One way to understand the healing journey is to think of growing from a place of victimization to survival, and ultimately, to thriving. While a person has had no choice about being victimized, he or she does have a choice about growing through these stages.
Regardless of what the traumatic event was, where or when it occurred, there was a period of time when victimization occurred. This victimization is not something one should feel guilt or shame about, rather it is a factual reality to understand, accept, and grow through. When an individual cannot or does not grow through the period of victimization, one can think of this person as being stuck within the victim stage.
An individual in the victim stage feels as though he or she is still in the trauma—no matter how long ago the actual traumatic incident(s) occurred. The sense of being in that moment of time permeates the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and even his or her sense of self. It is common for an individual in this stage to avoid many emotions while experiencing in abundance feelings of helplessness, vulnerability, fragility, self-pity, numbness, defeat, shame, self-hatred, and discouragement. The person might feel out of control or angry, want to hide and hope to be rescued. The individual often believes he or she lacks choices and has few possibilities and a shortened future. This combination of thoughts leads to little planning for the future and a preoccupation with the past.
In addition, the individual may feel plagued by memories of the event, particularly if he or she is struggling with flashbacks. Common behaviors that arise out of these thoughts and feelings are self-destructive ones such as addictions or a pervasive passivity. While most individuals, even those who have been stuck within this stage for quite some time, do not desire to be within the victimization stage, some individuals do experience secondary gains (such as love, support, attention, assistance) from being within this victim stage.avoid acknowledging the truth of the victimization. Neither approach is healthy, because true recovery can only occur when ones has dwelt within and then healed out of this stage.
Once a person has grown through the victim stage, he or she enters into the survivor stage, which is the time when one begins to feel strong and confident and to truly believe that there are resources and choices. A key realization of this stage is that an individual has gotten through the trauma intact, or mostly intact, and is indeed outside of it. This understanding allows the person to begin integrating the trauma into his or her life story, to take control of life, and to recognize potential for change and growth.
For many, a sense of satisfaction accompanies this realization as does a shift into an emotional state that has less suffering, less pain, less guilt, and definitely less depression. Many of the difficult emotions decrease, and though this is not necessarily a happy phase of life, moments of happiness will start to occur more often. As one progresses through this stage, living one day at a time increasingly becomes a primary focus. Coping from day to day and acting upon a commitment to healing, trusting, and restoring relationships becomes the essence of healing.
The thriver stage crystallizes the growth of the survivor stage and takes one’s healing to the point where he or she has general satisfaction with life as well as a sense that ordinary life is both interesting and enjoyable. Commitment to moving forward, to taking care of one’s physical health, to investing in one’s career, relationships, and love and life allow these gains to occur. On an emotional level, feelings of strength, empowerment, compassion, resilience, and self-determination eclipse the emotions experienced within the victim stage. In addition a renewed sense of joy, peace, and happiness arises because one has grown, despite the traumatic experience, and is living well.
It is within this thriver stage that a person’s thinking becomes less pessimistic; he or she begins to think and believe that that there are long-term options, that there is a point to planning for the future, and he or she begins to recognize and embrace new possibilities. This living well is also exemplified in an ability to connect with others who are suffering, to accept imperfections in loved ones, and to reach out to others. Life is once again rich in meaningful relationships which help the person find a sense of meaning and purpose. If any symptoms of posttraumatic stress or other issues remain, the individual has learned how to effectively cope with these symptoms. Ultimately, he or she perceives him- or herself as more than a victim. One recognizes him- or herself as a valuable individual who, though tempered by tragedy, has risen and moved beyond the trauma.
© Copyright 2011 by Susanne M. Dillmann, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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