Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Angela M. Moe

Second Advisor

Dr. Zoann Snyder

Third Advisor

Dr. David Hartmann

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Wesely


Domestic violence, symbolic interaction, reflected appraisal, battering, self-concept


Over the past several decades, domestic violence has increasingly received more attention from both academic and local communities. Despite this attention, it persists as a significant social problem, suggesting that a full understanding of battering is still lacking. This dissertation examines women’s lived experiences with battering, what effect abuse has on how they come to define and interact with themselves, and subsequent negotiations of identity that occur within their relationships. To accomplish this, I conducted multiple in-depth qualitative interviews with fourteen women that were being served by a domestic violence agency in a rural part of the Midwest.

Within a framework of structural power connecting individual experiences to historical configurations of social inequality and patriarchy, I employ symbolic interactionism to examine how women define and interpret themselves and their experiences. Results indicate that the common characteristics of battering, particularly power and control, removal of social supports, and attenuation of opportunities for efficacious behaviors, create a unique circumstance where the selfconcept became a reflexive process for the women in this study. Participants reported changes to their self-concept in the form of reflected and self appraisal, internalization of blame, and negative body identity. This internalization and the subsequent changes to the self influence some of the choices women make within their relationships.

This study uniquely informs the literature on battered women’s cognitive processes by utilizing a theoretical model that is used to explain much of our everyday behavior. This is important because battered women are not defined in terms of difference and are not seen as defective or deficient in some way. This approach, therefore, allows for a better conceptualization of battered women’s cognitive processes and choices while recognizing their agency and without leading to victim blaming. Recommendations for policy and prevention efforts that arose out of this study are also discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access