THE SEVEN STAGES OF GRIEF USING THEM TO HEAL FROM TRAUMA
After any type of abuse, everyone’s experience with grief will be different and unique to their own personal situation. Despite this, there are seven stages of grief which everyone moves through in the same order. Understanding what they are and that they are not alone in their feelings can help a victim of sexual trauma in their journey towards recovery.
1.Shock and Denial
After a sexual trauma, victims’ initial reaction will likely be one of shock and disbelief. It will be difficult to understand what has just happened. These feelings are a defensive mechanism designed to protect them from the pain. The feeling will gradually move towards denial that the trauma happened or trying to push the experience from their thoughts, as they try to forget about the abuse. This may manifest itself as victims telling everyone that they are fine, and the experience really was not that bad.
2. Pain and Guilt
Every victim of sexual trauma will play the “what if” game and wonder what they could have done differently to prevent the assault. This can be compounded by the fact that society often makes the victim feel as though they did something wrong. It is quite common to hear things such as:
- Why were you in that area?
- What were you doing out so late?
- Why did you go by yourself with him?
- What did you think would happen if you wore that?
- She was asking for it.
This all works to make victims internalize their feelings of guilt and even feel ashamed and responsible for being a victim. Only when victims begin to challenge these thoughts and understand that the trauma is not their fault will they begin to move forward.
3. Anger and Bargaining
Anger is a critical step in moving towards recovery and healing. In this stage, victims begin to place the blame for the trauma, where it belongs on the perpetrator. Doing so gives them a new perspective on what has happened and some feelings of control. With this, will also come mental and internal bargaining. This is where victims will try to make the pain go away by offering to make some sort of change to either themselves or sometimes a higher power. A common thought is “if I keep myself busy enough, all these bad feelings will go away.”
4. Depression, Reflection
Once victims of sexual trauma have accepted the reality of what happened to them, a deep feeling of sadness will set in. This is a time of mourning for everything that has been lost and the trauma that has been experienced. While difficult, this is also a time for healing. Victims can begin to reflect on what has happened and begin to deal with their “new normal”.
5. The Upward Turn
Victims of sexual trauma will begin to re-adjust to life during this stage. Their depression will ease up and they will begin to see an end in sight to all the pain they are experiencing. They may feel more motivated and a new sense of strength.
6. Reconstruction and Working Through
As victims begin to return their life to normal, they will experience a new sense of determination to overcome what has happened to them. They will likely seek out ways to deal with the range of emotions they are feeling and even set goals for their future. They regain a stronger sense of control of their life.
With this final stage, victims have moved through painful and difficult feelings. While they will always struggle with the abuse that has happened, they can move forward with their life. Acceptance of what has happened to them will occur and they can begin to cope with the aftermath. They will slowly begin to experience positive feelings once again.
Recovering from sexual trauma is never an easy process but with time and support, it can be done. Grief is not linear, so there may be times when victims regress back to the earlier stages of grief. While the pain from the trauma will never be completely forgotten, with time victims can begin to reclaim their life.