“The 5 Stages of Healing from Trauma” copyright Licia Berry 2013, All Rights Reserved

While organizing my local One Billion Rising event in Tallahassee, I was reminded of the different stages of the process of healing after trauma because I saw women in every stage attracted or repelled by the event, based on where they appeared to be in their recovery.

I’ve healed myself from a lot of things, including physical, sexual, verbal and emotional assault, as my readers know. My recovery process began when I was 23 years old in a therapist’s office in Atlanta, where I first learned the name for what had happened to me.  It’s been a long journey of 25 years since that day; I’m going to be 48 years old in April, and I’m happy to say that I am at the other end of a spectrum that I have developed in my practice of observing and recording my healing.  I wrote about this spectrum of healing after trauma in my 2012 book SOUL COMPOST (available for purchase here).

After a diagnosis of PTSD in 1990, I began my long process of climbing the rungs of the ladder to wholeness and a happy, actualized life.  I’m happy to say that I am now an expert in PTG, or Post Traumatic Growth, defined as positive psychological change as a result of one’s struggle with a highly challenging, stressful, and traumatic event.  We all know the old saying, “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”; as it turns out, there is a scientific term for this phenomenon that is measurable.  “This growth is measured by the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI; Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996), a 21-item instrument for assessing positive outcomes in people who have experienced traumatic events. Five domains or factors are contained within the larger construct of PTG and are measured on subscales within the PTGI. The five factors include Relating to Others (greater intimacy and compassion for others), New Possibilities (new roles and new people), Personal Strength (feeling personally stronger), Spiritual Change (being more connected spiritually), and a deeper Appreciation of Life (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004).” (quoted from SOUL COMPOST, 2012 by Licia Berry)

I developed this spectrum of healing after trauma only after living through each of the 5 stages:

Victim  >  Survivor  >  Thriver  >  Server  >  Empowered Server

A short (and incomplete) description of each stage follows:

Victim

I call this the “Puddle on the Floor” stage.  After a traumatic experience, the person who lived through the trauma may feel paralyzed, lifeless, as if there is no energy or will in them.  From a shamanic perspective, it is the stealing of the life force from the victim that creates the sensation of lifelessness.  From a psychological perspective, the shattering of the person’s well-being creates a schism in their psyche that renders them temporarily powerless.  This is a dangerous stage because the Victim is very vulnerable, and it is essential that they seek assistance immediately from a qualified helper or someone who genuinely loves them.  If they do not seek help, a pattern of learned helplessness can settle in and the person can feel powerless as they remain stuck in this stage.

Survivor

I call this the “Fight to Live” stage.  In this second stage of healing from trauma, the fight begins to start to live again.  There is a spark, however small, to integrate the scattered parts of self that were blown apart by the trauma.  The puddle on the floor grows teeth and fingernails, and there is a mobilization of energy that can feel like gritting those teeth and crawling across the ground.  An active determination to heal, as well as anger and rage identify the fight present in this stage.  This is an important and difficult stage; it is easy to revert back to Victim if the Survivor does not have adequate help and resources to keep them moving forward in their healing.  It can also be easy to get stuck in identifying with the Survivor stage because it feels so good to have energy after being a Victim.

Thriver

The fight to heal gains momentum and starts to propel itself forward of its own accord.  The good will generated within the person who is healing starts to carry them, and the joy that is inherent in life returns.  The Thriver thinks less and less about the trauma, focusing on other blessings in their life.  The sun shines again. This happens in short bursts at first, when the Thriver can be triggered back into Victim or Survivor stage, but bounces back fairly quickly to thriving again.

Server

A determination to make good of the experience, to offer the lessons learned and the well-being gained to others who have experienced challenge or trauma in their life.  This stage can include the Survivor and Thriver stages.  Frequently a Survivor will feel the energy of the anger about their trauma and use this to become a healer or practitioner of some kind, resulting in a wounded healer who has not completed their recovery process; however, because of their stage, they may positively impact victims by mobilizing them into Survivors.  A Thriver who has become a Server has a better chance of positively impacting

Empowered Server

The Empowered Server has completed enough recovery work that she feels the ground solidly underneath her, even if she is triggered by an external stimulus.  She can see the trigger point and knows what is happening without falling from her confident stature into Victim or Survivor.  This confidence enables her to present as a person who didn’t encounter trauma (even though she did), and to be fully present to her desire and commitment to be of service to others.

Copyright Licia Berry 2013, All Rights Reserved

There is much more to say about the 5 Stages of Healing!  Read about resilience and the role of spirit in recovery from trauma in Soul Compost, first in the Woman, Awake series.

Disclaimer:  Licia is not a psychotherapist, but a 25-year veteran educator and facilitator with the same numbers of years of active recovery from violence and trauma.  These observations are her own, culminating from her lived experience, extensive research and study, collaboration with psychologists, and observation of her clients.  

Licia (pronounced LEE-SHA) Berry believes passionately in women’s innate resilience and empowerment. As an artist, author, educator, leader, mentor, women’s advocate, and compassionate guide, Licia teaches by example that women can claim their life song regardless of their experience. Licia’s visionary leadership was the force behind bringing One Billion Rising to Tallahassee in February, in which 400 women gathered and danced on Kleman Plaza to raise awareness about violence against women. Licia has a global audience of readers and clients who share her commitment to spiritual wholeness. Her personal journey of recovery from violence and post-traumatic growth is chronicled in her 2012 inspirational memoir, SOUL COMPOST.

For more information about her work, please visit www.liciaberry.com.

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