Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Looking back: Young adult women reflect on perceptions of their mothers' experiences with domestic violence
by Ross, Julie, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2013, 352; 3553208
Abstract (Summary)

This qualitative study examined the lives of emerging adult women who were exposed to domestic violence during childhood or adolescence within their families of origin. The primary aim of the study was to describe the ways in which young women perceive and make sense of the domestic violence that their mothers have experienced. At this time it is not clearly understood how or why some young women develop a healthy resistance to the effects of childhood exposure to domestic violence, while others do not. The research sought to contribute to an understanding of developmental outcomes of exposure to domestic violence, with an emphasis on resiliency.

Fifteen emerging adult women between the ages of 18 and 25 participated in in-depth interviews to illuminate the ways in which they created meaning for themselves of the physical and sexual violence or emotional abuse that their mothers experienced or were experiencing presently. Recruited from a domestic violence shelter and college campuses, participants were the daughters of racially, ethnically and culturally diverse parents and for the large majority, immigration to the United States was an important though unanticipated phenomenon.

Through the use of life maps, the study explored important turning points in the women's lives, their resources for coping with childhood and adolescent adversity, their strengths and accomplishments, their losses and their abilities to form relationships as young adults, as well as their present psychosocial functioning. The findings indicated that the young women coped with an array of adverse environmental stressors that included homelessness, poverty, parental substance abuse, child maltreatment and actual abandonment, in addition to their exposure to domestic violence.

Although memories of their mothers' abuse evoke strong emotions that remain in the forefront of their consciousness, the young women showed a drive toward health, an internal quest not to be a victim and to seek mastery. Factors that contributed to their resiliency included optimism, withstanding and repudiation of the violence, acceptance of one's parents' limitations, having faith in one's decision making and taking ownership of their experiences. Academic success, extracurricular activities, writing and creative pursuits, and the ability to make strong interpersonal connections outside their immediate families were emotionally sustaining and adaptive.

Despite growing up in atmospheres of terror and vigilance, the women persevered through challenging moments and emerged with clear and compelling voices. Many were consumed at an early age with adult responsibilities that may have contributed to their competency. However, liability remains and during emerging adulthood, a large number of the women were struggling with conflicts about and avoidance of intimate relationships and the emotional fallout within their families.

A startling finding was that few women had benefitted from treatment during childhood or adolescence in spite of attempts to connect with therapists in the past. Yet, as emerging adult women, they were focused on healing and for some, the narratives they created through the life map process signified a first disclosure of their troubles. In light of the women's need to have their stories listened to, implications for social work intervention that uses a long-term relational model are discussed, at a time when the profession embraces evidence-based treatment models.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Gonzalez, Manny J.
Commitee: Bragin, Martha, Tolman, Deborah L.
School: City University of New York
Department: Social Welfare
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 74/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work
Keywords: Coping, Domestic violence, Emerging adult women, Intimate partner violence, Resilience
Publication Number: 3553208
ISBN: 978-1-267-92509-1
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