’s needs. Also, participants’ accounts of recovery illustrated that they were relatively well versed in the use of psychological terms and concepts such as “grief,” “confrontation,” “self-esteem,” and “role-models” that were common in the popular books. The participants developed new views of themselves which were geared toward developing a more self-enhancing sense of self. These shifts reflect a discourse common in psychology and self-help culture, which directs the individual toward self-actualization, heightened self-esteem, and increased autonomy (Starker, 1989). This study also demonstrated how, through their own personal resourcefulness, people can be agents of their own recovery. Participants accessed unique resources (e.g., participating in sports, parenting, religion) to make sense of their experiences. In some cases, participants focussed more on drawing meaning from these self-enhancing resources than they did on re-experiencing painful memories associated with the abuse. Given the emphasis on re-experiencing trauma in clinical and popular literature, the various routes taken by participants suggest that the process of re-experiencing may be over-emphasized. Further research on recovery, outside of the therapeutic context, may serve to clarify how self-recovery takes place, possibly contributing to a new discourse on recovery.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeO'Neill, Patrick; Korinek, Valerie J.; Chartier, Brian M.; Sippola, Lorrie
Copyright DateOctober 2003
culture of recovery