Survivors often ask, “is healing possible?” The answer is YES! But remember that recovery from abuse is not something that happens overnight. It is an ongoing process, which requires courage, support and commitment. It also involves feeling a lot of pain along the way.
What are the stages of recovery? Below are some of the stages of healing often experienced by survivors. These stages are not necessarily experienced in a “one after another” way. There may be some stages missed altogether, whilst you may seem to spend a long time apparently “stuck” in another. Nevertheless, the overall process remains recognisable.
The Decision to Heal
This happens when you recognise the effects of sexual abuse in your life and make an active decision to heal. You choose to heal and are willing to accept the changes that will go with it.
The Emergency Stage
When you first begin to deal with your abuse you may feel that your life has been thrown into utter chaos. You may feel obsessed with abuse issues, and even feel that you are going to go crazy or kill yourself. Whilst this is an extremely distressing time it is important to remember that it is only a stage and will not go on forever – and that it is also a part of the process of healing.
Believing It Happened
Survivors may doubt their own memory, feelings, and perceptions of the abuse. Or they may deny that it was really “that bad”. Coming to believe in the reality of the abuse and that it really hurt you is an important part of healing.
Breaking Silence / Secrecy
Most adult survivors kept the abuse a secret in childhood. Being able to tell a trusted human being about what happened and how you feel is a powerful healing force.
Understanding That It Wasn’t Your Fault
As a child you may have believed that the abuse was somehow your fault. An important stage of healing is placing blame where it really belongs – directly on the shoulders of the abusers.
Getting In Touch With Your Own Vulnerability
Many survivors have lost touch with the child within themselves – their own vulnerability. Many men and women talk about “being afraid to be vulnerable”. But getting in touch with these feelings can be strength not weakness and can help survivors become more open, and to feel the full range of their feelings.
The best guide for healing is your own inner voice. Learning to trust your own thoughts, feelings and perceptions forms a new basis for action in your life.
Grieving and Mourning
As children being abused, and later as adults struggling to survive, most survivors have not felt their losses, but grieving is an important way to get in touch with your pain, let go, and move on.
Anger – The Backbone of Healing
Anger is a powerful and liberating force. Whether you need to get in touch with it, or have always had plenty to spare, directing your rage squarely at your abuser, and at those who did not protect you, is pivotal to healing.
Sometimes it is said that you have to forgive your abuser in order to heal. This is not true. It is not necessary for you to forgive the person that abused you. What it is important is self-forgiveness: That you forgive yourself for any past actions you feel ashamed of, or any negative behaviour you may have used in coping with your abuse.
Resolution and Moving On
Resolution comes when feelings begin to stabilise, and you begin to feel like a whole person. You are able to make some of the changes that you want in your life, develop positive relationships and explore your potential as a human being.
BUT REMEMBER: Healing is not about reaching a specific point in time or any one individual goal. There is no such thing as the finishing line where healing is concerned. The abuse happened and affected you deeply. That will never change. But you can, over time, reach a place of resolution where you can get on with your life.
Adapted from “The Courage To Heal” by Ellen Bass & Laura Davis. Published by Mandarin Paperbacks, London. Copyright 1998 Ellen & Laura Davis.