Survivor vs. Victim: The Power of Language
When you read each of those words, what reaction do you notice in yourself? Here, try it again-this time pause between each word and notice any reaction in your body.
If you’re like many people, you may have experienced very different reactions to these two simple words. When you’ve been through something significant, the language you use to describe yourself, others involved and/or the situation can be very powerful. Whether you were in a serious car accident, the loss of a child, a mental illness, a rape, a major injury, a sexual assault or childhood abuse…the words used when discussing the situation are often chosen in the blink of an eye without much thought yet they can have a huge impact on how you see yourself, others and the world around you.
Let me share with you a few of my own observations about these two specific words commonly used to survive people who have lived through a major, negative life experience.
Dictionary.com defines victim as, “a person who suffers from a destructive or injurious action or agency.” To me, this term refers to what happened to the person. It feels almost like it’s more about the perpetrator. A victim was raped, assaulted, abused or hurt in some way.
The term victim is very useful when we’re talking about a perpetrator. If I’m talking about a male college student who assaulted three sorority girls, I might say that there were three victims of his abuse.
That same Dictionary.com defines Survivor as “a person or thing that survives” and defines survive as “to remain alive after the death of someone, the cessation of something, or the occurrence of some event; continue to live.”
To me, the term survivor is more about the person sitting in front of me in my office. I often have clients who have been through horrible traumas and may not identify as a ‘survivor’ at first because they are in so much pain. Yet, by the definition above they are survivors. They are alive. That means there is hope that they can regain control of their own life and story.
Why Survivor Instead of Victim after sexual violence?
Truly this is a matter of personal preference, and if someone prefers the term victim I will absolutely respect that. At the same time, I personally have veered more torward saying that my clients are “survivors” of _____. You can fill in the blank with childhood abuse, the death of a loved one, a horrible car accident, a dysfunctional relationship, sexual violence, discrimination or a number of other things, but they are sitting in front of me in my office asking for help and to me that makes them a survivor.
When I use the term survivor, I feel that it leaves the door more open for possibility. Even if my client isn’t thriving right this moment, I still encourage them to claim the title of “survivor” as we begin to walk down the path of healing.
There is Hope
Regardless of what it is you have survived, if you are alive at this moment there is hope. While it may be difficult, the truth is that it’s never too late to find healing and move forward from your past. Your worst moments do not need to define you. If you are feeling stuck and considering counseling, there are several very effective treatments backed by research that can help you move forward. The right therapist can help you find healing.
My name is Jessica and I am a therapist in and the founder of Aspire Counseling in Columbia, MO. I specialize in treating people who feel stuck in the past and held back by the negative experiences they’ve endured. I have several very skilled therapists that I work with who also believe in your power to find healing from their past and reclaim your life. If you would like to speak to us about how counseling might help you move beyond surviving and toward thriving, please contact Aspire Counseling by e-mail or by calling 573-328-2288. You don’t have to stay stuck. You don’t have to let what happened to you define your life. Call today and let us help you move from victim to survivor and toward a fulfilling life.