The Search for Autonomous Intimacy: Sexual Abuse and Young Women's Identity Development

By M. Sue Crowley | Go to book overview

affiliation and differentiation.

Such inner tensions and necessary contradictions are evident in all three of these narratives: in Ada's sexual precocity and need to be seen first and foremost as a good mother, beneath Chloe's cool demeanor where she longs for warmth, and in Letitia's leave-me-alone/in-your-face activism. Their narratives reveal the extent to which adolescence can be understood as a time when many young people, including survivors of sexual abuse, begin to consciously engage in the dialectical endeavor of making the many separate connections that form their identities.


Conclusion

The narratives of Ada, Chloe, and Letitia were chosen because they exemplify the ways in which young women from very different social domains who share one powerful experience, childhood sexual abuse, may aid in the search for greater understanding of the similarities and differences that mark the process of establishing a sense of place for ourselves in the larger world. It is that understanding of who we are separately and together that makes up the boundaries of our identities. Because their most basic boundary, the body, was violated in childhood and because the words to speak of it were denied them in adolescence, Ada, Chloe, and Letitia highlighted the importance of establishing a separate sense of self that may then become connected to others through trust. Within a network of such separate connections, a sense of belonging in community, of finding one's niche, as Erikson expressed it, becomes possible.

Themes of disrupted bodies and voices echoed through these narratives. Their bodies gave birth, suffered from toxemia, expressed dis-ease with sex through nausea, and survived the malnutrition of body and spirit. Labeled liars, neurotic patients, troublemakers, and exaggerators, they persisted in trying to find ways to speak their truths. The disruptions between body and mind and mind and voice reverberated in the dialectical dynamics that exist between self-other knowledge, making it all the more difficult for these three young women to establish safety in either separation or connection. Nonetheless, with courage and determination they consistently defied the families and social stigmas that would have kept them silent and isolated.

As these narratives revealed, our experiences and the social contexts within which they play out can have lasting, powerful effects. Ada, Chloe,

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