Surviving Sexual Violence: A Question Of Resilience

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Resilience, or resiliency, is an inherent human quality. Resilience emphasizes human strength and potential and is a significant part of the recovery process from a traumatic experience. To be resilient is to be able to recover from loss or trauma—to get through adverse experiences or circumstances and go forward with confidence and the belief that life will get better. Trauma is one of the most significant and unavoidable outcome of a violent conflict. A traumatic event confronts individuals with extreme stress and requires coping with a new, unexpected, and unfamiliar situation. One such trauma that may have multiple impacts on the mental, social and emotional functioning of an individual is sexual violence. The journey to heal after sexual violence is not a sprint and it is not a marathon—unlike other wounds, for many survivors, healing is an ongoing practice, and can be both exhausting and exhilarating at different points along the way. 

There are key steps in the lives of victims who become survivors.  They include:


Victims first need to gain clear knowledge of the trauma that they experienced.  To become a survivor, you have to know what happened to you.  “I survived ‘X’.”  You can’t become a survivor unless you can acknowledge that you were a victim. By labeling the abusive behavior as the perpetrator’s responsibility, you begin to take away some of the shame.  Learning how to make statements like, “It wasn’t my fault,” “I was just a child,” or “S/he took advantage of me” are very empowering. Full awareness and understanding of sexual violence and the accompanying emotional abuse usually comes through some form of counseling therapy.


There must be a fundamental psychological separation from the perpetrator.  If victims continue to identify with their familial perpetrators, they may minimize the experience, make excuses for him or her and deny the degree of harm. Victims must perceive themselves as different from their attackers—not of the same character. They must make the conscious choice to separate.


Victims need opportunities to connect with healthy, safe adults: advocates, teachers, relatives, coaches, mentors, therapists.  Developing a meaningful relationship with even one stable, emotionally available, supportive adult can be highly therapeutic.


A meaningful, positive self-concept grows out of successive acts of responsible behavior.  Victims gain independence by learning to be responsible for their own behavior. They need safe opportunities to practice being responsible and adults to support and help them process their experiences.


To become a survivor, one must demonstrate both awareness and empathy.  It is critical to recognize the harm done to victims. Developing empathy—the ability to understand and care about other peoples’ feelings—is crucial to breaking the trauma cycle.

Laughter—the “gift of humor”
To be able to laugh at particular circumstances requires us to step back and to assume a new point of view.  Victims are thus distanced a bit from their emotional pain.  Seeing the humorous irony in even the bleakest of circumstances can offer new insights—plus emotional and physical release. 

Compassion and love for self and others 

The victim’s psychological, philosophical and spiritual interpretations of his or her traumatic experiences are critical, often overlooked parts of the recovery process.  What does the traumatic experiences mean to the individual survivor?  What role does his or her religious beliefs play in recovery?  (“Where was God when I was being raped?”  “What did I ever do so bad to cause this to happen to me?”  “Why does it happen at all?” “Why me?”)

Survivors help make the world better and safer for others by transforming their personal pain into constructive action.  Survivors can live rewarding, purposeful lives of compassion and love for self and others. If all survivors could be empowered to work with the healing process without a timeline, without expectations, and be given access to the powerful presence of a support system who can bear witness to the gravest of pains and reflect back the survivor’s innate capacity to heal, it would make a world of difference. Each survivor must intuitively and courageously, often through trial and error, discover and design an ongoing healing system that works for them and their individual experience. Survivors have already lived through the violence, and they are humble warriors whose recovery deserves our societal recognition and support.



  1. everythingEHR (Electronic Health Records). www.everythingehr.com
  2. Reintegrating the Body, Mind & Spirit After Sexual Violence. www.elephantjournal.com


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