This week’s word is…
In a former life, I was a Rape Crisis Centre Counsellor and Educator and in our work my colleagues and I found the vast majority of our clients seriously disliked and rejected the label ‘Victim’. They favoured the term ‘Survivor’, so of course we always used that word to refer to a person who had experienced sexual abuse or trauma.
I was having a conversation this morning with a dear friend who sadly had experienced sexual, physical and mental abuse during their childhood and they said the last thing they ever wanted to feel was that they were a ‘Victim’.
I was struck again by the power of the words and labels we use to define ourselves, or our experiences. Labels are both useful and at the same time constrictive.
Allow me a personal reflection here for a minute please…
I have a medical condition that I am still not ready to discuss openly but it makes labels a particular bug bear of mine. For example, I recoil and shudder if someone was to say I suffer with X.
To me that sounds as if, first of all I am to be pitied in some way; that I am this tragic, heroic figure struggling through each day, and also that it somehow defines me as a person. “I am Kat and I am an X sufferer”…
Nope. No thank you. I am Kat and I live with X condition and I am doing very well thank you.
I am so much more than an unfortunate illness that hit me. I am so much more than the horrible experiences I might have lived through. I am so much more than my depression and anxiety. I am not defined by any one thing but by the sum total of my life experiences and the way I have dealt with them. I am not a ‘Victim’, I am a ‘Survivor’.
Back to my friend…My friend is a wonderful person! Strong, with a formidable intellect, a cutting sense of humour, and a kind and generous nature… They have survived what could only be described as an horrific childhood and have yet created a life for themselves which includes friendhsips, relationships and a successful career. How can this person be seen as a ‘Victim’? My friend is a ‘Survivor’!
‘Victim’ implies a lack of power and helplessness, which is certainly appropriate when describing the time of the abuse or assault, because, for a host of reasons, the person being abused is indeed powerless. This could be because of a sheer size and strength differential, going into shock and disassociating from the experience, feeling threatened, to name a few. In the case of child sexual abuse the power differential is extraordinary and techniques such as grooming, threats, bribery and coercion serve to take away what small control a child has over their life and what happens to them.
However, people who have come out the other side of abuse or assault, who have literally SURVIVED it, are some of the most inspirational and strong people I have ever met.
Recovering from any form of abuse is a long and painful process. Some, sadly, do not make it to the end…
Which is why if you are reading this and you experienced any form of abuse ever, and you are here, still waking up every morning, still living, still struggling but still here…
YOU ARE A SURVIVOR!
If you need help, please think about contacting your nearest RCC/GP/Women’s Aid. There are many resources and forms of support out there. It’s probably the hardest phone call you will ever make but it is the first step. The person on the other end of the line wants to listen, to help and support you. They are trained and non-judgemental. You DO NOT have to do this alone.
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