Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 22, Issue 7, pp 597-608

First online:

Positive Resolution of Childhood Sexual Abuse Experiences: The Role of Coping, Benefit-Finding and Meaning-Making

  • Margaret O’Dougherty WrightAffiliated withMiami UniversityDepartment of Psychology, Miami University Email author 
  • , Emily CrawfordAffiliated withMiami University
  • , Katherine SebastianAffiliated withMiami University

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Resolution of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), and the current adjustment of 60 adult female CSA survivors were explored through qualitative and quantitative analyses of their coping strategies, perceived benefits, and meaning-making attempts. While the majority of the women (87%) perceived at least some benefit resulting from coping with the CSA experience, many (29%) found it impossible to make any meaning of their trauma. Specific benefits that were associated with various aspects of positive adjustment (marital satisfaction, better physical health, less isolation) included improved relationships with others, religious or spiritual growth, and improved parenting skills. Some perceived benefits were actually associated with a negative outcome. Increased knowledge of sexual abuse was associated with more isolation and lower marital satisfaction. When positive meaning could be derived from the coping process, the women reported less isolation. Avoidant coping was strongly associated with more depressive symptoms and poorer resolution of abuse issues. Results highlight the importance of considering coping strategies and cognitive restructuring efforts in designing therapeutic interventions with this population.


Child sexual abuse Coping strategies Meaning-making Benefit-finding