Emerging adult women exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) in childhood can experience increased risk of IPV victimization and/or perpetration in their own relationships. However, many young women navigate relational resilience in the aftermath of childhood IPV, including involvement in mutually-respectful, nonviolent relationships. Drawing from relational-cultural theory (RCT), one factor that has been suggested as a key contributor to relational resilience is growth-fostering connections with natural mentors. RCT suggests that growth-fostering connections that are characterized by mutual empathy, authenticity, and empowerment can promote relational resilience in other domains of young women’s lives. This exploratory study offers a phenomenological investigation of relational resilience and natural mentors among emerging adult women exposed to childhood IPV.
Purposive sampling was used to recruit emerging adult women ages 18 – 21 years of age who self-reported exposure to childhood IPV and current or previous experience in a dating relationship. The sample (N = 13) is comprised of women identifying as Asian American (38%), European American/White (38%), Hispanic American/Latina (7%), and African-American/Black (7%), all of whom reported two or more types of IPV exposure (physical, psychological, and/or verbal). Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with each participant focused on their experiences growing up in a household with IPV, dating and intimate relationship experiences, and their connection to a natural mentor. An inductive approach to analysis was guided by principles of interpretive phenomenology, including data immersion and familiarization, initial coding and horizontalization, development of emergent themes, and clustering themes for final interpretation. Trustworthiness was established through member checking, peer debriefing, and a reflective journal/research audit trail.
Four core themes were identified that exemplify participants’ lived experiences navigating relational resilience in the aftermath of childhood exposure to IPV: resistance to parental relationship patterns, identifying relationship essentials, prioritizing independence and self, and persevering through ups and downs. All participants identified natural mentors who have served as a consistent source of connection and support at various times in their lives, including aunts, grandparents, teachers, sisters, cousins, and even peers. As participants reflected on the role such mentors have played in their resilience, four themes exemplified their lived experiences: a judgment-free zone to be oneself; physically showing up; care, compassion, and encouragement; and serving as a role model.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study highlights the remarkable ways that young women work to resist intergenerational patterns of IPV, and create their own paths to healthy relationships and resilience. As described by participants in this study, the connections they formed with natural mentors and their broader networks of support can play an integral role in this process. Given the developmental stage of young women included in this study, findings presented here offer novel insight into how women begin to navigate relational resilience at the beginning of their journey to adulthood and adult intimate relationships. Practice implications are discussed, particularly for geographically-isolated and/or under-resourced communities, including the potential for an RCT-based natural mentorship intervention for this age group that builds on the core components of growth-fostering connections.