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Victim's Recovery Stages

The Victim's Stages of Recovery

by Dr. Irene

March 12, 2000

Recovery from codependent victimhood usually occurs in a series of often overlapping stages. Here is a rough outline of what you may expect, though each individual is different:

Duh... Denial Stage. The victim is relatively brain dead here. Your energy is spent on justifying your abuser, working overtime to "make him or her happy," and hiding the truth from yourself. You often pay with physical and / or emotional symptoms. Your self-esteem is non-existent. 

Ugh! Shock & Disbelief Stage. The victim doesn't know which end is up! You have just learned about abuse and are shocked to realize that your relationship may be abusive! You need validation and support. You are just learning to trust your senses.

Advice: This is the time to "do nothing." Simply become aware of what is going on, and notice how you feel about it. This is not the time to stand up to your abuser. You are getting ready to do that down the road. Pay attention and become increasingly aware. Read books like The Verbally Abusive Relationship and  The Gift of Fear.

Ooops! Anger Stage. There is a sharp sense of outrage over what has been happening! Your victim's buttons are all showing! You are angry, defensive, blaming, and full of guilt now - and you are internally fighting all of it! If you are at all impulsive, without realizing, you are likely to act out and behave as abusively as your abuser!  Oooops!

Advice: Don't act out! You are right to be angry, but realize you don't know how to effectively stand up to your abuser yet. You are probably acting out towards those whom you perceive as weaker than yourself. This is the time to sit with your feelings, and do nothing - until you know what you need to do. Read books to help you with your anger like Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Anger: A Woman's Guide to Changing The Patterns of Intimate Relationships  and Change Your Life Now: Powerful Techniques for Positive Change and start reading assertion books like Don't Say Yes When You Want to Say No and Your Perfect Right. Assertion skills are very important!

Warning: Don't get stuck in this stage. Your job is to listen to your anger's message, but chill before you act - so that when you do act, you act effectively. Watch the defensiveness. You don't need it - since there is nothing to defend!

Yippee! Personal Responsibility Stage. Finally. You are very clear on what's going on, you are able to stand up to your abuser. You may have left. You have developed adequate self-control skills and are less likely to be provoked! 

Above all, you increasingly recognize that you are in control of your life - and that you do not have the power to make another person happy or miserable. You realize that your abuser is a victim too, but you know it is up to them to fix themselves - if they want. You feel great about yourself!

Advice: Continue increasing your wonderful skills! Read books that target your weak areas, remain aware, and Monday morning quarterback situations which you wished you had handled differently. The next time something like the last yukkily-handled situation comes up, you will be better prepared.

Warning: This stage is highly addictive. Congratulations and enjoy yourself! Your personal power will grow with practice and you will become increasingly adept at handling life's dilemmas. You may get so good at running your life, you find that you only rarely Monday morning quarterback situations anymore. You find yourself just intuitively handling them! Yippee!

Reading: An ever-expanding, full listing of recommended readings can be found at The Bookshelf.