If you spend time with survivors, eventually the question will come up: “What does healing look like?” This question is asked with a mixture of hope (that life can get better) and fear (of how “different” or challenging things will be). The survivor may wonder if they will ever heal, and how to know if they are arriving at this longed-for destination.
Healing will look different for each individual, since each person has a different life history, different traumas, different personal strengths and weaknesses, different gifts, and different goals. There is no “template” that describes healing for all. But there are some milestones that some survivors begin reaching as the healing journey progresses.
- The person is able to reach some of their personal maturity goals. In order to reach these, some healing has to occur, within relationships and internally. The individual who often became wildly angry and unable to control their temper will find that the “rages” come less frequently, and they will find more healthy ways of coping. The individual who at one time withdrew, frightened of relating to others, may find as they heal they are finding the courage to reach out to others – and to receive love.
- The person is able to accomplish more in their daily life. While early in the healing journey, it is common to “take a break” from some of the more demanding tasks of life, and focus emotional energy on healing, over time, as the individual heals, they will be able to do more, and give more to others. Some survivors are able to return to work, either part-time, or full-time. Others are able to go to school and pursue their dream of a career. Others give generously of their time and talents through volunteer work.
- The individual is able to communicate well internally. For the survivor who is dissociative, their healing will come with an increasing ability to listen and hear inside, and to communicate with inside parts. Internal cooperation and “working together” to achieve desired goals increases as well. Over time, the survivor will regain a sense of who they really are and an improved sense of self: they will regain their life history (if it has been dissociated), they will be aware of their true heart values, and they will provide compassion to parts that have formerly been hostile or rejected within. The survivor will begin to realize that they truly are able to “love themselves” – and thus, to love their neighbor as a result.
- The individual is able to forgive and ask forgiveness. Often, guilt and shame are a component of a survivor’s emotions as they remember aspects of their life in which they were abused, or even were forced to abuse others. As the individual heals, they may also get in touch with a deep anger at themselves, others (for abusing them), and at God (for allowing the abuse to occur). Part of the healing journey involves forgiveness – real forgiveness – of the abusers (this is a process, and the survivor needs to take the time to process the pain first); of themselves (including examining and letting go of false messages by perpetrators in which the survivor was “blamed” for the abuse). Forgiveness of God is a critical part of healing, since it can be difficult to acknowledge the anger felt; this is where loving support in processing these feelings is essential.
These are just a few of the signposts of healing that can occur as the survivor heals. It is a joy to work with an individual, and see them reaching one (or eventually, several) (several what??} as the survivor literally regains what was lost (their sense of identity and self-compassion) during their abuse.