Working Through Trauma: How long does it take to recover from abuse?

Recovery is different for each person, situation, and circumstance. Traumatic events leave lasting scars that each individual has ways of coping with. Trust and treatment are especially difficult for those struggling with an abusive past, PTSD, and other traumatic symptoms. 

Finding the right therapist, treatment program, and support system can be a long and difficult journey. However, developing a deeper understanding of mental health and the effects of abuse can encourage people to look for the help they need.

Mental health impacts of abuse and traumatic events

Abuse can happen at any age, from any kind of relationship, and in a number of ways. Trauma isn’t only developed at a young age – it can come after a physically abusive relationship, verbally abusive job, or even a toxic and taxing friendship. While the varying circumstances can affect individuals in dramatically different ways, the end result of trauma is most often the development of a mental health condition.

Anxiety, depression, and PTSD are all common effects of abuse, including reduced trust in individuals, triggering situations, and a negative self-image. Without treatment and support, a person can rapidly decline in their mental state and capabilities. Reaching out to online mental health resources like BetterHelp can help start the journey to recovery as you work through the phases of trauma recovery.

Phases of Trauma Recovery

Safety and Stabilization

The Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre lists the first step in recovering from trauma as regaining a sense of security. Those experiencing trauma often feel insecure, unsafe, and uncomfortable in their own bodies and environment.

This process can take anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the support and safety they’re provided. It’s important to start by identifying the areas of their life that need to be stabilized and how to help build trust and comfort within their space.

Remembrance and Mourning

In order to heal and process trauma, one needs to acknowledge and talk through it. It’s crucial to work through this step with a support system, primarily with a trusted counselor or therapist. After you’ve been able to feel safe and vulnerable, it’s time to start pacing yourself through the explanation and story of the event.

Taking the time to go slow and steady is important to avoid activating a fight, flight, or freeze response that can trigger a shutdown. It gives you the opportunity to recognize what was lost and mourn the past.

Reconnection and Integration

It’s not enough to talk through the trauma and put the story behind you. Instead, it’s necessary to rediscover your sense of sense and actively seek a future purpose. This is in an effort to reduce the hold of your trauma, taking away its power over your life.

After acknowledging the impact of your experience, you need to reconnect and integrate into a new life that isn’t dictated or defined by trauma. This process looks different for everyone but having a mental health professional help you work through goals and continuously support you through challenging times can give you the motivation you need to continue forward.

Building a Support System

Having a strong support system is crucial during the time of recovery. As mentioned in the first phase, you may be feeling uncomfortable and unsafe in your environment. While this may not be directly the fault of those around you, it can be an effort to trust others depending on their involvement, proximity to the abuser or situation, or their opinions on mental health.

While having close family members and friends in your support system is helpful for having someone who knows you intimately, it’s not always realistic for certain trauma patients. Instead, consider finding a support group, online or in-person, and connecting with others working through recovery. They should be positive, encouraging, and willing to give you the space needed to work through your own recovery time.

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