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In the Aftermath of Sexual Abuse: Making and Remaking Meaning in Narratives of Trauma and Recovery

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This paper explores the applicability of a narrative approach to the understanding of psychological trauma and the process of recovery. We focus on a comparison of stories told by three survivors of sexual abuse in research interviews drawn from an ongoing study of recovery and resiliency in treated and untreated trauma survivors. Our aim is to learn how survivors make and remake the meaning of their experiences over the course of their lives and at different stages in their recovery, and to understand the role and functions of survivors’ stories in the recovery process. Replacing long-standing feelings of powerlessness with a new sense of agency and reclaiming a positive identity from a “damaged”self-definition are neither easy nor painless tasks. These accounts suggest the importance of “turning points”that open possibilities for sexual abuse survivors to restory their experiences and arrive at new understandings that support their efforts to confront and deal with past traumas, and move on with their lives. We also call for more attention—by researchers, therapists, and others in survivors’ lives—to the effects of our expectations and needs for coherent stories with positive endings that may make it difficult for us to “hear”what survivors are trying to tell us. (Narrative, Trauma, Sexual abuse)
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Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: Victims of Violence Program, Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School

Publication date: May 1, 2000

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