5 Stages to Finding Healing

Survivors of trauma often feel 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 just 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:

1. Denial

One of the first reactions to a traumatic sexual experience is shock or denial. The survivor imagines a false, preferable reality.

 2. Anger

Even though it is completely unwarranted, many survivors of sexual trauma become angry with themselves. They may feel that they are to blame for what happened. Also, 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?”

 3. Bargaining

This stage involves negotiating with a higher power in exchange for a reformed life. It is common to make promises and commitments in return for freedom from past events. “If you just make this all go away, I promise that I will…”

 4. Depression

This is when reality sets in. Survivors come to understand that the past is not going to change. During this stage, people may withdraw and turn inward.

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?”

5. Acceptance

When you can accept that bad things happen in life and that sometimes there is no adequate explanation, your feelings may turn to thoughts of, “It’s going to be okay.” “I can’t fight it or run from the truth, so I may as well do all I can to figure out how to manage it.” This is the stage when true healing begins to take place.

It is here that you are able to apply the five strategies to reclaim hope, which will help you fight the right fight to overcome triggering thoughts and memories.

Fluctuating between some of these stages from time to time is common. Healing from trauma is an ongoing process, and it’s possible to get to the acceptance stage. As you keep working, you will find peace and the strength to move forward and face the challenges of life.