After understanding the truth about sexual abuse, you must be ready to begin your healing journey. Sexual abuse (SA) is associated with long-term emotional, behavioral, physical, and social effects. Many forms of sexual abuse will require different stages of healing for each person. Some may be good for you, but not others. The key here is how do you cope, recover, and heal? Immediately after victimization, psychological distress comes from two types of poor coping mechanisms:
- Emotion-focus coping: regulating one’s emotions rather than the abuse itself.
- Avoidant coping: denial or disengaging from suppressed feelings and remembrances from the SA.
Studies have shown positive outcomes in other coping mechanisms such as:
- Approach coping: engaging ineffective strategies to address the stressor.
- Social support: including licensed mental health professionals, supportive individuals, and loved ones to help find meaning in the abuse—utilization of a support circle to work through the healing stages.
There isn’t a specific coping definition; each stage and process depend on the person and the form of sexual abuse. However, once you find the healing steps that work for you, you will succeed in the process, which influences recovery and post-traumatic growth. Some positive changes occur when the survivor takes control of their lives, such as accepting of others, actively engaging in self-care, loving yourself, and feeling a sense of liberation, a sense of triumph, and a connection in the world.
Post-traumatic growth is defined as “the individual’s experience of significant positive change arising from the struggle of major life crisis,” according to (Calhoun et al., 2000). Victims have reported a positive change in self-perception and new positive perspectives on life because of their healing journey.
Defining your coping strategy is not a healing method. Healing from sexual abuse includes positive growth beyond pre-trauma functioning levels. Survivors have different healing stages by “constructing a personal resistance,” whereas you create your healing plan. It is like building a house rather than remodeling as a metaphor. It is the framework of healing.
Healing requires understanding the nature of the abuse, why it happened, its effects on your life, and how the trauma affects your current life. The answers to the questions will help make your life change, give you a better understanding of the abuse, and assist in the healing process. As easy it sounds on paper, many victims reported struggles in their adulthood. According to the US National Library of Medicine, there are three stages in the healing model. Not all stages will apply to each victim; it will vary based on the type of sexual abuse and its effects. The stages do not necessarily move in order; some bypass one, revert to earlier stages, or work on multiple ones simultaneously.
Stages of the Healing Model
Grappling with the meaning of sexual abuse:
Many sexual abuse victims struggle with answers to questions in their adult life. Many who have ruminating thoughts and consume their lives with the memoir and sexual abuse fall into this stage. They are hindered in difficult life situations and suffer from numerous physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms. They perceive their life as destroyed. Those in the grappling stage often have a distressed life involving abuse, instability, and being physically unhealthy. They also find it challenging to discuss the abuse. Disclosing information makes them feel vulnerable and are to blame. They feel embarrassed, ashamed and assume they will receive adverse reactions.
In addition, victims are often unable to engage in altruism, acts of humanity. They are incapable of providing support and resources to other victims.
Some people who suffered from child abuse have passed the abuse onto their children. They neglect positive parenting and cannot create a loving and caring home environment. Some physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse their children or fail to protect them from molestation. Studies show these parents are incompetent to effectively parent, engage in substance abuse, unable to hold a steady job, unable to create a stable home, can’t maintain supportive interpersonal relationships, in poverty, and in legal dilemmas.
An important part of this stage is to move on to the next. Try your hardest to increase your effort, commit to the process, and reach your goal. You can do it!
Figuring out stage:
Figuring out the meaning of sexual violence is having the ability to understand the principal, cause, and adverse effects. The individual figures out they are not to blame by learning the violence was abusive regardless of its circumstance, how the abuse was perpetrated, their response to the abuse, conditions leading to the abuser’s violence, and the perpetrator’s motivations. Two factors here help a victim to move past the grappling stage. One factor is the affirmation that the abuse is wrong, not to blame. It is beneficial to have a support system, like family members, friends, medical and mental health clinicians, teachers, and other supportive figures to build confidence and reassurance during the healing stages continuously. The second factor is acknowledging they could confront the adverse effects without feeling destroyed. Throughout this stage, the victim will gradually experience some positive experiences and reduce the trouble in their lives. Positive experiences will include academic or professional achievements, creating positive relationships, and changing to healthy behaviors like weight loss, exercise, healthy eating, and sobriety. It demonstrates they are capable of positive changes.
