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Nonlinear Stages of Healing

Healing is not linear; the cycle is often

repeated. 3

As you move through these stages again and again, you will reach a point of integration. Your feelings and
perspectives will stabilize. You will come to terms with your abuser and other family members. While you won’t
erase your history, you will make deep and lasting changes in your life. Having gained awareness, compassion, and
power through healing, you will have the opportunity to work toward a better world.1

Personalize the diagram with needs or tools to benefit your own recovery (created by Paula Brave).

Visualization Fun Beauty Support
SSaaffeettyy Groups
Volunteer Food Medication
Positive Work
Affirmations Grounding Do No Harm
Pets Housing Reaching
Music Out
Health Breaking
Reading Silence

Intimacy Therapy

Self- Balance Positive

Respect Coping
You are Identity

the Center
Recreation Understanding

Life Believe!
Career Purpose
Forgiveness Supportive

Prayer Anger Work


Meditation Spirituality Boundaries Stress

Journaling Management
Movement Art
Remembering Grief
Confidence Feelings 4

‘Resolution of the trauma is never final; recovery is never complete. The impact of the traumatic event
continues to reverberate throughout the survivor’s lifecycle. Issues that were sufficiently resolved at one
stage of recovery may be reawakened as the survivor reaches new milestones in [their] development.3
Nonlinear Healing By Paula Brave ~ 2007

Creation of the images included in this article was sparked through my own reading. I designed
the illustrations to help convey concepts that I am still coming to understand.

The “Nonlinear Stages of Healing” diagram was a combination of several different resources that
I have noted in my bibliography1,3,4. I choose a vin diagram because I liked the way the stages
continuously overlapped. I placed a heart in the center of the diagram so I would never forget
that I am the most important part of healing … no matter what stage/stages I happen to be in that
day. The tools are just floating freely about the stages that they might be most useful for. Of
course, the tools I have listed are not the only ones available so feel free to add on or move them
around as needed.

Below are some smaller illustrations on what “Healing is NOT” suppose to be. They are mostly
my sense of humor and were inspired by ‘Common Misconceptions about Healing’5.

About 20 years ago, I had considered the sexual abuse healing stages as a checklist. I proceeded
through them step by step like a recipe for a cake. I thought that if I followed all the stages as a
carefully designed procedure, then I would not only have a scrumptious cake but I would also be

Healing is
A Recipe for Healing (CAUTION: sarcasm in use here)

1 cup of grief
2 cups of depression
3 crisis calls
½ teaspoons of counseling
1 ¼ teaspoons of anger
not a
3 cups of journaling
½ teaspoon confrontation
1 cup of prayer and meditation
1 teaspoon of moving on

Bake in denial until that period of crisis is over or you are a

flakey golden brown. Apply your favorite icing and/or

I raced forward to the “last stage” so I could be “done” with this part of my life. I actually
thought that some how my sexual abuse history of would be erased and my family of origin
would reconcile and become functional.
Healing is not a race to a finish line …

My memories did not go away. My family did not reconcile. My parents and brothers (the
abusers) viewed reconciliation as an opportunity for me to apologize for making such a fuss and
conceding that my brothers’ raping of me for several years was not such a big deal. My family
had been dysfunctional for many years so it was not going to suddenly become functional just
because I was in recovery.

Since my goal was to reach the final stage of healing, it then became necessary for me to define
what this last stage was. At first, I had considered disclosure/confrontation as the “last stage” of

My first disclosure was with one of my abusers and was to confirm if this atrocity did happen to
me. Surprisingly, my oldest brother was honest with me and admitted to his part in the sexual
abuse. I was really hoping that he was going to tell me that I was crazy because this type of truth
was not what I wanted to face at 14 years old.

My second disclosure was accidental and came when I was 16 years old. It involved my mother
coming across my journals filled with my anguish over the incest. This accidental disclosure
turned into a heart wrenching confrontation between me and my parents that lasted about 15

The third confrontation came when I was 21 years old and was with my second oldest brother,
AKA the main perpetrator of the abuse. This confrontation brought me further humiliation and
shame. This brother’s memorable quote of “it’s not like I put a gun to your head” will go down
in my personal history as one of the most brainless things anyone has ever said to me.

