Growing Through Adversity: Becoming Women Who Live Without Partner Abuse: A Grounded Theory Study
Abuse of women by male partners is a significant social problem in New Zealand. Ten participating women, whose experiences span more than fifty years, provided interviews focused on their recovery from partner abuse but including the broader context of their lives. Grounded Theory methodology with a feminist perspective was applied in conjunction with Grounded Theory methods. The study identifies GROWING THROUGH ADVERSITY as the basic psychosocial process of recovery from an abusive relationship. GROWING THROUGH ADVERSITY has three inter-related core categories: FINDING A PATH BEYOND ABUSE concerns experiencing abuse and finding safety; GETTING A LIFE is about interactions with the social world; and BECOMING MYSELF involves personal growth and development. In the first of five phases, FALLING FOR LOVE, women commit to the relationship with unexamined, traditional beliefs in gender ideals. When the partner becomes abusive stereotyped meanings of relationship require compliance as the price of 'love', or result in shame and self-blame. In phase two, TAKING CONTROL, coping strategies of resistance and compliance fail. Seeking help for themselves, or the relationship, results in finding other perspectives and new contexts of meaning, prompting participants to overcome personal, social, and safety constraints to separation. Phase three includes the distress and difficulty of SECURING A BASE. In the fourth phase, MAKING SENSE OF IT, participants seek both explanation and meaning for their experience. By the fifth phase, BEING MYSELF, participants have constructed new meaning systems and integrated into wider social contexts. They have become women who live by their own values, without partner abuse. Analysis of participants' experience highlights the changing purpose of help-seeking, The paradox of shame and self blame, and processes of meaning-making and coping are clarified. Victim-blaming is identified as a social sanction that supports abuse. Personal growth processes are conceptualised by integrating several developmental theorists.