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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A study of the relationship between childhood incest and interpersonal relationships in adult life Pierce, Kathleen Anne


The purpose of this study is to determine if it is possible to establish a relationship between childhood experiences of incestuous abuse and specific problems in functioning and in interpersonal relationships as an adult. Since incest occurs in families where other dysfunctional features are present, it is usually difficult to separate the different influences on the individual in their family of origin and how they are affected later in life. A single subject was studied using material from audiotaped counselling sessions over a five month period. The contents of the tapes were analysed to see if the client was dealing with difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and if so, how the incest experience might be related to these problems. The study was augmented by audiotaped interviews with five counsellors who work in the sexual abuse field to ascertain their views on the implications of incest abuse on development and its relationship to problems in adult functioning. The study was viewed from a developmental perspective and the stages of trust, identity formation and intimacy were identified as stages of development that were adversely affected by the incestuous abuse. The results of the interviews with the counsellors supported these findings. The findings from the study were also examined by reference to psychoanalytic, loss and feminist perspectives on the nature of the developmental problems the subject encountered. It was found that it was possible to identify specific areas where the incest experiences were seriously affecting the adult survivor, especially in the areas of sexual dysfunction and problems in forming intimate relationships. Other features of the family dynamic were also identified as significant especially the difficulty the subject had in resolving problems in her relationship to her father and stepfather as well as residual feelings of ambivalence in her relationship with her mother. Recommendations were made concerning the need for more research in the area of sexual abuse and the need for many more treatment resources to meet the needs of abuse survivors.

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