Bravo to the brave who do not know what lies ahead but, by faith, dive into the journey. Into the depths. I see you. And I say, Bravo! Bravo, my friend. For only the brave, click on a link that reads, Ready to Process Your Childhood Trauma With These 7 Healing Phases? I mean, come on! I see your brave self.
Is Healing From Childhood Sexual Abuse Possible?
How does anyone ever heal from childhood sexual abuse? Does anyone ever really heal? Is it possible? Back in the winter of 2007, I absolutely did not believe it was possible. In fact, I believed I would always live a tormented life. I was always waiting for the next horrific thing to happen. Believing it was my fate to live a broken life with a broken mind, unable to believe in God’s goodness. Correction, God’s goodness for me. I could believe it for others, just not for myself.
But I was utterly, undeniably, categorically wrong. OMGOODNESS, so wrong. Shockingly wrong. Or, like Chandler Bing might say, “Could I have been more wrong?!” Healing is possible! Not only possible but probable! It’s what God does! It’s who he is!
Now, my friend, I promise…pinky swear and spit shake to always keep things real with you. I don’t want to cover up the difficulties, oversimplify, or try to filter suffering through rose-colored glasses. And so I’m compelled to say – that healing from childhood sexual abuse is kind of like trying to swim across the Pacific. Seems impossible, right? Treacherous, for sure. And so, how do you safely swim across the Pacific? One buoy at a time.
7 Healing Phases
Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” Author Unknown
Let me repeat, how do you heal from childhood sexual abuse without drowning in all the pain? One buoy at a time. At the beginning of my journey, my wonderful counselor, Dr. Richard Clark, addressed my fears of drowning in all the pain by teaching me about the 7 Healing Phases. Or buoys, as I came to call them. Buoys marking your journey across the ocean. Signposts. Memorial markers.
Notably, each phase is buoyant with purpose and a beauty all its own. Beauty? Oh, yes, beauty. Keeping it real, you likely won’t see the beauty for a while, but rest assured the entire healing journey is buoyant with purpose and beauty.
Before we move forward, lean in, and listen closely. Processing and healing from childhood trauma takes time. Lots of time. More time than you will want for it to take. So be patient with your sweet self. I promise more than you can imagine is happening…is happening. The complexity of untangling your soul is a miracle you’ll experience over time. But our buoys will give you touchstones to know progress is occurring.
So, what are the 7 Healing Phases? Buoys across your Pacific?
Naming the wrong, Acknowledgment is where we will first dip our toes into the deep. What does it mean to name the wrong? It means to put words to the unimaginable. To identify and declare the wrong out loud. To give voice to the crime, the violation, and the evil – to place into words the unimaginable.
Naming the wrong sounds so simple. And maybe it will be for you. But in my experience, there’s a Resistance you’ll probably encounter. Sexual abuse, for the predator, is all about having control over another person. Childhood trauma of this nature strips the child of agency and voice. And so, as you begin to place the unimaginable into words, you’ll likely bump up against something that will feel like a barrier to the truth inside of you.
But God, I promise, will give you words just as he gave them to me.
Something to remember, Acknowledgment is about you naming the wrong for yourself. It’s not about publicly declaring the name of your abuser or confronting your abuser, or even the pressure to share your story with others outside of a trusted counselor, spouse, or best friend. Acknowledgment is just about you acknowledging the truth of what you survived.
Okay, so Acknowledgment is one thing, but Acceptance of childhood sexual abuse is quite another. In my mind, back in the day, I wanted to play like they were the same. But they are not the same. Acknowledgment is to admit the knowledge of sexual abuse. Acceptance is to receive the truth…to step out of denial and into the reality of what happened to you.
To survive sexual abuse, a child will disassociate themselves from what’s unbearable. They disconnect from the inconceivable reality of what’s happening to their body. Disassociating from the horror helps you survive as a child, which a good. But living disassociated from your body is not natural. Not how you were designed to live. Therefore, it takes a grievous toll on your life. And so, Acknowledgement is a significant first step toward reconnecting with yourself. But with Acceptance, you’re choosing to face the reality of what you survived in order to reconnect with yourself.
