Woodiwiss, Jo (2013) Bridging the gap between past and present: Childhood sexual abuse, recovery and the contradictory self. Women's Studies International Forum, 38. pp. 135-146. ISSN 0277-5395

The West's understanding of childhood sexual abuse (CSA), as totally and inevitably damaging, has become so firmly established that damage narratives have come to dominate contemporary western constructions of victims of CSA at the expense of other victim identities. Not only is evidence, in the form of symptoms, thought to be evident in the lives of adult victims even if they have no concrete memories of having been sexually abused in childhood but this also in turn has enabled unhappy or dissatisfied adult women living in Britain to identify ‘symptoms’ in their own lives and thereby construct themselves as victims of CSA with no ‘concrete’ memories. However, in doing so they construct a life story that lacks biographical continuity and thereby risk creating an identity that lacks validation and/or is isolated from the past. To avoid such ‘autobiographical limbo’ (Tietjens-Meyers, 1997) they must find a way to connect the (new) self of their adulthood with a (damaged) self of the past.

This paper draws on a research project exploring women's engagement with the sexual abuse recovery literature and in particular the constructions of the self found in this literature. Readers are presented with contradictory formulations of the self as both ‘core’ and ‘in the making’ which enables them to identify a damaged self at the same time as it allows for healing a makeable self. In this paper I argue that, rather than being problematic, such contradictory formulations enable women to construct a self they are happy with whilst also establishing a connection with a past self that, particularly for those whose sexual abuse narratives are based on a correlation of symptoms rather than concrete memories, they may otherwise have no knowledge of.

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