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May 23, 2012

The Process Of Recovery From Abuse

source: Michael C. Irving, PhD

The process of recovery from abuse is long, demanding and very individual. It requires and deserves much support and safety from other people.

When one has been abused, remembering your past is discovering who you are.

Recovery involves accepting, understanding and releasing feelings. It entails connecting behavior, thoughts and feelings both in the past and in the present.

Recovery is learning about choice, learning how to take care of yourself and learning that it is OK to take care of yourself. It is learning about choice.

If you move the "yuck" out, there is some room for joy.

The timing of recovery might not be when you want. It is important to honor your own process and realize that it is never ending.


"The core experiences [of child abuse] are disempowerment and disconnection from others. Recovery, therefore, is based upon the empowerment of the survivor and the creation of new connections [with people]. Recovery can take place only within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation. In his/her renewed connections with other people, the survivor recreates the psychological faculties that were damaged or deformed by the [abuse] experience..." "Recovery unfolds in three stages. The central task of the first stage is the establishment of safety. The central task of the second stage is remembrance and mourning. The central task of the third stage is reconnection with ordinary life." Judith Lewis Herman, M.D.

Discussion - The Process of Recovery from Abuse

Remembering, feeling bad, feeling guilty, accepting, hoping, naming it, believing it and being believed, having someone listen without judgment and telling are all part of the initial process of recovery from abuse.

Recovery from abuse takes a long, long time. It requires stamina, support and safety, both internally and externally. Old habits must change. A survivor must learn to trust, to grieve, to breathe (“if not, you can’t feel”). It involves confrontation, changing one’s beliefs of self and the world, feelings of confusion, rage, dealing with family and relationships, learning how to take care of one’s self, discovering the power to choose and overcoming unreal and terminal “niceness”.

Survivors will encounter periods of time where they feel guilty and have a fear of not being loved. They feel that love is conditional. They let go of what’s not real, such as taking care of everyone else, not taking care of themselves and defining boundaries. They let go of the fantasies, like “everyone will love me” and “I can get back what was lost”. There is utter despair when survivors let go of dreams, and emotions like anger, fear and sadness are felt. It’s critical that a survivor have all of these feelings. “If you can have these feelings, if you move the ‘yuck’ out, there’s some room for joy.” They discover the power to choose.

Working through shame takes a long time. Often a survivor takes two steps forward, on step sideways. Recovery is intermittent. “You must do a lot of stuff you don’t want to do.” Such as learning to accept that the timing of recovery might not be when it’s wanted, honoring one’s own process and realizing that the process is never-ending.

There is a lot of secrecy in abuse. In recovering, survivors break the secret and the silence. They listen to their own voice, a voice they have been taught not to hear, and give themselves permission. They must unlearn their lives and what they’ve been taught. They must find out who they are through gender identification, their physical body, by retaking possession of their physical body and by finding their “person”inity.

Elements of recovery can be concurrent, intermittent, simultaneous, continual, not on linear time and run as parallel processes. Survivors revisit these elements with different intensities of emotion and cognition throughout their recovery, and experience a blending of feelings, thought and behavior.

Key Themes

Recovery is accepting and releasing feelings, connecting with behavior and thought. It is also remembering your past, discovering who you are, and choosing how you will live.

References On The Process Of Recovery From Abuse:

Bass, Ellen and Laura Davis. Beginning to Heal: A First Book for Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.

Eller, Ti. “How Can I forgive? A Woman Sexually Abused as a Child Seeks Peace.” Canadian Baptist, November 1994, vol. 140 no. 9, p. 8-10.

Green, Lilian. Ordinary Wonders: Living Recovery From Sexual Abuse. Toronto: Women’s Press, 1992.
Kaye, Marcia. “Nightmare of Childhood Sexual Abuse Can Last A Lifetime But, Increasingly, Adult Survivors Are Waking To Renewed Hopes and Dreams.” Canadian Living, March 1991, vol. 16 no. 3, p. 143, 145-8.

Maltz, Wendy. Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide For Survivors of Sexual Abuse. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.

Masson, Suzanne. “Breaking the Silence: Recovery From Incest”. Human Medicine, January 1995, vol. 11 no. 1, p. 29-33.

Oksana, Chrystine. Safe Passage to Healing: A Guide for Survivors of Ritual Abuse. New York, N.Y.: Harper Perennial, 1994.

Sinclair, Donna. “From Abuse to Rebirth: Clergy Can Help Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse Start Fresh.” United Church Observer, October 1997, Vol. 61 no. 3, p.45-6.

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