Resistance to Acceptance
Back in 2007, I met with Richard once a week. After I finally had acknowledged the sexual abuse, I would walk into his office, settle into the nook of his brown leather sofa and try to convince him that surely I had it all wrong. Week after week, I’d come up with different scenarios of how I must have it all wrong. The deeper work of Acceptance had sent me into a panic. I didn’t want to accept the truth. To Richard’s credit, he never once tried to correct me. Richard’s experience and all the evidence I’d shared with him had long ago proved to Richard that I was the victim of childhood sexual abuse. But he knew I needed to come to the same conclusion on my own. He knew my mind needed time to accept the truth.
Eventually, I ran out of new scenarios as each one failed to prove accurate. And then, one Tuesday morning, I remember driving west on Highway 121 towards Richard’s office, totally frustrated and upset with myself because I couldn’t come up with any more possible explanations. I remember falling into the corner of his sofa, exhausted. Sitting in silence. Defeated. I recall closing my eyes. Tears flood my cheeks. And then, slowly beginning to nod my head…Acceptance emerged. And I believe, in time, the same will happen for you.
Counting the Cost
Something I’ve found working with female survivors of childhood sexual abuse, they tend to shrug off the consequences of the abuse. I literally mean shrug off. Sitting across from me as they talk, they’ll shrug their shoulders and kind of shake their heads as if to say, No biggie. Water under the bridge. Spilled milk. Usually followed by an instant change of subject.
And I get it, I really do. Naming and facing the consequences of childhood sexual abuse is O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M-I-N-G!!! And scary as hell because childhood sexual abuse impacts every facet of a woman’s life. Your whole person and every aspect of your life has been impacted. And it’s intense to finally permit yourself to go there – to Count the Cost.
Oh, friend, I fought to skip right over this third healing phase (and just between you and me, the next three phases too). I wanted to bypass all the pain and just jump straight to forgiveness. Ugh.
There’s Healing in Counting the Cost
But here’s the thing, when a bank forgives a debt, its first step is to Count the Cost. There’s an accounting that must take place before the debt can forever be written off. Forgiven. I mean, forgiveness is not an arbitrary event. It’s not random, lacking in context or specifics.
And here’s the other thing, counting the cost requires you to use your voice! Beloved, God is in the business of reclaiming your voice! You are stepping out of the controlling Darkness the abuse had you shrouded in and stepping into the marvelous Light of healing. God is restoring your sense of agency and your voice – you can finally speak of the unimaginable horrors you survived and the cost to your humanity.
Count the Cost, my friend. Use your voice! What were the consequences of your childhood trauma? Physically? Emotionally? Psychologically? Spiritually? Sexually? Relationally? Financially? Generationally? Environmentally? You matter. And what happened to you matters. Count the Cost.
Feeling the Pain
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalms 34:18
Culturally we’re pretty well-versed in disguising our feelings. More often than not, we’re taught to be tough. Tough is an American virtue, for crying out loud. And the survivor of childhood sexual abuse? She’s a pain-ignoring expert. Like Validvictorian. Summa Cum Laude. Chairman of the Board of ignoring all pain. I once ignored the pain from a fractured neck. What?! But that’s a story for another day.
Feeling the Pain is the fourth healing phase. To feel is to heal Beloved. Do you ever feel frozen inside? Like your soul is in a state of eternal winter? To feel is to heal.
Allow your losses to matter. In Feeling the Pain, your tears tell the truth about the atrocity you survived. Your tears honor the suffering you endured. Allow the grief to come. Feel the Pain. Give the pain permission to release. Beloved, you will not be alone in the pain. For sure, God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.
As I mentioned before, these phases take precious time because under the surface, deep inside of you, there is important work taking place. The restorative work of God is vast! Surrender to the process. I promise, the slower pace…be it monumentally frustrating at times…will yield a splendid voluptuous harvest.
I was deathly afraid of the fifth healing phase, Anger. So much so that I went ten rounds with my counselor Richard trying to convince him…I don’t have any anger inside of me! And besides, it’s not Christian to express anger. God won’t be okay with me expressing anger.
Richard gently assured me that if I did have any anger within me connected to the childhood trauma (which, of course, he knew I had), God would absolutely be okay with me expressing it, “It’s a normal, valid emotion.”
Oh no, it’s not! I fired back at him. And I won’t believe it until I find it in God’s Word. Yeah, I hear you. I can be quiet the pistol. Ugh.
