The Mighty Phoenix

Support for Survivors of Incest, Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence from author & survivor Marie Waldrep

Stages in the Recovery of Sexual Abuse Trauma

The information in this article is adapted from Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, a publication prepared by Thomas R. Wilen for the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. This publication is copyright © Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2002.

Every individual's recovery process is unique. However, most share some similarities. Survivors may experience the following stages of recovery:

Denial

It is not unusual for people to be trapped in this stage for many years after the physical nature of the abuse has ended. Many survivors develop addictive or compulsive behaviors while attempting to mask the feelings and emotions connected to child sexual abuse.

Confused awareness

At this stage, people begin to recognize the connection between their past trauma and present concerns. This new awareness may introduce feelings of anxiety, panic and fear.

Reaching out

Survivors can be in a situation in which the perils of silence become more painful than the risk involved in speaking out. Receiving individual counseling and/or joining support groups may play a role in the healing process.

Anger

After they reach out and become more aware of the impacts of the abuse, survivors often deal with intensified anger. This anger is an expected, natural part of the healing process. Thoughts of disclosure and confrontations may dominate this stage. Anger may be channeled towards anyone who excused or protected the abuser, anyone who did not believe their disclosure of the abuse, and anyone they feel should have been concerned but never took steps to help.

Depression

At this stage, adult survivors may recall the negative messages or criticisms that they received from their abuser as a child. If these seem valid to the adult survivor, they may cause him or her to become depressed when faced with and unable to make positive changes. If symptoms and triggers of their depression are identified and an appropriate support team is found, the chances of their being overwhelmed with feelings of despair may be minimized.

Clarity of feelings and emotions

For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, a key component to healing is to express and share their feelings. This can be achieved by survivors' learning to acknowledge and identify a wide variety of feelings and emotions, as well as finding ways to release them without hurting themselves or others. A good support team can be extremely valuable at this time.

Regrouping

This phase involves many positive changes in survivors' attitudes and feelings. In this stage, they develop a new sense of trust in others but, most importantly, they start to trust themselves.

This phase includes learning from the past, examining the present, and planning for the future. Many survivors have suggested that this stage represents a transition from merely existing to actively living.

Moving on

This stage includes a shift in focus from the negative experiences of the past to positive plans for the future. Painful feelings and emotions do not dominate memories from the past. Positive coping skills developed in earlier stages are enhanced and assist survivors in moving on with their lives. Several coping skills that can help survivors to move on include learning to love and accept themselves, recognizing and celebrating personal growth, creating a healthy support team, grieving current losses as they occur, learning to deal with stress effectively, and recognizing when it is time to let go of painful feelings connected to the past.