Dr Glennys Parker: Abused Mid-aged Women in Australia: Experiences, Well-being, and Ways of Coping.

This thesis examines the relationship between characteristics of abuse, coping, and emotional well-being among women from the Australian population. Using data from the Mid-age cohort (n = 12339) of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, abused women (n = 4268) were identified as an at-risk group for a number of adverse health, behavioural, and social problems. One hundred and forty-three women, who had earlier participated in a targeted survey on their experiences of abuse, completed a second questionnaire that drew on both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the strategies used to cope with abuse in adult relationships. This survey included the Revised Ways of Coping Checklist and the Antonovsky Sense of Coherence scale. Multivariate analysis of variance showed that problem-focused coping at the time of the abuse was not related to current emotional health, while emotion-focused coping was related to poor emotional health, and a high sense of coherence was related to better emotional health. Using data from this and the earlier abuse surveys, analysis of covariance indicated that the effect of emotion-focused coping on emotional health was indirect, through its inverse relationship with sense of coherence. In the final summary path model, sense of coherence emerged as the only coping measure to have significant direct effects on current emotional health.

Greater use of emotion-focused coping was associated with frequent abuse, with the number of abusers, with talking about the abuse to a medical practitioner, with emotional abuse, with returning to an abusive partner, with feeling a bond with other abused women, with feeling vulnerable to further abuse, and with viewing oneself as a victim, and not with talking about the abuse to family or friends. After controlling for emotion-focused coping, a high sense of coherence was positively related to disclosure of the abuse to family and friends, but inversely associated with abuse from strangers, with frequent abuse, with recent abuse, with talking about the abuse to a psychiatrist, with talking about the abuse to a social worker, with talking about the abuse to a financial advisor, with feeling vulnerable to further abuse, and with viewing oneself as a victim. However, characteristics of abuse experience explained less than 29 per cent of the variance on coping measures.

Qualitative analysis of women’s own descriptions of useful ways of coping generally identified self-determination and self-affirmation, distancing and distraction tactics, and open disclosure of the abuse. The thesis concludes that coping is more usefully viewed as a personal resource than as a strategy, and its efficacy in situations of abuse will be determined by each woman’s perception of the situation, by the degree of challenge to comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness, and by the extent of individual resolve for change.