6 Stages to Empowerment
Going from being a victim to being empowered is often a multi-stage process
Posted Nov 05, 2017
It’s easy to talk about people being victims and the need for them to step out of that role. But the process is often a one that moves through stages. Here is how it often evolves:
Stage 1: This is life
Here it’s easy to think of children growing up in abusive families, or those in places such as Syria or Darfur when war and genocide and fear are everyday life. It envelopes you so much that you have no sense of normal or rather this is your normal. Here you are literally a victim and do what you can to survive.
Stage 2: I deserve this, this is my fault
This can run alongside the first, but this thinking can begin to develop when the victim is singled out, such as a scapegoated child in the family who can’t understand why he is the one always picked on by the abuser. Or where a child goes to school and is treated with kindness, but is trying to understand why she is treated so differently at home.
This can also be an adult in an abusive relationship where there is intermittent reinforcement, namely, that the abuser is not always abusive, but occasionally neutral or even kind. The lack of a set pattern keeps the victim mentally and emotionally off-balance. As he and his brain try to make sense of what enfolds, the conclusion is that he deserves what happens — that there was some reason why he was abused on Tuesday and not Wednesday. He just has to figure out what he did wrong and the other will stop. Of course, there is not a particular thing that he did, or the crime constantly changes, and so he can never figure it out, and easily stays mentally stuck and emotionally trapped.
Stage 3: I don’t deserve this but I can’t change it
This is where the person realizes that the abuser is being an abuser, but feels helpless to change it, often because she literally can’t — think again a child or teen — or realistically believes she can’t — think an adult who has no money or kids and really feels helpless and trapped. This can be combined with the intermittent reinforcement that again keeps them unbalanced. This is also where that forever trapped feeling, the no escape, can lead to despair and suicide attempts.
Stage 4: I don’t deserve this; I may be able to change it, but I’m afraid and not sure how
This is the victim at the brink of change. Ready to break out but understandably afraid because they have been hearing messages for years that they are worthless, that others won’t care about them, that the larger world is frightening, that they will fail, that the abuser will hunt them down.
Here think of teens who attempt to run away from home, women who check into shelters who on the threat of the abuser or the promise by them to change, go back home after a couple of days.
This is fragile time when the person needs much support — physical and emotional — and lots of messages that their reality is right, that they don’t deserve how they have been treated, that there is a better life to found in the future.
Stage 5: I’m afraid but I will change my life
Oftentimes for some it takes many tries to finally get to this stage. Or for others some bottom line is finally reached that makes breaking out and stepping up feel like the wake-up call, the only last option. Again, the person needs support of all kinds as they move into new emotional territory and life challenges.
Stage 6: I’m finally free & empowered
The person has fully arrived. The old self-critical messages and fear are fading away, the confidence in oneself and the future is more solid. On bad days, the person may regret having not acted sooner, having “wasted” years in such an awful situation, but on most days, she is proud of her courage and strength. She is a role-model for others, a testament to resilience.
The challenge that runs through these stages is one that we encounter in other arenas and times in our lives — that we cultivate and listen as best we can those small and often fragile voices inside that let us know that we are good not bad, have choices and ways out and are not trapped, that we deserve better, that this too can pass. A resiliency that comes with faith in ourselves and support of others.