Balancing recognition and disrespect: recovery as the process of identity formation: a New Zealand study of how services shape recovery from sexual abuse

Frerichs, Gudrun
Jones, Marion
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

This study explored how the recovery of victims of sexual abuse is shaped by services available. Using the philosophical underpinnings of critical theory within the framework of Honneth's recognition theory this study provides an understanding of participants' experiences and views of recovery from sexual abuse. The study was conducted with ten adult survivors of sexual abuse using semi-structured individual interviews and two focus groups with eight service providers. The analysis identified that the recovery from sexual abuse is the development of a positive sense of identity reflected by participants' self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. In this study this is described as the process of identity formation. Services shaped recovery from sexual abuse by providing experiences of recognition and disrespect. Recognition was given in the form of emotional support and care, cognitive respect, and social esteem that led to an improvement of participants' functioning. Disrespect was perceived by participants as they struggled with the invisibility of sexual abuse, with inequality, and with the lack of understanding, through which their overall functioning deteriorated. Recovery emerged as a dynamic process that, most of all, required from services that they provide experiences of recognition and from survivors that they accurately perceive that recognition was given to them. For recovery to occur, participants needed to balance experiences of recognition and disrespect, a process in which they needed to surrender the longing for the entirely good and benign caregiver and accept that both 'good' and 'bad' qualities reside in each caregiver, agency, therapist, or generally the 'other'. This balancing resulted in the development of self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem. Recovery was experienced by participants when they were able to resist disrespect and either engaged in fighting for their rights or removing themselves from situations in which their rights could be violated. Only by having a practical experience of being able to protect their physical and psychological integrity did participants become aware that they had recovered from the legacies of sexual abuse and could proceed with their lives without professional assistance.

Critical theory , Service provision, Treatment, Psychotherapy, Mental health , Recognition theory
Publisher's version
Rights statement