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Psychological and psychophysiological reactions to personal violation


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Washington, AL (2009) Psychological and psychophysiological reactions to personal violation. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Acts of personal violation, whether they be physical, emotional or sexual
in nature, can occur independently or co-exist (Basile, Arias, Desai, &
Thompson, 2004; Garcia-Linares et al., 2005; Matud, 2005). Personal violation
constitutes any act of harm or desecration of an individual that is inappropriate,
usually forceful, abusive and disrespectful. Personal violation is often a
humiliating and demeaning experience affecting dignity and integrity (Charney
& Russell, 1994).
The experience of violation and traumatic abuse are influenced by several
factors: pre-trauma factors such as personality, previous experiences and coping
resources (Carlson & Dutton, 2003); peri-trauma factors such as the duration,
nature, context and severity of the abusive experience (Lauterbach & Vrana,
2001); and post-trauma factors such as symptom persistence and severity, posttrauma
experiences and individual coping strategies (Memon & Wright, 2000;
Schurr, Friedman & Bernardy, 2002). Previous research has shown that several
of these factors can prolong the negative consequences associated with a
traumatic event, yet no one factor can consistently account for symptom severity
(Garcia-Linares et al., 2005).
One common traumatic outcome is the development of posttraumatic
stress symptoms such as avoidance, intrusions and hypervigilance. In order for
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to be diagnosed, the individual must have
been confronted with a traumatic event that was outside the range of normal
experience and one that caused the individual to perceive possible threat to life or physical integrity (American Psychiatric Association, APA, 2000). Many experiences of personal violation (i.e., emotional abuse, sexual harassment) do not meet this specific criterion, yet symptoms of posttraumatic stress are still evident in those who experience these forms of personal violation (Pico-Alfonso et al., 2006), suggesting that traumatic experience is strongly influenced by the subjective experience of the victim (O'Hare, Sherrer, & Shen, 2006).
The following study examined the experiences of four groups of
individuals who had been victims of personal violation within either a working or
personal relationship. Personal experiences of sexual abuse, physical abuse,
emotional abuse and sexual harassment were examined in relation to pre-trauma,
peri-trauma and posttraumatic factors in order to determine if there are different
traumatic outcomes for each of the groups.
Study one examined pre-trauma factors such as prior victimisation, personality and psychological traits and coping resources. The results indicated that prior victimisation was common in those who had experienced adult sexual
abuse, and across the groups there was evidence of dependent, histrionic and
depressive personality traits. The commonly reported finding of borderline traits
in victims of abuse (Landecker, 1992; Modestin, Furrer, & Malti, 2005; Westen
et al., 1990) was not supported, yet poor coping was still evidenced.
Study two examined the psychophysiological reactions to acts of personal
violation through the measures of heart rate, respiration and a range of
psychological measures. The results indicated the process of psychophysiological responding to traumatic events was the same regardless of the type of abuse, with all groups showing similar levels of arousal, stage by
stage in response to imagery scripts of personalized events. However, visual
analogue scales indicated that whereas psychophysiological responding was
similar, psychologically the groups responded differently on measures of anger,
violation, anxiety, reality, control and fear.
Study three examined posttraumatic stress reactions for each of the
groups as well as coping strategies used post-trauma. Obsessive-compulsive,
anxious and depressive symptoms in participants were evident post-trauma, and
there was evidence of a trend for PTSD symptomology in the sexual abuse group
only. Generally, the results showed that all groups had evidence of traumatic
stress responses, with avoidance symptoms being particularly evident for the
sexual abuse group. Use of poor coping strategies was evidenced across groups.
Overall, it was concluded that posttraumatic stress reactions to different
forms of personal violation are fundamentally similar, but the different forms of
abuse may vary with regard to peri-traumatic reactions. This considered,
psychological responses to different forms of personal violation were found to be
very different between groups. Violation, in particular was evident at varying
degrees across the groups, and the results indicated that a sense of violation does
not resolve after an abusive experience. This demonstrates the traumatic nature
of personal violation, making the long term negative consequences of abuse
understandable. Pre-traumatic factors such as good coping resources were not
found to be beneficial for participants post-trauma, as the traumatic experience seems to overwhelm victims and prevents them from using adaptive coping strategies.
This research has implications for diagnostic and therapeutic outcomes. Even
though abusive acts such as sexual harassment and emotional abuse may not fit
diagnostic criteria for a traumatic event, the results of the present study indicate
that all forms of personal violation investigated in this study are traumatic in
nature when viewed from the victim's perspective.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Psychic trauma, Traumatic shock, Psychological abuse, Offences against the person, Sexual abuse victims
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2009 the author

Additional Information:

No access or viewing until 12 June 2011. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2009. Includes bibliographical references. Ch. 1. Introduction and overview -- Ch. 2. Forms of personal violation -- Ch. 3. The nature and experience of traumatic events -- Ch. 4. Study 1: Perersonal violation and pre-traumatic factors -- Ch. 5. Study 2: Peri-traumatic factors of personal violation -- Ch. 6. Study 3: Posttraumatic reactions to abusive behaviours -- Ch. 7. Conclusions

Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2015 23:35
Last Modified: 28 Feb 2017 00:38
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