Resilient Resistors: Women Trauma Survivors Narrate Resistance and Resilience Following Traumatic Life Experiences
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Previous studies of resistance in the field of sociology have focused on many types of resistance but have not examined poor women’s resistance in the aftermath of trauma. Psychologists have examined trauma recovery and resilience, but have not examined these topics from an integrated, sociological perspective. In this work, I synthesize current scholarship on resistance from sociology with resilience in psychology and address these existing gaps. Through open-ended, semi-structured interviews with twenty-three women who suffered traumatic life events, I answer the following questions: How do women narrate their rebound from trauma and how do they define those experiences? What are the commonalities in women's narratives of overcoming? How do race, class, sexuality, and poverty intersect to affect resistance and resilience for these women? What themes emerge in women’s discussions of overcoming trauma? What aspects of their trauma recovery involve resistance and resilience? My findings show that women trauma survivors are resilient and resistant in a number of ways: through understood therapeutic means including self-help, support groups, therapy, reading about and watching programs regarding the subject, discussing trauma and recovery with family and friends, using mentors, engaging in positive spirituality, and through creative expression. I found women were resistant in less traditionally understood ways. These include choosing to get help with coping from therapy or support groups against the wishes of loved ones or others due to stigma. Other methods included renaming themselves “survivor”, “thriver”, or reject labels entirely, and creating new, resilient selves. Finally, I found that survivors of traumatic life events often rejected community norms regarding how gender is “done,” by rejecting femininity, eschewing marriage, living as out lesbians, or choosing not to have children. Two unique findings emerged through the data collection. The first was that women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds frequently rejected the idea of victimhood, identified as survivors, or chose no label at all. They narrated their transition from victim to survivor as a sudden choice as opposed to, as the literature suggests, a process. Second, I find that there is a very particular script for coping in women from lower classes which frames traumatic life experiences as, “just part of being a woman.” I find that these frequently women employed a “tough guise” identity to reclaim respect in their low-income communities. I further find that women recreate new, socially valorized identities free from stigma by engaging in prosocial coping.
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