Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Joanne Hall

Committee Members

Priscilla Blanton, Marian Roman, Sandra Thomas


The numbers of children who suffer childhood abuse are in the millions. A great percentage of this childhood abuse occurs within the family of origin and takes place within the child's own home. Parents who are supposed to love and protect their children are most commonly the abusers of children with consequent mental health outcomes for children. Secrecy and societal denial are obstacles to these children being helped at the time of abuse; often emotional and social problems extend into adulthood. The girl abused in her own family does not have the usual experience of her parents as loving and protective.

The purpose of this existential phenomenological study was to examine the meaning of the experience of the parent-daughter relationship as perceived by adult women survivors of childhood abuse. This was a secondary analysis of data from a study of women surviving childhood maltreatment (physical, emotional, verbal, sexual abuse and/or neglect). The sample consisted of 14 participants who had completed a total of three open-ended interviews over 6-12 months.

These narratives were analyzed by the researcher for common themes and patterns of experience with parents, occurring in childhood and onward through middle age. The thematic structure consisted of four interrelated themes about parent-child interactions. These themes are (1) nobody to know or care; (2) the ultimate betrayal; (3) deception of appearances; and (4) they respect me now. These themes were situated within the contextual grounds of world and others. World was represented by places the participants described as safe, unsafe, or ruined. Others was represented the intermittent kindly attention and positive affirmation to the participants by individuals who were not members of the immediate family, including teachers, mentors, health care professionals, and husbands.

These themes, which illustrate the experience of the parent-daughter relationship in these participants, are supported within extant literature on abuse within families. Finkelhor (1995) illustrates the betrayal that children feel towards their parents when they are not protected from abuse or violence. Paavilainen & Astedt-Kurki (2003) have found through their research that families with abusive dynamics have lost the capacity for caring and nurturing. Gries (2000) and Herman (1992) are quick to point out that abuse within families is a well-kept secret from the outside world.

This study was valuable in that through understanding the parent-daughter relationships as perceived by these participants, many implications for nursing practice, education, and research are illuminated. Research implications include repeating this study on different cultural groups of women, repeating this study with men to get a perception of the parent-son relationships in abusive families, and repeating this study with non-abused, healthy children to enrich our understanding of the parent-child relationships and provide a basis of normality within family interactions. Implications for nursing practice and education include design of and implementation of new parenting classes emphasizing the changing role of the father within the family, incorporating classes into nursing curriculum that provide more in-depth information regarding the complexities of families and family development, and more clinical opportunities to work with families in difficult situations.

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Nursing Commons