Victim or Survivor; the preferential difference

I sat with a client recently who told me that she didn’t like the word survivor. Having suffered through sexual abuse by an uncle for almost four years of her childhood, she noted that the word felt wrong to her. She also didn’t particularly like the word victim; she felt that both defined her in a way that didn’t fit her experience.

From a therapist’s perspective, when someone is victimized, they experience an event to which they had no control over. The traumatic experience happens to them and their power in those moments are taken away from them. When we talk about being a survivor, it is in the context of having lived through the experience, of having endured the trauma. As a therapist, I often use those two words interchangeably in order to try and validate a person’s experience with trauma. But I couldn’t with her.

And so we stayed there. We worked through both words, we explored why she felt they didn’t fit her. We spent time on how the experience of being sexually abused¬† and the consequential division of the family left its mark on her, the ways that she has healed and the path that is still in front of her.

And then we looked at new words; ones that she felt better defined her. And she said “I was brave. I continue to need courage. I am a champion.”

Sounds good to me :)

Photo credit: http://Photo by Matthew Smith on Unsplash

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