Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Resilience and Spirituality among Sexually Abused Victims

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Positive Psychology

Resilience and Spirituality among Sexually Abused Victims

Article excerpt

Trauma is one of the most significant and unavoidable outcomes of a violent conflict. A traumatic event confronts individuals with extreme stress and requires coping with a new, unexpected, and unfamiliar situation (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). One such trauma that may have multiple impacts on the mental, social and emotional functioning of the individual is sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is defined as "the non-consensual oral, anal, or vaginal penetration, obtained by force, threat of bodily harm, or when the victim is incapable of giving consenf ' (Koss, 1993a). Also, broadly defined it is unwanted sexual touching of any type (i.e., fondling, grabbing, kissing, oral sex, sexual intercourse) that occurred without the individual's consent (Fairbrother & Rachman, 2006). Although the definition of sexual assault varies widely, the common denominator of the definitions of sexual assault is that consent was not given by the victim. Research indicates that 1 in 4 women have experienced rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime, and 84% of these women knew their attacker (Campbell & Wasco, 2005).

Different people will react differently to similar events. One person may experience an event as traumatic while another person would not suffer trauma as a result of the same event. Following a trauma such as sexual assault, an individual is confronted with extreme stress that requires coping with a new, unexpected, and unfamiliar situation. Positive psychological changes help the sexually abused victim to redefine self. Smith and Kelly (2001) found that recovery from sexual abuse involves two interrelated and interdependent themes: reframing the abuse and redefining the self. Specifically, reframing the abuse enables the survivor to make sense of the traumatic event and requires the recognition of the positive aspects of recovering from the trauma and the development of a new perspective on life. Finally, redefining the self involves an internal understanding of the event allowing the survivor to experience self-love, forgive her and the abuser, and find inner peace. The survivor not only regains what she lost as a result of her sexual assault, but she also gains the ability for increased personal growth. McMillen et al. (1995) found that in response to open-ended questions, nearly 50% of the sample reported some benefit from the abuse. A longitudinal study by Frazier and colleagues (2001) found that some victims of sexual assault experienced positive changes following victimization. Moreover, Thoits (1984, 1986), believed growth would be effective at buffering sexual assault victims from distress.

The important positive psychological changes that people report after undergoing sexual assault are resilience and spirituality. Clay, Knibbs, and Joseph (2009) define resilience as "the ability to continue to function normally in spite of adversity". Scales, Benson, Leffert, and Blyth (2000) conceptualize resilience as overcoming negative events and quickly returning to pre-trauma levels of functioning. A number of protective factors lead to resilience like supportive relationships within and outside the family, capacity to make realistic plans, having self-confidence, positive self image and the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. Moreover, Individual differences in like Self-esteem, ego-control, and egoresiliency are related to resilience. There are certain important features of resilience i.e. first; resilience has both environmental and biological components. Second, resilience develops over time which means that resilience is not a static trait as it is defined by the context, the population, the risk, the protective factor, and the outcome (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). Third, resilience is domain specific which means it is unlikely that an individual will demonstrate resilience across all situations (Luthar, 2006). Fourth, there are multiple paths to resilience which means that no single or specific factor will determine resilience or poor functioning. …

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