Journey to healing : themes and stages in change for women survivors of abuse by intimate partners




Allain, Julia Anne

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The experience of successfully ending a relationship with an abusive partner is seldom explored, although abuse has been experienced by 29% of married Canadian women (Johnson, 1996, cited in Morrow & Varcoe, 2000). This study used a phenomenological design and a critical social science approach to explore the lived experience of women who ended a relationship with an abusive partner. Seven in-depth interviews were analyzed, and encounters with social support from the justice system, counselling agencies, and transition houses were examined. A five-stage model to describe the change process emerged from the data. Metathemes illuminated important internal and external aspects of change during each stage. Childhood gender socialization influenced participants to stay in abusive relationships. Nevertheless, resistance to abuse was seen to have occurred from the beginning. Changing beliefs about gender roles and relationship expectations emerged as an important part of learning and influenced decision-making. Loss of hope and realization of harm led to a shift in decisional balance that culminated in determination to end the relationship. Simple goals evolved to become complex goals as change continued. Participants who attempted to understand their experiences reached a stage that included evolving and healing. Healing also involved a balanced lifestyle, in accordance with the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model. The model's terminology describes a woman in the successive stages of change as a learner, an actor, an evaluator, a survivor, and a thriver. The model is compared with the Transtheoretical Model of Change, and surprising reports of very low self-efficacy at the point of ending the relationship are discussed.