University of Tasmania
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Psychological and psychophysiological reactions to personal violation

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posted on 2023-05-27, 13:58 authored by Washington, AL
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.


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Copyright 2009 the author 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

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