Those who suffer from child abuse are eager to improve their parenting skills. They will provide their children with a healthy, safe, nurturing environment and protect them from child abuse or molestation.
One more critical element to this stage is talking about the abuse with others. Discussing the abuse with supportive people helps get the answers they need to figure it all out. It is most beneficial to share in-depth the experiences and effects with a mental health professional because it is painful to discuss. A mental health clinician will help you understand how sexual abuse is complex and multidimensional.
In this stage, the sufferer will actively tackle the abusive effects. They will have the strength and courage to seek professional mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment if pertinent, end any toxic or abusive relationships, make positive changes to their interpersonal relationships and sexual lives, and improve physical well-being. Often, they are eager to seek out new professional or educational opportunities. It isn’t easy to work through, but they will feel the progress and start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. This stage is long and exhausting. There are two factors here to get through this phase. One, getting support from others, lots of “hand-holding,” as some may call it during the difficult times. The other factor is personal strength. They need to connect with their inner selves and be mindful of the power and resilience to tackle the effects.
Child abuse survivors now begin to change to healthier parenting ways and learn to protect and educate them on sexual abuse. They are more aware of the signs, become protective of who they interact with, and create an open-door policy for the children to discuss any concerns or questions. This phase is not the final stage; the abuser is still fragile, but not nearly as much as early on. There may be some shortcomings, but this, too, is a process.
The victim can now show compassion and empathy towards other sexual abuse victims. They can provide support and effectively communicate, sharing some of their healing to help others. Some have become more involved in humanistic activities and joining support organizations.
Laying Claim stage:
One claims their life back and decides how they want to live their lives, making a difference in the world. For example, some want to seek justice for the abuser. It ultimately comes down to completing the first three stages and being empowered to take their lives back to live healthy, thriving, and prosperous lives. Two factors that helped get to this stage are embracing the abuse’s silver lining that led to a significant turning point in one’s life. The event and healing have enabled the individual to make drastic changes. Next, surpassing the trauma as opposed to just a recovery. Their newfound empowerment changed their life patterns and stood firm to be no longer subjected to abuse, develop equal relationships, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and engage in constructive activities.
Child abuse survivors are adamant about protecting their children from any form of abuse, whether physical or emotional. Their commitment will stand tall for an abuse-free life.
Finally, the victim can discuss their abusive experience without fear, guilt, shame, and reluctance to help others. They commit to bringing awareness of sexual abuse and hope to support others. They become involved in advocacy and volunteer their time to support other victims struggling to understand sexual abuse and their healing journey.
As you can see, the healing journey isn’t so cut and dry. It is a long and tiring process. There will be setbacks, but the power and will to move forward is crucial to get to the final stage. The most common emotional adverse effect is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a biological component based on a mental health condition. Due to the biological-based mental health condition, working with a licensed mental health clinician would help you through this journey. During your therapeutic journey, at some point, you and your therapist will determine if additional types of treatment are necessary. Many treatments for a biologically based mental health condition, like PTSD, can help your emotional wellness. Treatments such as:
- Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS Therapy): An FDA-approved, non-drug, non-invasive, painless brain stimulation treatment in which a changing magnetic field is used to create an electric current at a specific area of the brain through electromagnetic induction.
- Ketamine Infusion Therapy: Ketamine is administered intravenously in a controlled environment by a medical doctor. It can act as an efficacious, rapid-acting medication. According to Dr. John Mendiola, Founder and Director of MindBody Therapeutics says, “Ketamine infusions work best to provide fast relief of symptoms, no side effects and is optimized when people couple the infusions with talk-therapy. The talk therapy helps restructure new ways of thinking while capitalizing on creating new connections of the brain, referred to as neuroplasticity.” Our Senior Associate, Caroline Brown, LMSW, shares her expertise on Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) and Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) Part 2.
- Psychotropic medication: a traditional oral medicine usually takes 4-8 weeks to feel full protentional.
Remember, coping is not healing; recovery is not healing; completing your healing journey IS healing. Our Gateway to Solutions licensed clinicians has helped many victims achieve their SA healing journey and live their best lives.