From our previous post, The Stages of Trauma Recovery 

This stage is exactly as it sounds — it is in this phase of recovery that survivors are ideally feeling more comfortable with trust and intimacy and more prepared to start building new relationships and rekindling old ones. New friendships might be made, the possibility of a romantic partnership may emerge, and survivors may find themselves reconnecting with loved ones they have previously been unprepared to engage with. There can be a great deal of personal resolution in this stage — some survivors will join social and political movements while others may go on to help others heal from their own trauma. Still, the majority of survivors in recovery will simply go on to live their everyday lives with less fear and more meaning and presence — this in itself is beautiful and profound.  

This third stage is the stage where hope finally meets the future. The hard work of the first two stages, the moments spent working towards “what if,” finally come to fruition. Reconnection with ordinary life. What does an “ordinary life” look like? It is different for every person. Maybe it is better to focus on the reconnection component. The literal definition of reconnect is “to connect back together.” In this third stage, trauma survivors are connected back to themselves, to their bodies, and to the environment and people around them. This is the stage of reconnection with love, intimacy, friendship, trust, and joy among many other things. Maybe these are all aspects of ordinary life or maybe life can never quite be ordinary for a trauma survivor. But the world and the body can feel whole and safe again. 

Dr. Judith Herman, whose name has popped up a lot in these past four posts, so eloquently defines this stage of recovery that it felt like an injustice to try and paraphrase it. The following quote is from her article, Recovery from Psychological Trauma published in 1998: 

“By the third stage of recovery, the survivor has regained some capacity for appropriate trust. [They] can once again feel trust in others when that trust is warranted, [they] can withhold [their] trust when it is not warranted, and [they] know how to distinguish between the two situations. [They] have also regained the ability to feel autonomous while remaining connected to others; [they] can maintain their own point of view and [their] own boundaries while respecting those of others. [They] have begun to take more initiative in [their] life and are in the process of creating a new identity. With others, [they] are now ready to risk deepening [their] relationships. With peers, [they] can now seek mutual friendships that are not based on performance, image, or maintenance of a false self. With lovers and family, [they] are now ready for greater intimacy.” 

A few things stand out here, namely trust, autonomy, and boundaries. “They can once again feel trust in others when that trust is warranted.” This is such a crucial distinction! For trauma survivors the idea of trust can be very scary but recovery does not mean you are suddenly expected to trust everyone; it means you are open to trusting those who are deserving. Mistrust still has to exist because survivors, like everyone else, need to be able to protect themselves by following their instincts around who is safe and who is not. And in the third stage, survivors can once again find greater trust in themselves.

Autonomy is synonymous with independence but in this context it is not meant to suggest a trauma survivor depend only on themselves. The goal in the reconnection stage is for survivors to feel safe making decisions for themselves, to feel safe living independently if that is what they choose, and to reach a point of having regained control and empowerment. However, survivors may always still need some level of support and that is okay. That might mean checking in with a therapist once or twice a week or reaching out to reliable friends and family if you are having a tough time — that support is still important and should still be available at all points in a survivor’s journey. We all need support whether that support be familial or social or psychological. But we also all have the right to make our own choices about what is best for our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. 

Finally, boundaries. This one feels worth shouting: BOUNDARIES! Wow, are boundaries important and often so hard to set. But boundaries are key to our sense of safety and they are imperative for trauma survivors whose boundaries have been so terribly violated in the past. Setting boundaries with people we love and with strangers can feel equally daunting. It often comes with uncomfortable conversations and maybe some hurt feelings if the person you are setting boundaries with is struggling to understand or respect them. But for anyone who needs to hear this, you deserve to set boundaries and those boundaries deserve to be respected. Oh, and remember to respect other peoples’ boundaries too! Overheard at Sanctuary recently: “the only thing you will hear me say when you set a boundary is ‘thank you.’” If only our family and friends responded to boundaries the way our therapists do!

There is so much more we could touch on in terms of reconnection and this third stage: romantic relationships, intimacy, friendships, family, identity. But there is simply not enough space within a 1500 word blog post to hold all the wonderful possibilities that come with recovery. So we will wrap up this series on trauma recovery with one last thought. We have been careful to call this stage only the “third” stage but never the “final” stage. Because remember, trauma recovery is linear and some survivors may find themselves moving between stages at various times in their lives. Also because we know trauma does not go away. This is not meant to sound disparaging or to discredit all that we were previously celebrating. It is simply an acknowledgment that trauma recovery, though broken down into three steps, is really an ongoing journey. Let’s consider this stage the moment when survivors stop following someone else’s path and start creating their own — though the path does not end here, the trip gets easier and you get to decide the itinerary.   

Mackenzie McBride, Recovery Coach
Sanctuary Healing NYC

Sources

How to Support a Friend or Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Abused
Herman, J. L. (1998). Recovery from psychological trauma. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 52(S1), S98–S103
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence — from domestic abuse to political terror by Judith Herman, M.D.
The Stages of Trauma Recovery
Sanctuary Healing Levels of Support
Sanctuary Treatment Modalities

 

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