Stages of healing from child abuse

While every individual will go through their own healing experience there are common healing stages. People cycle through these healing stages, moving from one to another and back again, until they have released the past and can concentrate on their present and future unhindered.

1. Acknowledging that abuse occurred

  • Admitting it – no more denial

  • Acknowledging the impacts on you & your life

  • Dealing with the emotions & memories

  • Accepting yourself & your reactions as normal

  • Learning to trust your self & your intuition

2. Making the decision to heal

  • Choosing hope over resignation or despair

  • Making an active commitment to change

  • Putting aside other demands and allowing time to experience emotions, to think about the issues, and to get the necessary help & support

  • Allowing the painful emotions to come up and release – dealing with the chaotic nature of this on your day to day life

  • Finding support – from yourself & others

3. Talking to others about the abuse

  • Breaking the silence
  • Reducing shame & guilt by acknowledging out loud that you were abused & it wasn’t your fault
  • Choosing who to tell, what you want from them & dealing with their reactions

4. Placing responsibility where it belongs

  • Recognising the abuse was the abuser’s fault, not yours – you are not to blame at all. You were a child
  • You are not to blame if you went along with it – the abuser had power over you & you didn’t have all the information to decide objectively – you were a child
  • In the case of sexual abuse, you are not to blame if your body was aroused – it’s a normal bodily response. You’re not to blame if you felt positive feelings of intimacy with the abuser – they may have been nice & loving to you when others weren’t
  • Any problems that arose within the family as a result of the abuse were not your fault
  • Identify & understand how you were tricked, bribed, threatened or coerced by the abuser – you were used & abused
  • You are strong though – you have survived. You can heal & create the life you want!

5. Dealing with the loss and sadness

  • Feeling grief over – what happened to you, your loss of innocence & childhood, the loss of trust, sadness that the relationships weren’t the way you would have liked them to be, sadness over the impact of the abuse on you throughout your life
  • If you get depressed, get help to move through it
  • Feel all these feelings, talk to safe people about them, release the emotion – the intensity will pass

6. Expressing anger

  • Feeling anger over what happened
  • Expressing anger towards the abuser & others involved, rather than at yourself (This is done in safe & constructive ways in private, not necessarily with the actual people involved)
  • Letting go of the need for retaliation
  • Building self assertion & strength

7. Working through the difficulties caused by the abuse

  • Working through difficult physical, social, emotional & behavioural problems
  • Working through unhelpful beliefs about oneself, about abuse or about life in general

8. Building a future

  • Accepting the abuse happened & it is part of the past
  • Development of self acceptance & self respect
  • Acknowledging the wisdom & strengths you’ve gained from surviving the abuse
  • Overcoming residual feelings of vulnerability & lack of confidence
  • Dealing with fear & planning ways to take care of yourself in different situations
  • Setting goals & taking steps to create the life you want
  • Feeling more in control of your life

Summarised many years ago by Dr. Jodi-Anne M Smith from: MacDonald K, Lambie I & Simmonds L, 1995, Counselling for sexual abuse. A therapists guide for working with adults, children and families, Oxford University Press, London, pgs 30-43.

Art work is Jodi-Anne’s original art therapy drawings.

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