Where Did She Go? The Transformation of Self-Esteem, Self-Identity, and Mental Well-Being among Women Who Have Experienced Intimate Partner Violence

Flora I. Matheson, Nihaya Daoud, Sarah Hamilton-Wright, Heidi Borenstein, Cheryl Pedersen, Patricia O'Campo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background: Discussions on intimate partner violence (IPV) often focus on physical abuse, ignoring psychological and sexual abuse and controlling behaviors. The damage of varied forms of IPV on mental well-being in its broader form have been far less explored, especially among low-income women. Our aim was to improve our understanding of self-perceptions of mental well-being among low-income women who have experienced IPV by considering a broader definition of mental well-being that includes self-esteem and self-identity as core components. Methods: Using qualitative methods, we present findings from in-depth interviews with 41 low-income women currently or recently experiencing abuse and housing instability. Results: Women experienced varied types of violence (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, social isolation, and controlling behaviors). Injuries resulting from physical abuse were viewed differently from those arising from emotional and psychological control. Physical injuries healed faster, whereas damage to self-esteem and identity lingered. The journey through and out of IPV is often marked by an initial erosion of sense of self (identity deconstruction) followed by the identity reconstruction through an extended process of change aimed at rebuilding self-esteem, mental well-being, self-efficacy, and ultimately self-identity. Conclusions: IPV-related training for physicians and allied health professionals should emphasize the varied nature of IPV and its impact on identity, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Treatment should be holistic to address comorbid needs, including physical injury, mental health, and addiction problems. Consider supportive programs that integrate those living with or leaving IPV with women with past lived experience who can help women to understand the process of change and support this change in a nurturing setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-569
Number of pages9
JournalWomen's Health Issues
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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