Recovery groups, as well as any religious and spiritual groups, like to overuse the words “Victim” and “Survivor” and, it seems, that victims are childish, negative, and difficult adults and, survivors, are heroes, positive and inspirational. So, which one am I? Which one are you?
Some people are too ready to judge others as one or the other. There is a lot of “victim” shaming and bashing in therapy, self-help, and spiritual and religious circles. There is this idea that only survivors are strong and able to achieve certain milestones on the healing journey.
I think it is nobody’s business where I am at, on my healing journey, as long as I don’t hurt myself or others. Nobody has to right to label me and my behaviour as me being in “victim mode” or “survivor mode.” Actually, “victim” and survivor “ are each side of the same coin. One is linked to the other. BOTH need to be fully acknowledged, accepted, loved, and validated. BOTH co-exists and it is natural that they do so. Kindness and acceptance are essential.
In 2021, with the help of a trauma-informed therapist, (Karen Isbister) I started to be really honest with myself: I’ve never felt happy, in my life. I felt how much, as a newborn baby, as a child, a teenager, up until then, at 41 years old, I have been feeling suicidal. I was born with no desire to live: I was unwanted since I arrived in my Mother’s womb. It was terrifying and heartbreaking to experience emotional flashbacks of my preverbal years of neglect and rejection, from the very person my life depended upon.
I have been encouraged to write an autobiography, to turn the poison of my past into medicine because I could also help others. (I wrote a few chapters of a memoire but, felt it wasn’t what I was meant to write,) I’d open up about my childhood trauma, and some would only think of the positive aspects of what happened to me. It is tough to hear someone else’s story and not be able to meet them where they are: in a painful place, not in an imaginary near future when, because of your hard work, you will feel better! It is tough but it is so crucial we meet our loved ones, where they are. It is essential WE meet OURSELVES where we are! Maybe, I pretended to be happy, while working things out, layer by layer, because I wanted to fit in with all the other happy, thriving survivors out there. “Look at me, I’ve been through all this shit but, I am moving on with a big smile.”
At what expense though? At the expense of my own healing, self-acceptance, and self-love. At the expense of my true feelings.
I was feeling unhappy and I was struggling to see a good reason to stay alive, not because I was a failure or stuck in victim mode, as people like to say but, because I was deeply suffering. The abuse was minimized by others and by myself. There is this pressure to be resilient: anyone who has been physical, emotionally, and sexually abused as a child, and who is still alive: they are resilient! They might not be smiling and full of “positivity” but, they are so strong. Telling them they still behave as if they were victims is an insult! (Obviously, if anyone acts in abusive ways, it is important to protect ourselves. In this case, your job is to walk away and to let them figure things out for themselves if they ever do.)
The 1st Step of SOSAA – Survivors of Sexual Abuse Anonymous (This group doesn’t exist anymore.) writes:
“ We admitted that we were powerless over the abuse, the effects of the abuse had on us, and that our lives had become unmanageable. ”
There is no more minimizing or denying anything, with Step 1. I acknowledge how terrifying, lonely and painful it was back then and, I acknowledge how the abuse still impacts my life, in traumatizing ways. This doesn’t make me a negative person. There is no quick fix. We need to reclaim our victimhood: reaching within for the small terrified and unloved Inner Parts. It is a lifelong journey. I need to acknowledge I had no control over what was done to me. I don’t often have control over the impact it still has on me.
Working Step 1 brought up a lot of emotional flashback. My health wasn’t good at the time (2021) and I had been through some tough times where I felt terrified, alone and in emotional pain. as well, as being isolated (as so many were) because the pandemic and lockdowns. Now, I take time with the uncomfortable feelings, emotional flashbacks that I couldn’t describe with words. The only way I was able to face my suicidal feelings and thoughts was by accepting I wanted to die and I had done for a very long time. “I want to die.” or “I wish I was dead!” No shame, no judgement. It was tough for one of my friends to hear this. “Maybe change therapist? Up your meds, change your meds? Get more support?” I knew she wanted to help but her list of suggestions, to make me all better, stressed me out even more. To start with, I was thinking: “Have I given up on life or am I experiencing acceptance?” I had given up minimizing, denying my reality. I had given up on my inner fight. I was tired. I couldn’t hide it to myself anymore. My young Inner Parts have been stuck in this horrible place, wanting or wishing they were dead. They needed to accepted, as they were feeling. Practicing Mindful Self-Compassionate meditations- Dr Kristin Neff – and IFS meditations – Dr Richard Schwartz – helped me tremendously in listening to and in embracing these parts of me who were deeply suffering.
Slowly, I started to want to live again. I started to smile, to laugh! I enrolled in an “Acting for Fun” class. My therapist encouraged me, last year, to do something, just for fun! No goals, no big expectations… It was something I haven’t done since 1999! I enjoyed it tremendously. I signed up for a more formal “beginners” acting class. I am planning to enrol on to the next one!
After a year of not writing my blog. I felt my passion bubbling back up: there were so many things I wanted to write about and raise awareness about. I slowly started to write poetry and found piles of poems all over my flat, in boxes, gathering dust. I decided to put them all in a booklet. I started to send them to publishers, agents, competitions. I also found short stories, tales of ghosts, spirits, grieving and healing. Becoming a published author is a childhood dream of mine. Now, I know: life isn’t worth living without writing and acting. I am also meeting some amazing people!
I am also looking for work, as being creative doesn’t bring money, right now. Whatever happens, I promised myself I won’t ever sacrifice my creativity and whatever else brings me joy! Some of my Inner Parts (the inner victims) are petrified that all this action is never going to bring any positive and lasting changes. They don’t believe anything will work out (career wise and in my romantic life) , because, for them, it never gets better. So, I sit still and I feel what they feel, for a moment, then I keep going, gently. I know that the only way for my Inner Parts to move on from this place of futility, is by validating their experiences. It might also be something that comes up for me on a regular basis. The victory is to meet our deepest despair with tender loving care.
So, we are survivors (we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t) and we carry inner parts who are victims, stuck in dark places, waiting for us to listen to them, to validate their existences. Lets’ have compassion for our adults selves who have to deal with so much, within us – all the suffering of some Inner Parts and, around us – all the expectations and judgements, raising children up and working, or seeking work; trying hard to survive in a difficult society.
Just for today:
May we be safe,
May we be peaceful,
May we be healthy,
In mind and body.
May we live with ease.
)May we take gentle care of ourselves.
(Also published on www.winterturnsintospring.co.uk)