Often survivors of trauma have thoughts or feelings that they can never heal from their experiences. They feel angry or wish they could change their past. They often feel depressed or unworthy because of the experiences they go through.
All of these emotions and thoughts are common among survivors of sexual abuse. But these feelings aren’t only common, they are often actual stages every survivor passes through before they are ready to fully heal.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross classified these feelings and emotions into five stages in her book, On Death and Dying. Though these stages were originally intended to describe terminally ill patients, their application is much broader and directly relates to survivors of sexual trauma.
The stages are outlined below:
One of the first reactions to a traumatic sexual experience is shock or denial, wherein the survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.
Even though it is completely unwarranted, many survivors of sexual trauma become angry with themselves. They may feel that they are the ones to blame. When a survivor recognizes that denial cannot continue, and memories of the event keep intruding upon them, they can become angry.
The thought process can be something like this: “Why me? It’s not fair!” “How can this happen to me?” “Who is to blame?” “Why would God let this happen?”
This stage involves the hope that somehow the past can be changed. They try to negotiate with their higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle.
In this stage, it is common to make promises and commitments in return for a freedom from the past events. “If you just make this all go away, I promise that I will…”
This is when reality sets in. Survivors come to understand that the past is not going to change. During this stage people may withdraw inside themselves.
Feelings ensue such as “I’m so bad, why bother with anything?” “Because this happened, my life is completely ruined and nothing is going to change that.” “No one is ever going to want me now.” “I know everyone can see right through me when they look at me, why go on?”
When you can accept that bad things happen in life and that sometimes there is no adequate explanation for it, your feelings may turn to thoughts of, “It’s going to be okay.” “I can’t fight it nor run from the truth, so I may as well do all I can to figure out how to manage it.” This is when you can accept that bad things happen in life and that sometimes there is no adequate explanation for it. This is the stage when true healing begins to take place.
It is here that you are able to apply the five key strategies (found under the online resources tab) which will help you fight the right fight to overcome triggering thoughts and memories.
It is important to understand that it is common to fluctuate between some of these stages from time to time. The process of healing from trauma is an ongoing process, but it isn’t impossible to get to the acceptance stage and find the healing needed. As you keep working to progress, you will find peace and the strength to keep moving forward and face the challenges of life.