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A narrative exploration of the sense of self of women recovering from childhood sexual abuse

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Objectives: To explore how the sense of self evolves through the recovery process after intensive therapy that focuses on issues pertaining to childhood sexual abuse (CSA).

Design: A retrospective qualitative study.

Method: Four women with CSA experiences, who completed a local sexual abuse intervention group programme, participated in the study. They were interviewed using a narrative life story approach and a narrative analysis was conducted on the data.

Results: Participants had a ‘traumatised self’ characterised by shame and guilt, leading to self-perceptions of being insignificant and undeserving. After intervention, an overall positive sense of self resulted characterised by an increased sense of self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-confidence. This was enhanced by being able to externalise their abuse and to shift the responsibility of the abuse from the abused to the abuser. Self-control was gained through the use of effective coping strategies. Being part of a group with similar experiences was found to enhance feelings of solidarity and commonality and instilled a sense of optimism about the future.

Conclusions: After therapy, the concept of sense of self evolved from a traumatised self to a more enduring positive sense of self. The participants made self-improvements, connections with people and were able to live autonomous lives.
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Keywords: childhood sexual abuse; narrative; self; trauma

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Wonford House Hospital, Exeter, UK 2: Natural Science and Public Health, Zayed University, Abu Dhabi, PO Box 4783, The United Arab Emirates 3: South Devon Health Care NHS Trust, Torbay Hospital, Torquay, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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