My best friend Webster defines victim as: One that is injured, destroyed or sacrificed under any of various conditions and one that is subjected to oppression, hardship or mistreatment. The word survivor on the other hand is defined as: To continue to function or prosper despite. In researching various opinions/knowledge on the Internet I found I liked this one from www.mdjunction.com the best:
The bottom line is this: A victim is someone who does not deal with their PTSD and continues to suffer. A survivor is someone who takes that suffering, looks it in the face and says “I will NOT let you get the best of me!”. A victim stands still. A survivor moves on, pushing through the pain.
When I first began recovery from incest, I heard the term victim frequently. It always caused me to cringe. For some reason or another it made me feel as if I’d done something wrong. It denoted shame, something I’d been buried with since I was thirteen years old. I hated it. To me the word survivor meant something that had been overcome. I knew I wasn’t there yet. I used to get annoyed at other survivors of child sexual abuse who lectured me for using the term victim when referring to myself. They would proudly refer to themselves as survivors and look at me with disdain, as if I were stupid. That made me feel more ashamed. And yet I didn’t feel honest in referring to myself as a survivor. I wasn’t there yet and I knew it.
Today I look back at my inexperience and ignorance during that period and realize that we all have the right to define ourselves whichever way we are prepared to. If we still see ourselves as a victim it probably means we’re still there. But once we cross over the bridge to recovery, we are very much aware that we have arrived. Allowing others to define us based on their “superior” knowledge means we haven’t overcome the low self-esteem that we had been cursed with due to our abuse.
There is something cleansing in the word “survivor”. When I was young, I thought it denoted someone who had lived through World War II or the Jewish Holocaust. It almost seemed like something given by God, a sort of reward for perseverance. I still feel that way today. But now, after many decades of seeing the dark side of life I see that there are so many victims of so many abuses. At times it seems only a dark force of nature or a devil of some sort could have thought of the many ways to hurt people. It makes me want to hide under the covers and pretend the world is a good place with many worthy people. I know that’s childish but sometimes the child in all of us comes out. Sometimes I remember the victim stages in my life, starting with my mother and then my father and the domestic violence relationships and I am proud to say that I can barely remember what it feels like to be a party to that. Now I think that if anyone tried to victimize me today, I’d belt them. Knowing I can fight back, something I could never do when I was a victim makes me feel a survivor. Even more, knowing the new healthy, recovered me would never allow myself to be in that position makes me feel strong, sufficient and filled with pride, not shame. Thank you, God for giving me the gift of recovery, the right to call myself a survivor.