Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Duane M. Covrig

Second Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Third Advisor

Tamara A. Miller


Problem. People who are not able to overcome the effects of childhood trauma often waste their human potential on substance abuse and illegal and illicit lifestyles; they end up in prison, uneducated, or develop self-destructive behavior. They often struggle with poor learning and social skills and are not able to be successful in life. However, some individuals do succeed. This study interviewed eight individuals who suffered childhood trauma and developed ways of overcoming that trauma to live prosperous, productive, and, in many regards, full lives.

Method. This qualitative study used interviews to explore how adults traumatized as children described childhood trauma and its effect, and their ability to move through the trauma and live normalized adult lives. The eight individuals were located by personal contacts and snowball referrals. Face-to-face interviews took place in public and private locations chosen by individuals. The eight participants consisted of four individuals and two couples. The open-ended questions during the interviews allowed each participant to comfortably disclose their sensitive stories of their past traumatic experiences and how they eventually were supported, encouraged, and nurtured to normalized adult behavior. The writing process began with transcription of recorded interviews. The first step of the data analysis process was to organize the data into details and then look at the individual pieces of information as a whole. A precoding process was used to identify similarities and differences in interviews. The following code systems were applied in the first cycle of coding: (a) in vivo codes: taken directly from what participants said, (b) descriptive codes: summarize the primary topic, usually a noun, (c) process codes: words or phrases that capture action, (d) values codes: assess participants’ integrated value, attitude, and belief systems at work, and (e) emotion codes: describe a participant’s emotional experience, primary emotions, occurring with specific experience or period of time. The idea was to look for coding patterns. Pseudonyms were used to maintain anonymity and confidentiality. This study also used Dr. Lenore Terr’s theory of childhood trauma that concludes that childhood trauma has four lasting characteristics: visualized memories, repetitive behaviors, trauma-specific fears, and changed attitudes about people, life, and the future. The stories in this study were written to reveal and celebrate each individual’s success as they moved through childhood trauma to normalized behavior. The interviewees of four individuals and two sets of couples were of various ages ranging from their early 20s to a gentleman in his mid-60s. Participants varied in race and socioeconomic status. It was important that the couples’ stories be meshed and joined together, as their lives and journeys are incomplete without each other’s interpretation of their individual and coupled transitions through childhood trauma to normalized adult behavior. Some shared details of their trauma. Others gave brief overviews of their abuse but detailed their tumultuous and eventual resilient journeys into adulthood. Chapter 4 is divided up into six sections of the four individuals and two couples who were interviewed. Each section contains six subsections. The first subsection is a brief introduction with participants’ background information. The significant themes include: (a) family systems and childhood trauma, (b) feelings about the trauma, (c) results of abuse and trauma, (d) coping with support, and (e) resiliency within the process of being rescued.

Results. Cross-case analysis revealed repetitive patterns and themes, which corresponded to the research question: How do adults traumatized as children describe childhood trauma, effects of the trauma, and their ability to move through the trauma to normalized behavior? Themes that emerged from cross-case analyses and a developmental timeline were: (a) reported childhood trauma, (b) effects of trauma, (c) main childhood caregiver, (d) support systems reported, and (e) evidence of resiliency. The reason for choosing these themes was that each interview revealed similarities. Each individual reported various traumas that affected their behavior and emotions. Each individual had a main childhood caregiver and support system, though the support system was not necessarily the main caregiver. All gave evidence of resiliency. The effects described by the eight participants coincide with Lenore Terr’s theory of childhood trauma mentioned above. Each story and trauma is also different. Neglect, abandonment, poverty, and substance and physical abuse are observable offenders. But when a child does not know how to speak up and report secret sexual assault or emotional abuse, the trauma becomes less obvious. All of the stories must be told and voices heard. Nevertheless, children of trauma can heal. Participants in this study stated they were on the journey towards recovery from childhood trauma to normalized adult behavior.

Conclusion. The themes addressed in this study can be interconnected and related to the research question: How do adults traumatized as children describe childhood trauma, effects of the trauma, and their ability to move through the trauma to normalized behavior? The themes that emerged from the stories were: (a) reported childhood trauma, (b) effects of childhood trauma, (c) main childhood caregiver, (d) support systems reported, and (e) evidence of resiliency. Each adult interviewed volunteered and was willing to describe his or her childhood trauma. For example, neglect, which included divorce, poverty, substance abuse, and violence, was the most prevalent of traumas. Subsequent was behavioral and emotional trauma. All participants told of childhood trauma that affected cognitive and social development. The majority of the trauma was caused and inflicted by caregivers due to neglect. It is unknown if there was intergenerational trauma or if caregiver stress was the initiator of the childhood trauma. Substance abuse of caregivers was also described as a baseline for familial stress. Most support systems were not available to participants as children. These systems include: (a) psychological and psychiatric counseling, (b) education and social, (c) familial and community, (d) and spiritual. Internal and self-directed support and motivation were inferred by all participants, which were fueled by love, faith, and encouragement from external support to motivate participants to normalized adult behavior. Evidence of resiliency was told by each individual. Compassionate giving back to communities was major evidence of healing as well as reported self-respect, hard working in family and community responsibilities, maturity, forgiveness, and security.

Subject Area

Emotional problems of children, Traumatism, Psychic trauma in children.