Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Jean Bachman DSN


Deborah Kiel

E. Turner Overton

Shawn Pohlman


HIV-related stigma is a serious hindrance to addressing the recruitment, maintenance, and follow-up nursing care of HIV-infected persons. This study was anchored within the heuristic research model, which engaged both the researcher and participants in a dialogical and aesthetic manner to unveil the stigma of HIV. The close proximity of the researcher and study participants revealed the most visceral, emotional, and self-reflective nature of gathering data, while maintaining the integrity and rigor of a qualitative study. The purpose of this heuristic study was to examine the lived experiences of HIV-infected individuals relating to internalized stigma within an existential context. This framework required that the researcher had personally lived the phenomenon of interest and had a profound desire to pursue its meaning and essence. Twelve participants enrolled in this study. Data were collected through a series of two face-to-face interviews per study participant. Transcripts were analyzed using the heuristic method of thematic coding. The central theme, Shadows Lurking in the Gaze, was identified and was further explored in a case comparative manner, resulting in 2 subthemes: Raging Battle of the Gaze and the Transformational Process of Living with the Gaze emerged. The central theme is defined as a discernible threat that presents an ominous oppressiveness which is perceived by the observed person cast from the other. The study participants expressed varying levels of the gaze cast upon them by others. The first subtheme, Raging Battle of the Gaze, was centered on HIV-concealment factors. Regardless if the confirmation of one’s HIV status is disclosed or if it remains concealed, the suspicion of who knows and who does not know is a relentless distraction among HIV-infected persons. This distraction among an HIV-infected person often manifests into the self-analysis of how the other is looking at him; the self-questioning of the intentions of the gaze cast by the other. The second subtheme, Transformational Process of Living with the Gaze, was exhibited by the healing processes within the study participants that allowed them to push forward with life and release themselves from the distractions of the ever-present and unwanted gaze.

Included in

Nursing Commons