Making the invisible visible: a grounded theory study of female adult trauma survivors reconstructing reality with supportive others
Violence against women and children is a pervasive challenge across the globe. Research has shown that survivors of interpersonal violence, such as child maltreatment and intimate partner violence, may develop a complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder accompanied by, for example, difficulties in regulating emotions and relating to others. Additional mental health and social problems contribute to survivors’ long-term impairment. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand the key elements and processes that facilitate trauma recovery. The majority of research places survivors as individuals at the core of understanding trauma and recovery, which makes it an intrapsychic problem focused on, for example, the individual’s cognitive bias, maladaptive interpersonal behaviour, or emotion dysregulation which need repairing, rather than considering appropriately the role of context, external factors and social processes. Thus, trauma recovery may be more complicated. The current study explored key elements and processes of trauma recovery in female adult survivors with a focus on emotional and interpersonal skills, within the narratives of individuals constructing their own recovery within an interpersonal context. Fifteen female adult survivors were recruited from a statutory clinical service and a third-sector community project. Participants were interviewed individually, and data were analysed qualitatively using grounded theory. The study constructed a framework of four key components. Women survivors initially disengaged from feelings, other people and themselves (1), gradually made hidden experiences visible (2) and examined these (3), and eventually reconstructed their reality (4). Although not always a linear process, this framework revealed a transition from self-guided to supported self-management. Women survivors sought out relationships, were impacted by relationships, and these relationships changed the way survivors responded. Thus, female trauma survivors reconstructed abuse, trauma and identity through various supportive others. Similarly, female survivors reframed emotional and interpersonal difficulties and gradually managed these through relationships. Future research as well as theories, practices and policies need to consider the multifaceted and relational nature of interpersonal trauma recovery. Guidelines and practices, for instance, could include community-focused strategies that provide a larger network of support to survivors and, thus, would offer multiple opportunities to experience positive interactions. Equally, mandatory training of health care staff about interpersonal violence and subsequent trauma as well as training in relating positively to survivors would make a real difference.