Working representations of self, others and relationships in women who have been sexually abused as children : a qualitative approach
This study investigated the working representations of self, others and relationships in seven women who have been sexually abused as children. A qualitative approach was employed. Representations of self, others and relationships were defined as the theories of self, others and relationships that the women used to process information in the world. They included assumptions, beliefs, attributions, behavior and affect. The women who participated experienced sexual abuse as children (i.e., 3 to 16 years of age) by important male figures (i.e., family friend, father-figure, uncle). Participants were currently in or had recently received therapy for issues involving their experiences of child sexual abuse. The study consisted of two meetings. In the first meeting, the participants were interviewed regarding: (a) their representations of self, others and relationships; (b) the impact of child sexual abuse on their representations; (c) their understanding of any changes that may have occurred in their representations since the time of the abuse; and (d) the influence that therapy and other important experiences may have had on the way they perceived the impact of child sexual abuse on their representations. In the second meeting, the participants were given the opportunity to respond to the researcher's reconstructions of their thoughts and descriptions given in the first meeting. Information about the details of the abuse, such as number of perpetrators, severity of abuse, and duration of abuse; and life circumstance information, such as level of education and marital status, was obtained through a questionnaire filled out by the participant and/or her therapist. A thematic content analysis was employed to abstract themes regarding the women's understanding of the impact of the sexual abuse on their working representations. A narrative was constructed for each woman outlining the specific effects and a summary of the dominant themes found across women was written. The dominant themes found across women regarding their representations of self included: (a) low self-worth; (b) lack of knowledge of self; (c) confusion about female identity; (d) distorted body image; (e) disrupted sexuality; (f) biased perceptions of the world. The dominant themes found across women regarding their representations of others and relationships included: (a) disrupted relationships with men; (b) revictimization; (c) disrupted relationships with women; (d) distorted and generalized representations of others. Despite the common themes found across women, unique underlying dynamics of the effects of child sexual abuse were apparent for all of the women. The results offer a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of child sexual abuse. Implications for further research and clinical application are discussed.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Copyright DateJune 1995