Jean Risko

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2011


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Clinical Psychology


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

Constance T. Fischer

Committee Member

Will W. Adams

Committee Member

Ann C. Barrows


Adult survivors, Being thrown back, Encounters with strangers, Parent of caregiver, Phenomenological research method, Physical child abuse


This study examined the lived meanings of the experience of being thrown back to, or reliving, the past in encounters with a stranger for adults who were physically abused as children.

Flyers were posted in public locations seeking adults who had been physically abused as children. Six participants, four females and two males, volunteered to participate in the study. Five participants submitted a written description of an encounter in which a stranger looked at her/him and she/he was reminded of being physically abused as a child. One additional participant responded via an interview. Follow-up interviews were conducted by asking open-ended questions that served to clarify and to deepen the written description. One participant was eliminated when it became clear that she did not meet the criteria for this study.

The written descriptions and interview data were integrated to create master texts. From the master texts, an empirical-phenomenological method was utilized to analyze the data. Results included Individual Narrative accounts as well as a Summary of Participant Accounts that together offer powerful life-world descriptions of the experience of adults' being thrown back to physical child abuse experiences in an encounter.

The results reveal that being thrown back to a physically abusive past in an encounter tends to unfold within the realm of everydayness, and reveals the past often with surprise and sometimes with shock, but always with a sense of familiarity. This re-experiencing was vivid. The look, with variations, was a significant finding in the study. All participants took care of themselves in some way while being thrown back to physical child abuse experiences. Most tried to make sense of being thrown back to a vivid past, while some continued to try to understand the physical child abuse they endured.

This study offers adults who were physically abused as children a meaningful explication of the experience of being thrown back to physical child abuse. Mental health professionals are provided with a greater understanding of the life world of adult survivors of physical child abuse, as well as with a suggestion for group or individual psychotherapy. Suggestions for future research are offered.