These things that have happened to you, are not ok"

Those were the words that moved me to survivor status after 30 years of being stuck as a closet victim. 

I’d like to start a conversation about the word victim and maybe save someone else 30 years.

Here’s my lifeline, conversation starter thought… victim is not a dirty word.

Example: ‘John beat Mary’ makes us feel differently than ‘Mary is a battered woman’. More importantly, it makes Mary feel differently.

Example: Instead of focusing on the question, ‘what was she wearing?’, we ask, ‘why didn’t he stop?’

Example: When an alleged victim is labeled as the ‘accuser’, public perception shifts so that the perpetrator now has sympathy and needs protection.

But despite those three widely accepted premises, we violate them all with four succinct and accepted words:“Don’t be a victim.”

Jesus fuck! What kind of a victim blaming crap is that ?!

Cue the rant...

Let’s start with the news flash that no victim was immaculately concepted into being. For those of you taking notes, highlight this part… by definition of the word, every single person who has victim status has it because there was an abuser or a trauma event. You cannot do it to yourself and no-one chooses it. And yet we tell people not to be something they had no choice in becoming. That’s like telling a women who’s given birth not to be a mother (biologically).

Being a victim isn’t a personality trait; it is an event that happened to us, changed us, and will forever shape us. So why are we shaming people for it?

“Don’t act like a victim.” Why? Are victims horrible people? Victims are often some of the strongest people I know. (PS – that survivor word I’m sure you’re shouting at me – I promise I’ll get to that soon)

To be clear, I understand what people mean when they say, “don’t be a victim” and I understand there is caring intention behind it. So that you are clear, please understand that what you are trying to communicate to a victim doesn’t get heard the way you intend. Victims already blame themselves…

Should you be responsible for the way someone else hears your well intentioned advice? No. Are some of these good life living rules? Yes. 

So what's the problem?

The problem is it skips a step; it doesn't acknowledge the abuse or trauma.

I understand that how someone reacts to being a victim is technically within their control. I’m talking about the fact that the experience of abuse or trauma classifies a person as a victim. That can’t be changed. Which means there’s a problem… ‘don’t be a victim’is an impossible piece of advice.

If you’ve been abused or you’ve experienced trauma… boom, you are a victim. Just like that. No turning back. No choice in the matter. Done deal. You can’t un-be a victim.

Now... imagine if victim wasn’t a dirty word that made you want to deny any association with it. What if accepting victim status didn’t automatically align you with negative personality traits? Would you be better able to believe you could move through the stages of victimhood in a healthy way if you weren’t always hearing negative things about victims and victim mentality?

So many of our victim phrases suggest you need to get rid of something dirty you've purposely picked up.

Every time someone says, “don’t be a victim”, “don’t play the victim card”, or one of my cringe favs, “don’t have a victim mentality”, that language makes me feel victimized.

Where is the abuser in that language?! Nowhere. The blame is landing on me for ‘allowing’ myself to have become a victim. How silly of me.

I’m NOT saying to encourage or condone living as unempowered, helpless people. My point is that maybe the language needs to change and victim shouldn’t be a dirty word.

Look at the evolution of words we’ve used to describe people of different races, cultures, physical and mental abilities, religions. Words and their associations change – I’d like to submit victim for a makeover.

I’m not sure why no-one has brought this up before, tbh.

See, for 30+ years, well-meaning victim phrases deterred me from getting help to deal with abuse. And so help me God or Universe or fluffy pink frogs, I can’t be the only one!

Not getting help, (because "don’t be a victim!”), kept me walking into one abusive situation after another. Trying so bloody hard not to be a victim, made me more of a victim.

PS - for those vibrating with the urge to pounce on the fact that I’m ‘blaming’ external factors for my choices like a good little victim - I’m NOT making excuses for myself or anyone else who’s been a victim… I'm suggesting that the language and attitude we use around the word victim can either help heal or help shame. You choose:

Give victims a hand getting back in the boat when they're drowning in the water they were pushed into

Beat them on the head with a paddle for daring to have been pushed in the water at all

Victim should not be a dirty word

Some of the ways we make it dirty (and not in a fun way)

Fuk the what?! How do I tell anyone I was abused if I’m not allowed to be a victim? Admitting I was abused automatically and by definition, makes me a victim, so in order to not be a victim, I can't have been abused…except I was abused… and that means I am doing something wrong? Arghhhh!!

