Well actually it matters a lot to the person who you are speaking to and especially how they are feeling in their own journey and their own experience(s).
So why do we have these descriptions or labels and are there other words we can use?
Firstly, let’s explore the current definitive (dictionary) meaning of both victim and survivor –
*Victim: a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
*Survivor: the remainder of a group of people or things – a person who copes well with difficulties in their life.
So, does that mean a victim can’t cope with difficulties and a survivor does?
Not at all. All experiences are received and dealt with in individual ways and let’s be honest here, when I consider myself as a survivor, there are times when you can still experience or feel vulnerable at times (particularly in abuse). It may have happened many years ago, **(the average time for disclosure of abuse is 16 years after it has stopped!) but a smell, sound, experience or dream can bring you back to the moment, even when watching or reading certain articles or films etc can “trigger” your memories or emotions. The trauma is never forgotten and it does define you, it is the internal basis for how you deal and approach various situations in life, often instinctively as the body responds in a fight or flight reaction.
In the words of ***Dr Patricia Worby “Experts are now beginning to recognise that Trauma can be anything that is interpreted by the mind as a threat to survival in a state of helplessness”.
Recently when asked about the word survivor, the point was raised about concerns, that there is a lack of empathy for victims and that by using the term survivor, somehow was unwittingly ignoring their place for support needed or empathy. This got me thinking, as I don’t want to use the term or label victim for myself and it made me question why? Why is it that I feel it didn’t sit right for me? And in all honesty, it was good to reflect and to be able to look at both sides.
In my early years from 16 until my early 30’s I felt I was a victim, as I was unable to share my experience, I carried around the guilt, blame and especially shame. Whilst I was able to live a life to the outside world, I was always worried that someone would see inside me, the real me – which was a black dark space. Unable to move forward in my journey of healing and escape the mental anguish that haunted my nightly sleeping or impacted on my own wellbeing by shutting down feelings of emotions and doing what was expected of me, not what I chose for myself, I was constantly in a “survival” mode of being alert to potential danger at all times in everything I did.
I still remember very clearly the starting points of my own healing journey and I describe these as stepping stones. When I move from Step to Step, there are times when I need to revisit various beliefs that I acquired whilst growing up and then revisit them as an adult. As a survivor, I have indeed overcome my experience and part of that is learning to be vulnerable and yet feel safe and strong (probably one of the most difficult of lessons for me to have learnt and still learning) however learning Self Care and Love has been the biggest step and transformation for me.
So why do I use the word survivor – because for me it gives me space to celebrate and recognise my own journey of resilience, strength, overcoming the trauma of my childhood and be the Adult I want to be. Also, recovery and understanding the effects of chronic fatigue and healing. Most importantly being able to love and respect who I am, with Self-care and awareness being a priority and live by my values of Trust, Respect and Honesty. Making my own choices on what I want to do and experience within my own boundaries and most importantly live my own life purpose and passion.
The conclusion I came to, was sometimes using labels is often the easiest and clearest way for us to communicate how we currently feel or where we are in our journey. Everybody has a story to tell and It’s good to know not everyone has suffered trauma albeit in childhood or adult hood (and I will talk more about the effects of trauma in other blogs).
Therefore, I have empathy and understanding for everyone overcoming the effects of childhood abuse or trauma, by firstly accepting where they currently are in their own journey and being able to ask what they would like in support. If someone is unable to move forward in any way and it is affecting their life for example mental health, addiction, continual drama, abusive relationships, etc. I believe it is best to offer support from where it is asked for. Being able to walk alongside someone is often comforting and supportive enough for some, without trying to ‘fix’ anything.
Enabling others to also take Steps Forward too, is something I have always naturally enjoyed, and I have a passion for coaching others, hence my life purpose. And one of my proudest personal moments was also achieving my coaching accreditations by both The Chrysalis Effect and The Institute of Leadership and Mangement (ILM) as coaching for me, has provided the greatest move forward in my own healing and my life purpose is to enable others survivors of abuse or truama to have a voice and be their best Self.
I enjoy nothing more than having an open and honest discussion, whilst respecting each other’s view, as I believe this is the only way for us to overcome our ignorance in any subject and to fully understand and raise awareness.
Following myrecent #MeToo post I was interviewed by Liane Castle at Solent news @Liane_28 and here is a small section of that interview.
The most important thing we all have is choice and and I often refer to a personal mantra which is “Don’t Tell Me – Ask Me” – which is why coaching has always been an integral part of my natural being together with growth.
*as per google dictionary
** The long-term historical guidelines as published by The British Psychological Society
*** Dr Patricia Worby, MSc, PhD has published a book called The Scar that Won’t Heal