A Qualitative Study of How Childhood Trauma Shapes Adult Life

Katherine A Johnson, Tennessee State University


This qualitative dissertation aimed to examine the lived experiences of survivors of early life trauma. Research has shown that early life traumatic events are more common than typically thought, and early life trauma can lead to detrimental mental health. Currently, there is a gap in the literature, since no qualitative studies have examined survivors’ posttraumatic growth, resilience, and coping skills in the time since a traumatic childhood experience using a narrative approach with photo elicitation task. This dissertation aimed to close this gap by examining how a survivor dealt with their trauma, how they built resilience following the traumatic event(s), and how posttraumatic growth helped them overcome their trauma through a narrative approach and grounded in the social constructivist framework. A semi-structured interview and photo elicitation research approach was used to understand the participants’ experiences of childhood trauma and how they view themselves presently. Four participants (two male, two female) shared their experiences with trauma and their journey through life since. Their experiences were restoried to understand their experiences, and then, using thematic analysis, the themes that emerged were analyzed. These analyses determined that trauma has affected the rest of the participants’ lives in various themes: personality, emotions, mental health, curiosity, chaos, relationships with others, transformation, and gaining perspective. Further, the participants reported negative (alcoholism, avoidance, and suicidal attempts/ideation) and positive (spirituality, art, and help seeking) coping skills and most viewed themselves as resilient. Lastly, most of the sample has experienced some posttraumatic growth. The findings were then situated within the literature and recommendations for clinical practice and limitations are presented.

Subject Area

Psychology|Therapy|Personality psychology|Spirituality|Mental health|Behavioral psychology

Recommended Citation

Katherine A Johnson, "A Qualitative Study of How Childhood Trauma Shapes Adult Life" (2020). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI27739899.