From hurting to healing: The dynamic process of meaning-making in the lives of twenty-one midlife women

Date of Completion

January 1999


Social Work|Women's Studies|Psychology, Developmental




Life narratives, personality types and epistemological systems of 21 mid-life women on their journeys from childhood hurt to recovery were analyzed using a triangulated approach combining multiple theories, methods and data sources. ^ Through the lenses of Robert Kegan's epistemology and subject-object interview, Jung's psychological theory instrumented in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Stone Center's self-in-relation theory, and phenomenological/hermeneutical analyses of narrative—a combination not used before—the study explored how past and present participants of 12-step groups and therapy are healing wounds and creating new meanings. ^ Life histories of women aged 35 to 55 from diverse racial, ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds were coded and synthesized thematically. Narratives of childhood revealed families where love and validation were often absent, with parents unable to fulfill children's needs because of unresolved problems. Beavers Systems Model and Rohner's Parental Acceptance-Rejection Questionnaire were used for mutual verification. ^ Thematic analyses and Rohner's personality measure indicated changes in self assessment following recovery experiences. Analyzing “before recovery” narratives with Kegan's epistemological distinctions and comparing those to Kegan subject-object scores “after recovery” revealed changes in meaning-making capacities. Some women moved farther than others. Those at more complex epistemologies were better able to de-mystify and re-frame toxic introjections. ^ MBTI analyses revealed nine of sixteen personality types, no particular type aggregating at the highest Kegan epistemologies; however, ISTJs predominated at lower levels. Type development was demonstrated, with appropriate usage of dominant and auxiliary functions beginning at lower epistemologies, third and fourth functions evident at higher levels, but differentiation only at the highest. Sixteen women were introverts verifying studies that introverts seek understanding through groups and therapy. ^ The study demonstrated that in settings of authentic mutuality, intention to confront traumatic issues and “forgive” past betrayals leads to self-empowerment, growth and healing for those from even the most troubled homes. The narratives corroborate Jung's idea that urges from the depths of the psyche compel one to journey toward individuation. ^