• June 2012
  • Vol. 13, No. 5

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Trauma Victim Resiliency

A recent study explored the positive influences, both internal and external, that individuals relied on to overcome childhood trauma. The study focused on 22 participants, 16 females and 6 males, varying in age (18 to 60) and ethnicity (73 percent Caucasian, 27 percent Black/African American). All had a history of childhood trauma and defined themselves as having successfully dealt with their trauma. Abuse included any type of abuse, occurring once or multiple times, in addition to having witnessed violence between adults in the home or having been neglected by caregivers.

The qualitative study used unstructured, open-ended interviews that allowed participants to tell their stories "in their own voices," and many of their anecdotal responses are included in the final report. They were asked to discuss two topics: (1) any traumatic experiences that occurred during their childhood and (2) the types of positive influences that helped them overcome these experiences.

Participants described a variety of traumatic experiences, the most frequent of which was sexual abuse, usually by a family member (45 percent of participants). Thirty-six percent of participants recall witnessing violence in the home, and they revealed that this often involved adults who were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Over one-third of participants reported experiencing physical abuse, such as being spanked with a belt, and/or psychological abuse that resulted in feelings of low self-esteem. Abandonment by one or both parents was also expressed by one-quarter of participants.

As participants discussed their resilience to childhood trauma, five recurring themes emerged:

  • Spirituality and faith in God. Fourteen participants indicated that their spirituality was an important factor in overcoming their traumatic experience.
  • Supportive others. Twelve stated that having at least one support person (family, friend, and/or other adult in the community) was very important to them and their recovery.
  • Therapeutic relationships. Eleven participants sought the help of school counselors and therapists during childhood and adulthood.
  • Self-determination. Eight participants strongly believed that they willed themselves to be resilient, healthy adults.
  • Expressive writing. Four coped with their traumatic childhoods by writing down their feelings in the form of poetry or journaling.

In Their Own Voices: Trauma Survivors' Experiences in Overcoming Childhood Trauma, by Jennifer Ann Morrow, Sharon Clayman, and Bonnie McDonagh, is available on the Sage Open journals website:


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