Methods: A naturalistic inquiry approach to grounded theory building was employed. Participants were recruited through newspaper advertisements in a Midwestern rural community. Of 37 respondents, 15 became research participants based on the sampling criteria of purposive sampling and theoretical saturation of the code categories. Participants were women ranging in age from 22 to 64 years old (M=39). The majority were European American (n=11). The relationship to the batterer included father (n=14) and stepfather (n=1). Characteristics of the batterers' abuse revealed that the majority (n=11) were exposed to the batterer's violence for 13 or more years. Data analysis was conducted using a constant comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) based on transcriptions of the semi-structured, in-depth interviews.
Results: This study's theory of posttraumatic growth highlights the journey (starting with childhood in a violent home) often characterized by confusion and undeserved guilt, always distinguished by powerlessness, to a state of personal power and the possibility of choice (in adulthood). Although recovery is highly individualized, five themes related to this transformation process emerged: 1) understanding and accepting the realities of their childhood, particularly, acknowledging the shared powerlessness of their mothers and of themselves to stop the violence; 2) sorting through the experiences of the past, including what was passed on to them by each parent, finding and keeping what was useful, while discarding the rest; 3) making sense of the actions of the batterer, by placing accountability on their fathers/stepfathers for making the choices they did; 4) viewing their mothers as active resisters to the abuse and exemplars of survival rather than victims; and, 5) recognizing how their own resilience, agency, and intentional choice-making kept them from following the path of violence and perpetuating the cycle of abuse in their adult lives.
Implications for social work practice with children exposed to domestic violence include operating from a framework that encompasses posttraumatic growth by addressing survival strengths as well as the aftereffects of the trauma.