So, I did the only thing I know to do when I don’t know what to do – I asked God to help me. A few days later, reading my Bible, just picking up from where I left off the day before…
When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.” 1 Samuel 11:6
This was righteous Anger, empowered by the Spirit of God. What?! I couldn’t believe my eyes! I’m telling you, my friend, as you cross the Pacific buoy by buoy, God will provide for you exactly what you need the moment you need it.
With that scripture, God taught me that I could depend on the Spirit of God to express Anger…should there be any to express. And OMGOODNESS! Was there ever plenty to express! Who knew?! I mean, in my right mind, I know it makes complete sense there would be tons of Anger to express. But at the time, I was clueless about its existence.
Expressing what lies deep is yet another opportunity for God to restore your voice and your God-given sense of agency. You can trust God to unleash your Anger in ways that are safe, freeing, constructive, and healing! Such as writing letters to your abuser or about your abuser. Letters you never intend to mail. I loved banging on my keyboard…hearing and feeling the anger emerge through my fingertips. In the same way, beating the hell out of something is extremely cathartic, like taking a bat to an old metal trash can or a large piece of wood. I loved the physical exertion—the aggression. And I LOVED being able to see the physical damage. Such a powerful visual metaphor for the violence the sexual abuse inflicted upon your soul. Beloved, I can not overemphasize the healing you’ll experience during this powerful phase.
You don’t survive the childhood trauma of sexual abuse and not have some pent-up Anger. It’s in there. Lurking about and creating enormous stress within your body. You might not yet be in touch with the Anger, but believe me, it’s there. Longing to be released.
One last note, part of my Anger aversion was a fear that I’d get stuck in Anger forever. But God, in His loving-kindness, over time, brought me to the end and safely moved me on. He will do the same for you. Just lean in and trust him.
During the Anger Phase, somewhere along the way, I sat down to write another letter to my abuser, but this time anger turned into Understanding. It was the oddest moment and yet completely natural. Nothing I had tried to conger up. One moment I’m rattling the keyboard with Anger, and then suddenly, I think, What happened in their life?
Hurt people, hurt people. What happened to them? What destruction of the soul did they experience? Did they experience childhood trauma too?!
Now, please hear me; stepping into Understanding, the sixth healing phase, in no way excuses the abuser of their actions. There is no excuse for childhood sexual abuse. Ever. Never. Understanding is simply about seeing them in their humanity. Seeing them in the context of our broken world where all kinds of nightmarish atrocities occur every day. Stepping back in your mind’s eye to see them from a different perspective, What happened to them?
Once again, allow time to do its work. God restores us gently. Tenderly, over time. If you try to rush, you’ll miss the beauty only time can create.
My dear friend, you are trying to do in your own strength what only Christ can do in you.” Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murrary
I believe Jesus is the source of all authentic Forgiveness. I believe all authentic Forgiveness is birthed through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
Now, I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but one day in late November 2008, almost like a whisper from my soul, Forgiveness! I couldn’t believe it! Seriously. As I sat there in disbelief, I took inventory of my heart. Unbelievable. All malice, contempt, rage, desires for revenge, hate…had all vanished without noticing exactly when they had each left me. Miraculously, Jesus had given birth to the seventh healing phase, Forgiveness.
As you make your way through the 7 Healing Phases of childhood trauma, somewhere along the way, Jesus will author Forgiveness within you. He will give birth to Forgiveness through you. Something you just can’t do for yourself. Something only Christ can do for you. And he will.
Healing From Childhood Trauma
How does anyone ever heal from childhood trauma? Because healing from childhood sexual abuse is kind of like trying to swim across the Pacific. Seems impossible, right? Treacherous, for sure. And so, how do you safely swim across the Pacific? One buoy at a time – Acknowledgment. Acceptance. Counting the Cost. Feeling the Pain. Anger. Understanding. Forgiveness.
Does anyone ever really heal? Yes! Healing is possible! Not only possible but probable! It’s what God does! It’s who He is! Through the quiet working of time and grace, God will move you forward. He will heal you.
Start with the first buoy, Acknowledgement. And then God will journey with you buoy to buoy. In his own time. At his own pace. Untangling your soul. Restoring your sense of agency and voice. Tending to your wounds. Loving you as you’ve never been loved before.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.”
Bravo to the brave who do not know what lies ahead but, by faith, dive into the journey. Into the deep. Into the depths.
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Thanks for stopping by! Until we meet again, remember – Trusting in Jesus, you’ll have more treasure than pockets. From my heart to yours,