Written by: Rachel Grant, Trauma Recovery Coach
In the world of recovery, there has been a shift from using the word “victim” to “survivor” when describing those who have been abused. This shift shows up in all areas of abuse: domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.
This new label was chosen in order to convey strength, to empower, and to embolden us as we begin the journey of recovery. The intent was also to distinguish between the moment of the abuse (victim) and that of the present existence and experience (survivor). While “survivor” is a much better label than “victim,” it does not go far enough in framing an identity that leads to a thriving and powerful life. This is why I’ve come to think of recovery as a three stage process—victim, to survivor, to beyond survivor.
In this series, I’ll share with you the goals of recovery for each stage and what you can do to navigate your way from one stage to the next.
Stage 1: Victim
At this stage in recovery, we may either still be in a situation where abuse is occurring or we may have not yet been able to acknowledge that what we experienced was abuse. Dismissing and denying what happened (is happening) is the name of the game at this stage.
We are caught in a cycle of blaming ourselves for the abuse, making excuses for the abuser’s behavior, hiding the abuse from others, and/or using coping mechanisms such as withdrawal, isolation, alcohol or drugs, food, etc. to avoid or mask the pain.
One of the most difficult steps in recovery can be to acknowledge that we were, in fact, a victim. We may find it difficult to accept that the actions taken against us by our abuser actively harmed and injured us against our will. This is understandable, because in doing so, we begin to define the person harming us as “an abuser” alongside other definitions like brother, mother, father, neighbor or teacher. It also causes us to accept that we are not always in control and bad things can happen to us.
However, in accepting and acknowledging that what we experienced was abuse, we are taking a step onto the road to recovery. What if you are too afraid to say out loud that you were abused or a victim? I would encourage you to begin journaling and using the word victim in your writing. This is a great way to ease into this step.
Goals of Recovery for the Victim:
- Acknowledge that what you experienced (are experiencing) is abuse
- Understand that you deserve to be safe, cared for and that the abuse was a violation
- Become willing to face and acknowledge the hurt and the pain
- Seek support in getting away from the abuser if you are still in a situation where abuse is occurring
- Stop minimizing or dismissing your experience
Types of Support to Seek Out:
- Chat rooms and forums such as Pandora’s Aquarium provide a safe space to begin talking about your experiences
- Shelters or other organizations that will help you safely leave an abusive situation
- Newsletters, blogs, videos to provide resources and encouragement
Most importantly, please understand that you did nothing to cause the abuse to happen, it is not your fault, and you deserve to heal and move on. Rather than trying to escape the impact of the abuse through minimization and dismissal, we need to take the time to fully acknowledge the extent to which we have been changed or hurt and to what extent that experience is interfering with our relationships and ability to have a life that we love in the present moment.
In doing so, we will be able to deal with the areas of our life that have been impacted rather than remaining stuck, hurt, or angry because we continue to believe that our hurt wasn’t “great” enough to justify giving it our attention, to warrant reflection, or, even, to seek support.
Want to learn more about how you let go of the pain of abuse and feel normal? SIGN UP for Rachel’s monthly newsletter and receive an excerpt of her guidebook, Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse.
About Rachel: Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Trauma Recovery Coach. She is also the author of Beyond Surviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. With her support, adult survivors of sexual abuse break free from the pain of abuse and return to their genuine self. Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. She provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. She is a member of the International Coach Federation & San Francisco Coaches. www.rachelgrantcoaching.com