Although many opportunities for disclosure/confrontation made themselves available to me, few
to none of these events brought me the comfort that I was searching for. Most of the time the
responses from others only brought me further harm.

Next I considered forgiveness as the “last stage” of healing. But my idea of forgiveness was for
me to apologize for upsetting the family and to pretend that I was okay. This did not work. The
pain mounted and finally exploded.

Healing is not just for times of crisis…

With thinking like this, it is no wonder that I continued to question what was wrong with me.
Why was the sexual abuse still bothered me? Why did I still have flashbacks of haunting
memories? And why did my cake resemble a pancake that could be used for a roofing shingle?
(At least that was how I felt inside) Healing became an endless labyrinth of despair.

Healing is not a labyrinth

of mazes …
After I had children and they got to the age of when I was abused, I found myself severely
depressed and wondering why I could not be like “normal” mothers (for that matter, “normal”
anything!). This was when I began to realize that healing from childhood sexual abuse is
nothing like making a cake.

Healing is a nonlinear on-going daily process. There is no magic formula. There is a reason
why my memories do not go away.

Although there are many Granny Paula’s

All Purpose
healing tools available… Snake Oil

There is not one “Cure-All” what for ails you.

Seeing my children at the same age of my abuse did trigger memories to come back in full force.
Although the memories were painful and frightening, they helped me to slowly learn and grow.
They forced me to face some issues I was ignoring. Such as: Do I want to continue pretending
that everything is wonderful between me and my brothers (aka my perpetrators)?; Did I really
want to continue to take my children to family functions that my brothers attended?; And how
long was I going to pretend that I was not depressed?

Child sexual abuse did not have to be something that I passed on (or enabled it to be passed on)
to my kids like a crippling disease. I examined sexual abuse prevention for my children in order
to break the generational cycle within my family. I became gentler with myself. I stood up to
my mother and told her that I did not want to celebrate anymore holidays with my brothers.
Surprisingly both of my parents took me seriously (for the first time!) and slowly our
relationship is starting to heal.

My children helped me to realize how small and defenseless I was as a child. This helped me to
take another step toward self-forgiveness and placing blame where it belonged …
– with perpetrators of the abuse.
From: http://www.sexualassaultresources.org/getover.html

Will I Ever Get Over It?

Healing is not linear. It is not an end-point destination. Healing is a process, a journey. It's an on-going
process that takes on new meaning as you learn and experience in new things.

Many times healing is defined as forgetting about the assault or abuse. Actually, healing is in the
remembering. Healing is learning how to manage what we remember and using it to help us grow.

Many times healing is defined as not feeling anything about the assault or abuse. Actually, healing is in
the feeling. Healing is learning how to feel our feelings and manage them in ways that help us grow.

Healing is not an easy process. It takes time, effort, and patience. Your survival is a testimony to your
ability to protect and take care of yourself. Believe in yourself! Give yourself permission for this time of


1. Bass, E. & Davis, L. (1988). The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.
New York: Harper & Row.

2. Felitti, VJ. (2002) The Relationship Between Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Health: Turning
Gold into Lead. The Permanente Journal, 2002; 6:44–47. <www.acestudy.org/docs/GoldintoLead.pdf>

3. Herman, JL. (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political
Terror. New York: Basic Books.

4. McGregor, K. (2001). Therapy Guidelines: Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Wellington: ACC

5. Miller, DA. (2000) Common Misconceptions about Healing.


6. Teicher MH. (2002) Scars That Won't Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse. Sci Am. 2002 Mar;
286(3):68-75. <www.annafoundation.org/stwh.pdf>

The ACE study and the neurobiology of child abuse are two pieces of writing that are not really
part of the illustrations but deserve recognition for providing me with inspiration. They helped
give me further understanding of just how life altering trauma is and that one does not just “Get
over it”2, 6.

I know that my healing journey is still evolving and that my views are definitely not a definitive
source and are open to other interpretations.

Please feel free to check into the resources that I offered and into resources of your own to draw
your own conclusions.

Make it YOUR healing journey!