Tag Archives: Domestic Violence

Victim to Survivor to Thriver

Last week, one of the Friday Reflections prompts was about being a victim or a survivor. I didn’t have time to write about it then, so I will write about the topic now. I’m pretty fatigued and quite emotional today, so I hope my words make sense.

About ten years ago, I wrote on a mailing list for former preemies asking whether those born prematurely are survivors in the way that abuse survivors are. I mean, literally speaking of course we are survivors, because we survived against all odds. I was at the time still in a very early stage of figuring out my childhood and why I have always felt like a lot of my experiences were traumatic. I was beginning to discover the fact that I dissociate and learning about attachment and its dfficulties. The group owner, herself also a trauma survivor, replied that to survive means to endure hardship, so that in this sense, of course preemies – and most people with disabilities – are survivors.

As a child, I considered myself a victim of many of the experiences I endured. They were still happening, so how could I see myself as a survivor? In the same way, I can now see myself as a victim of mental illness. I don’t, of course, because no-one inflicted my mental illness on me and, besides, I don’t consider my craziness an altogether bad thing. It sucks sometimes, of course – well, most of the time it sucks. My point in saying I could now consider myself a victim of mental illness, is that it’s not over yet – I haven’t survived it as it’s ongoing.

I did survive my childhood trauma and do consider myself a survivor. Being a survivor does not mean having completely healed from your experiences, but it means having come out the other side alive literally and figuratively.

When describing the recovery process for people who endured trauma, we generally use three steps so to speak: victim, survivor and thriver. A victim is still in the midst of an experience. For instance, someone enduring domestic violence who hasn’t left the relationship yet, can be considered a victim. A survivor has escaped the direct effects of the trauma but is stil suffering from post-traumatic symptoms. A thriver has moved beyond their trauma and is living as healthy as possible a life.

The steps are not rigidly divided. For example, if a domestic abuse survivor has left their abuser but has not gone “no contact”, they can be both a victim and a survivor. Thrivership is also a continuum, where some people have no post-traumatic symptoms at all anymore and others can manage in spite of them. I will most likely always have borderline personalty disorder, which is in a way a post-traumatic condition. However, I want to someday have a meaningful life in spite of it.

Moving Beyond Blame in Abuse

A few days ago, Soaring Survivor wrote an interesting post on forgiving yourself in the process of healing from domestic violence. Forgiving yourself, she says, is harder than forgiving the abuser.

I always find myself thinking that my situation is almost unique, in that I myself was aggressive and my family responded with aggression to my behavior. Then I found out, I don’t remember where, that in most situations of intimate partner violence, there is not simply one person who is the perpetrator and the other who is the victim. Rather, there tend to be some form of abuse on both sides. I am not saying that this is the case for Soaring Survivor, as I don’t know her situation. What I mean to say is that my situation, involving sort of provoked aggression, is not as unique as I used to think.

This makes forgiving myself extra hard. I have forgiven my family, I think, but too often this comes down to trivializing what happened. I know that my parents weren’t sadists, and I often say this to justify their actions. They did what they thought was their best.

Then a few weeks ago I read a response in a women’s magazine from a person with borderline personality disorder to two parents who had complained about their children’s BPD being attributed to abuse. The borderline patient said that even very ordinary parents make mistakes, and this can set off BPD in vulnerable people. Does this mean they’re pitiful victims? No.

What I realize as I write this, is that maybe the hardest part of forgiving both yourself and the people who hurt you in your life, is shifting the focus away from the question of blame. Ordinary partners and parents (and children) act out violently, and accepting this is hard but necessary for both survivors/victims and the general public. Abuse happens, and the idea that only sadists perpetrate it, gets a whole lot of survivors/victims unnecessarily stuck in self-blame. Forgiveness may involve accepting what happened without letting it hold you back from living a fulfilling life. I’m still struggling with this.