Ummmm contradiction much?? If I was abused, I am a victim of that abuse. What else can I possibly be?! (yes yes yes I know – a survivor…except no – keep reading and I’ll explain)

What if I told you to get undressed but not be naked… Jump in that lake but don’t be wet… Stay alive but don’t be human. You’ve been cut, but don’t bleed. Admit you were abused but don’t be a victim.

If you want people to be stronger and move on from abuse, they have to be ok with being a victim first. And “don’t be a victim”, tells us it is not ok. The end. I rest my case. Except also...

Ummmm no. Just no. ‘Play victim'?? If I admit I’m a victim, I am playing a game… I’m making it up? I am making myself look pitiful? Pointing a finger at my abuser is not strong woman behaviour? I can’t be strong if I’m a victim?

Tough love, right? Except it just handily aligned a bunch of negative traits alongside being a victim. All my life I heard that being a victim means I am complaining, making excuses, and creating drama.

Do you understand how aligning those traits to the word victim makes me never want to admit I am one? How it makes me never want to create drama by seeking help and ‘blaming’ and complaining about my abuser?

I’m all for NOT living with a mentality of making excuses…I’m against calling negative traits a victim mentality cause guess what?

Giraffes think like giraffes. E.T. thought like an alien. Victims think like victims.

No-one is going to suddenly start thinking like a survivor or suddenly be empowered because you tell them they should be.

And here’s the survivor vs victim part you’ve all been waiting for!!! (insert cheerleaders here) Nobody can be a survivor without first having been a victim. 

"You have to arrive at a place before you can leave it"

Before I can move on, get over it, put it in the past, I have to acknowledge it, face it, accept it as a part of me. I have to bleed.

But we keep trying to make people skip ahead to survivor without allowing them to be a victim (‘cause apparently the victim part is bad)

If you try to skip straight to survivor status, you’ve completely dismissed victim status, and that makes me feel dismissed. That makes the abuse or trauma feel dismissed. Like it didn’t really happen. Or I should pretend it didn’t happen.

It happened. And because it happened, I became a victim. Victim is not a dirty word. Abuser is.

Seriously…would you jump up after being raped filled with the pride of being a survivor, or would you need a few moments to process that shit? 

Becoming a survivor is a journey that takes time and it is a journey that can only be successful if you’re allowed to acknowledge that you were (or ARE) a victim.

But who is going to acknowledge being a victim when victim is such a dirty word?

OK…enough ranting. What can we do?

How about instead of saying “you've got a victim mentality”, we say "you’re suffering from side effects of abuse or trauma"?

One of those phrases puts the blame squarely on the victim and makes it an internal part of their being and one of those phrases puts the blame on the abuse or trauma and makes it an external thing that they can overcome.

I’ll say again… being a victim isn’t a personality trait; it is an event that happened to us, changed us, and will forever shape us.

Being a survivor isn’t a personality trait either. It is place we work to stay in despite all that has happened; and we shouldn’t have to gain entrance through a shady back alley.

One day I walked into a counselling office and, for the first time in my life, told my whole story from beginning to end and fully expected the therapist to tell me to stop being a victim. I honestly believed that is what she would say.

I knew I was being weak for breaking down and complaining and admitting my life was a mess because I couldn’t get my act together.

I mean, I’d read all the quotes and books, I was smart and supported by friends and I'd tried so hard to put everything in the past. Really I shouldn’t have been acting like such a bloody victim.

So I sat there pathetically, (bravely), doing the ugly cry with that unique blend of snot and tears that disintegrate kleenex, (acknowledging the truth), and waiting for the tough love pat on the head of ‘don’t you feel better for getting that all out and now it’s time to move on with your life’ (minimizing my humanness). Instead, I heard this …

“These things that have happened to you, are not ok.”

In that moment, I learned it was ok to be a victim… that it was ok to not be ok… that admitting I was a victim was a brave thing to do and that it was the only way to stop being one. Why had nobody ever said THAT before?

Acknowledging I am a victim without attaching shame, negativity, or guilt, allowed me to recognize and accept that wherever I am in the healing process at any given moment is just fine.

I shouldn’t be farther along than I am. There are lessons to be learned at each stage. I can’t skip ahead to the end; I have to walk through all the parts of being a victim, even the ugly parts. 

When I finally accepted being a victim, I became a survivor.

Words matter. The most dangerous words in the world are, "That's the way it's always been done." Maybe it's time for something different. What do you think?