Life after shelter: A longitudinal examination of the narratives of abused women
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Little is known about how the highly marginalized sub-population of women who experience intimate partner violence (IPV) and seek domestic violence shelter services engage in the process of transitioning back from shelter into the community. Narrative theory and research can provide tools with which to examine how women find meaning in their experiences. Previous research has found a strong connection between narrative processes and improved mental health and overall wellbeing. This longitudinal qualitative study examined the experiences of 11 women, nine of whom identified as Indigenous, as they returned to the community following a shelter stay. Interviews were conducted when women were leaving shelter, 4 weeks later, and 6 months later. The narratives existed along a spectrum from IPV-centric to social marginalization-focused depending on the women’s social context. IPV was not the major focus of all, or even most of the narratives. A cultural master narrative of recovery following IPV was used by women to shape their narratives. When used and adapted by participants, the Recovery narrative helped to increase their hopefulness, motivation, and sense of control. However, an intersectionality analysis revealed that women facing the most structural barriers were unable to align, which was associated with frustration, a sense of self-blame, and hopelessness. Important counter-narrative elements emerged but these were not well-developed, which hindered participants’ meaning making process. This research both confirms and challenges the importance and utility of the master narrative of Recovery, and suggests that, to best support this population, interventions must provide a space in which other narrative options can be explored. It also proposes supporting shelter residents as social activists within the provision of social services.
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