Recovering from sexual abuse can look different for each individual, with the healing process existing on a continuum. In the book The Courage to Heal, Bass and Davis describe the healing process as a “spiral” rather than a straight line. As you move through the healing process, you will go through the stages repeatedly but you will experience these stages at a different level and from a different perspective.
The following stages of healing are taken from the book The Courage to Heal. These stages are to be used as a guide to healing. Everyone will move through these stages differently and not all stages are necessary for everyone.
Stages of Healing from Child Sexual Abuse
- The decision to heal. Healing can only happen when you are ready and willing to change. Often, this willingness occurs when you realize that the effects of sexual abuse are impacting you in a significant way.
- The emergency stage. In this stage you begin to deal with memories and feelings that you have long suppressed. This is usually a time when survivors experience a rush of emotions and, at times, physical pain.
- Remembering. In this stage you regain memories and feelings about your abuse. As you begin to build a cohesive narrative about the abuse, you begin to understand how the sexual abuse has impacted your life.
- Believing it happened. As you remember your abuse, you must face the fact that you were abused. Stepping out of denial and into the truth is a powerful step for many survivors.
- Breaking the silence. Speaking out about your abuse is very healing. As you share your story with someone who genuinely cares for you, you begin to feel strength, resilience, and courage. Telling others about your abuse is not always easy and sometimes it requires a less direct approach, such as writing, art, or dance.
- Understanding that it wasn’t your fault. As a child, you probably believed the abuse was your fault. As an adult survivor, you must learn to give the responsibility back to your abuser.
- Understanding the child victim. You will need to understand your “inner child.” As you get to know her, and have empathy and compassion for her, you will begin to feel a connection with her. You can care for her and protect her.
- Grieving. As a survivor of sexual abuse, you have a lot to grieve. Grieving will allow for you to honor your pain, release the hurt, and live more fully in the present without being stuck in the past.
- Anger. Anger that isn’t released will turn inward and can result in depression and self-destructive behaviors. It is important to use your anger as a catalyst to move through your pain, hurt, and despair.
- Disclosure and truth telling. Talking about your abuse with your abuser can be empowering, but this stage is not for everyone. It is important for you to get proper support, healing, and consultation before you pursue disclosure.
- Forgiveness. It is necessary to find forgiveness for yourself. Forgiving yourself will release you from self-blame and shame. Many women find it freeing to forgive their abuser, but this usually comes after a long, committed process of healing.
- Spirituality. You will find that the healing process will require a greater source of strength and support. A strong faith and connection with Jesus can be a benefit in healing.
- Resolution. As you work through these stages over and over again, you will experience more awareness, integration, and compassion. You will gain the ability to move toward a better future.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Heal from Child Sexual Abuse
Recovering from past abuse is possible. Seeking an experienced counselor to help in your healing process is very beneficial for a number of reasons. A trained Christian counselor can support emotional awareness, aid with anger management, help to uncover and work through shame, facilitate the grieving process, and promote the repair of trauma.
Bass, E., & Davis, L. (2008). The courage to heal: A guide for women survivors of child sexual abuse. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.Photos
“Spiral Stairs,” DEF_8389.jpg, courtesy of Limp182, morgfuefile.com; “Decorative Door,” ttronslien-2061.jpg, courtesy of ttronslien, morguefile.com