Unique Outcomes of Women and Men Who Were Abused

Article excerpt

PROBLEM. To determine if individuals who have experienced extensive victimization throughout their lives tell stories about "unique outcomes."

METHODS. An examination of existing narrative data collected from 27 women and 17 men who had participated in one of several qualitative studies of sexual violence. Unique outcomes stories identified from the interview transcripts were categorized according to the type of experiences described, and the nature of men an women's stores were compared.

FINDINGS. Six types of unique outcomes stories were identified in the women's narratives (rebellion, breaking free, resurgence, refuge, determination, confidant) and three types in the men's narratives (reawakening, buddy and normal guy, champion).

CONCLUSIONS, Unique outcomes stories are common in narratives otherwise focused on abuse. Common themes are apparent, and the nature of men's and women's stories differ markedly.

Search terms: Abuse, chronic victimization, narrative therapy, unique outcomes

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Narrative therapy, a treatment approach developed by Michael White and David Epston, is based on the metaphor of life as a narrative and on the principles of social constructionism (Freedman & Combs, 1996). An underlying assumption is that humans are predisposed to organize their experience into narrative form (Bruner, 1990).

Narratives provide a way to understand the past and plan for the future. Through narratives, we render our life experiences meaningful (Polkinghorne, 1988). Mair (1988) stressed the essential nature of storytelling:

   I want to claim much more than the comfortable
   platitude that stories are a good thing and should
   be attended to. Stories are habitations. We live in
   and through stories. They conjure worlds. We do
   not know the world other than as story world. Stories
   inform life. They hold us together and keep us
   apart. We inhabit the great stories of our culture.
   We live through stories. We are lived by the stories
   of our race and place. It is this enveloping and constituting
   function of stories that is especially important
   to sense more fully. (p. 127)

The main premise of social constructionism is that the values, beliefs, customs, and institutions that compose our social realities are constructed by the members of our culture as we interact with one another throughout time (Freedman & Combs, 1996). Cultural narratives that are embedded in all communities promote social norms and expectations and influence the meaning we ascribe to events. Personal life narratives are constructed in the context of our cultural narratives; we are influenced by both. Dominant cultural narratives are those that shape and maintain the distribution of power in society and, therefore, are often oppressive to marginalized people (Freedman & Combs). Adams-Wescott and Isenbart (1996) have argued, for example, that the sociocultural narrative of the patriarchy privileges men while subordinating the interests of women and children, thereby contributing to gendered violence and oppression in our society.

Narrative therapy involves telling, retelling, and reconstructing life stories. White and Epston maintain that prevailing sociocultural narratives often prevent individuals from living their preferred narratives (White, 1989, 1992, 1995; White & Epston, 1990). People come to therapy because their stories are crowded with tales of troubles. While life events that get storied are often consistent with the dominant narrative, individuals have other life experiences that remain unstoried. White and Epston propose that these experiences are often about what they term "unique outcomes"--moments of strength, autonomy, and emotional vitality hidden in life stories that are otherwise saturated with suffering and oppression. In narrative therapy, bringing forth stories of unique outcomes provokes critique of the dictates of the dominant narrative and serves to open up possibilities for constructing new, more satisfying life narratives. …