A Path From Harm to Healing
Whole Healing is Possible
It is possible to move the harm caused by childhood sexual abuse through a transformative healing process. What has happened cannot be undone, however, like tending to a wound or fixing something that’s broken, the work of healing is the work of repairing.
Through engaging in restorative processes, we have found that a person’s (or family’s or community’s) response to what happened can be transformed. Through our Healing Circles and Systems Circles, we support transformation as people move through the stages of healing and trauma recovery.
The Role of Shame
Much of the impact of childhood sexual abuse is rooted in the intense shame it produces. Whether you experienced it, caused it, or let it happen, the resulting shame — left unhealed — can have painful, toxic, paralyzing, and dysfunctional effects.
A Path to Healing : A Model
Although every individual and system is unique, there are strong patterns of healing from shame that people affected by childhood sexual abuse (CSA) experience. After many years of process and learning (which continues), Hidden Water has devised a three-phase model, which we call A Path to Healing. This model maps the path from harm to healing of childhood sexual abuse, and is based on the work of Dr. Derek Brookes.*
We have found that the ways toward healing childhood sexual abuse share common characteristics depending on your relationship to the harm (i.e. Green, Blue, Purple or Orange) and include the following phases:
Deny, Minimize, Justify, Deflect, Blame/Self-blame, Seek Revenge, Abuse Substances, Harm Others/Harm Self, Isolate, Disassociate (All Colors)
Acknowledge the impact, feel anger and grief (Green + Blue + Orange)
Take responsibility for the impact, feel remorse (Purple + Orange)
Let go, stop identifying with/perpetuating the harm (Green + Blue)
Make genuine apologies and amends, Self-forgive (Purple + Orange + Blue)
* Our model is adapted from the theoretical framework pioneered by Dr. Derek R. Brooks and detailed in Beyond Harm:Toward Justice, Healing and Peace (2019). His framework and our model have been simplified here for reference and do not reflect either the depth or breadth of what any restorative path actually entails.
“Phase I” Is A Necessary Condition
When shame is present, “Phase I” is inevitable. For example, in order for those of us who were harmed by childhood sexual abuse to survive the violation of what happened, it was initially necessary to cope with Phase I strategies.
Natural responses to shame include:
Deny (It didn’t happen)
Minimize/Disassociate (It’s not a big deal)
Justify (The reason I did that/didn’t do that was…)
Deflect (Let’s focus on the future, not the past; Don’t look at me, I’m not the one that…)
Blame (It’s your/my fault)
Most people who have been touched by CSA don’t get past these behaviors as a means for managing the pain, which essentially freezes the harm into trauma and trauma responses. For many of us, the efficacy of this strategy diminishes over time and we develop addictions and dysfunctional distractions to help in our efforts to avoid facing what seems intolerable. Meanwhile, these coping strategies harm our relationships and sense of self.
The False “Phase III”
Unlike other kinds of harm that do not involve such tremendous levels of shame and taboo, it is very common for those who have been affected by CSA to believe they are in “Phase III”, when in fact, they remain in “Phase I”. What has happened is too painful to truly face, so that in order to survive, we unconsciously bypass “Phase II” and convince ourselves that we have “let go” or “moved on” (Green, Blue) or “there’s nothing I can do about it now” (Purple, Orange).
“Phase II” : Moving the Harm
Healing CSA involves moving past the avoidance of shame and moving through “Phase II”. For those who were harmed, this requires coming to terms with the full impact of what happened, including the isolation and fractured sense of self, and then contending with the natural and appropriate responses of anger and grief. Those that caused harm must fully acknowledge and face the impact of their actions, and then contend with the similarly natural and appropriate responses of guilt and remorse.
For most of us, “Phase II” is never accomplished or even approached, because the prevailing culture has not developed healing processes to hold space for this type of work. While it is true that you might attempt to do this work only behind closed doors with a therapist, it is also true that because this type of harm almost always takes place behind a closed door, more is required to truly heal. We believe that to sit, in presence, with others in Circle — who share similar experiences and who have also set course on a healing path — creates a large enough space to hold what might seem unbearable for just one or two people. Being in Circle means you have a chance to be in community with your healing, to be deeply heard and witnessed, and also to deeply hear and be a witness to others.
Hidden Water Healing Circles
Our Healing Circles provide a way for participants to work through their healing process in a safe, supportive and empowering environment, awakening to the ways they are still in “Phase I”, choosing to move through “Phase II” in community, and in time, opening the door to “Phase III” and walking through it.
The healing that is experienced in Circle through this process can be transformative and can manifest externally in many different ways. Some recent examples include:
a non-offending parent finally drawing a clear boundary against a family member who had abused her daughter — after decades of trying to deny the abuse had happened,
an elder publishing her poetry about the trauma she experienced at the hands of her father after many years of writing in isolation, and
a Blue Circle participant confronting a cousin who had abused his sister, leading to that cousin coming through a Purple Circle and starting the work of healing and making amends
There Is No Formula
In the end, there is only so much anyone can say about the path from harm to healing. This is a path that must be walked. If this model resonates with you and you identify as either Green, Purple, Orange or Blue, we invite you to join us in a Healing Circle. There, and in community, you can apply this map to your own lived experience, and see for yourself where it takes you.