Child sexual abuse/incest
Stages of recovery
The information in this article is adapted from Adult
Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, a publication prepared by Thomas
R. Wilen for the National
Clearinghouse on Family Violence. This publication is copyright
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister
of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 2002.
Every individual's recovery process is unique. However, most share
some similarities. Survivors may experience the following stages of recovery:
It is not unusual for people to be trapped in this stage for
many years after the physical nature of the abuse has ended. Many survivors
develop addictive or compulsive behaviours while attempting to mask the
feelings and emotions connected to child sexual abuse.
At this stage, people begin to recognize the connection
between their past trauma and present concerns. This new awareness may
introduce feelings of anxiety, panic and fear.
Survivors can be in a situation in which the perils of silence become
more painful than the risk involved in speaking out. Receiving individual
counselling and/or joining support groups may play a role in the healing process.
After they reach out and become more aware of the impacts
of the abuse, survivors often deal with intensified anger. This anger is an expected,
natural part of the healing process. Thoughts of disclosure and confrontations
may dominate this stage. Anger may be channelled towards anyone who excused
or protected the abuser, anyone who did not believe their disclosure of
the abuse, and anyone they feel should have been concerned but never took
steps to help.
At this stage, adult survivors may recall the negative messages or criticisms
that they received from their abuser as a child. If these seem valid to
the adult survivor, they may cause him or her to become depressed when
faced with and unable to make positive changes. If symptoms and triggers
of their depression are identified and an appropriate support team is
found, the chances of their being overwhelmed with feelings of despair
may be minimized.
Clarity of feelings and emotions
For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, a key component to healing
is to express and share their feelings. This can be achieved by survivors'
learning to acknowledge and identify a wide variety of feelings and emotions,
as well as finding ways to release them without hurting themselves or
others. A good support team can be extremely valuable at this time.
This phase involves many positive changes in survivors' attitudes
and feelings. In this stage, they develop a new sense of trust in others
but, most importantly, they start to trust themselves.
This phase includes learning from the past, examining the present, and
planning for the future. Many survivors have suggested that this stage
represents a transition from merely existing to actively living.
This stage includes a shift in focus from the negative experiences of
the past to positive plans for the future. Painful feelings and emotions
do not dominate memories from the past. Positive coping skills developed
in earlier stages are enhanced and assist survivors in moving on with
their lives. Several coping skills that can help survivors to move on
include learning to love and accept themselves, recognizing and celebrating
personal growth, creating a healthy support team, grieving current losses
as they occur, learning to deal with stress effectively, and recognizing
when it is time to let go of painful feelings connected to the past.