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The evidence is in the telling: the words of women survivors of non-physical abuse in intimate partner relationships Poirier, Judith

Abstract

Woman Abuse is recognized as a serious issue that is epidemic in Canadian society; women of any ethnicity, race, education, and socio-economic status are at risk. Although non-physical abuse is harmful, in the absence of physical abuse, it is often overlooked or minimized by potential helpers. Consequently, in the absence of physical abuse, understanding that the abuse is unacceptable and requires action, and having the abuse taken seriously by potential helpers, is more difficult. The purpose of this study was to better understand how women who have experienced non-physical abuse in an intimate partner relationship use language to describe, interpret, and evaluate their experiences, and how they communicate their understanding to others. In this qualitative study, the narrative method was used to examine how women use language to make meaning from their abuse experiences tempered by current personal, family, sociocultural, and environmental norms. Five women who self-identified as having experienced non-physical abuse in an intimate partner relationship participated in this study. Data analysis of in-depth interviews included an examination of the telling of the narrative, then an analysis of form and subsequent graphic depiction of the overall structure of the narrative. The content analysis that followed derived six overarching themes that formed the basis for new understanding in four key areas: categorization of abuse constrains understanding for women survivors of abuse and potential helpers; the evidence is in the telling: listening creates connection and enables recognition of abuse across categories; recognition of the state of “Death” of Self clarifies and deepens understanding of the impact of abuse; and education, employment, and support networks can mediate the effects of abuse. The findings emphasize the need to view all forms of abuse as abuse, and to view women who may be experiencing abuse in intimate partner relationships as capable, competent, and worthy. Connection and engagement is a vital step to providing access to care and support, and the most helpful interventions for women who experience non-physical abuse in intimate partner relationships may be those that are decided upon collaboratively with the woman, when the potential helper chooses to listen first.

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