To Call Myself “Survivor”
“I’m not a survivor. I’m not strong - I’m the weakest person I know.”
It’s easy to think that way, no matter how much you have been through. I do it all the time, and I’m not the only one who does.
The word “survivor” conjures up an image of someone who is thriving. You think of someone who has taken their crisis and conquered it, beat it, kicked its ass, made it their bitch, or whatever (all with an unfailingly optimistic attitude and minimal if any psychological problems, mind you) - and then told their story to the world, crusaded for their cause, became a public figure and founded some kind of organization in their name.
I am not that person. I didn’t get killed, but I am a dysfunctional mess at best. And sometimes I wonder if I have even been through that much. I sometimes find myself thinking, “I’m not a starving child in Africa. I have food, a place to live, an education, and a lot more. Other people much worse off have kicked some ass and founded charities, and I can’t even deal with my comparably minuscule problems?” I am no inspiration. My battles have left me weak and pathetic. So how could I possibly deserve to claim the title of “survivor?”
But I have news for you, and for me, and it comes courtesy of the dictionary:
- Continue to live or exist, esp. in spite of danger or hardship.
- Continue to live or exist in spite of (an accident or ordeal).
The only qualification for survivorship is continuing to exist after your life has turned to manure. There is no mention of strength whatsoever!
And another thing: Strength does not always come from within. It is impossible for a person to survive completely by themselves. That is why, in a moment of need, people lend you their strength. You don’t have to be strong yourself to survive.
In any case, you ARE strong to have lived through it, and you are definitely strong if you have the courage to admit that you feel weak. You are NOT a victim. NOT a statistic. NOT a failure. NOT pathetic. NOT ANY OF THAT.
YOU are a SURVIVOR.
What Is Abuse?
- Verbal Abuse occurs when one person uses words and body language to inappropriately criticize another person. Verbal abuse often involves ‘putdowns’ and name-calling intended to make the victim feel they are not worthy of love or respect, and that they do not have ability or talent. If the victim speaks up against these statements, they are often told that the criticisms were “just a joke”, and that it is their own problem that they do not find the joke funny. They may also be told that no abuse is happening; that it is “all in their head”. Verbal abuse is dangerous because it is often not easily recognized as abuse, and therefore it can go on for extended periods, causing severe damage to victim’s self-esteem and self-worth. Damaged victims may fail to take advantage of opportunities that would enrich their lives because they come to believe they are not worthy of those opportunities.
- Psychological Abuse (also known as mental abuse or emotional abuse) occurs when one person controls information available to another person so as to manipulate that person’s sense of reality; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. For example, psychological abuse might occur when a pedophile tells a child victim that she caused the pedophile to abuse her because she is a ‘slut’ who ‘tempted’ the pedophile. Psychological abuse often contains strong emotionally manipulative content designed to force the victim to comply with the abuser’s wishes. It may be emotional abuse in this sense when it is designed to cause emotional pain to victims or to “mess with their heads” in attempts to gain compliance and counter any resistance. Alternatively, psychological abuse may occur when one victim is forced to watch another be abused in some fashion (verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually). Like verbal abuse, psychological abuse is often not recognized as abuse early on and can result in serious sequela (psychological after effects) later on.
- Physical Abuse occurs when one person uses physical pain or threat of physical force to intimidate another person. Actual physical abuse may involve simple slaps or pushes, or it may involve a full on physical beating complete with punching, kicking, hair pulling, scratching, and real physical damage sufficient in some cases to require hospitalization. In particularly violent instances, people can die from the injuries they sustain while being physically abused. Physical abuse is abusive whether bruises or physical damage occur or not. Physical abuse may involve the mere threat of physical violence if the victim does not comply with the wishes of the abuser, and still be considered physical abuse.
- Sexual Abuse of children or adults includes any sort of unwanted sexual contact perpetrated on a victim by an abuser. Molestation,incest, inappropriate touching (with or without intercourse), and partner or date rape are all instances of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse also occurs if one partner has agreed to a certain level of sexual activity and another level is forced upon her (or him) without prior explicit consent being given. Sexual abuse is often coupled with physical abuse (or threat of physical abuse) and emotional abuse. For instance, pedophile child molesters will often threaten harm to their victims or to someone or something their victim cares about in order to compel that victim’s silence about the sexual abuse or to convince the victim that he or she “asked for it” in some way. Difficult to detect drugs like Rohypnol (known as “Ruffies” on the street) may be put into the drinks of date rape victims (a form of physical abuse) to make them pliable and easy to rape.
- Neglect occurs when a person fails to provide for the basic needs of one or more dependent victims he or she is responsible for. Basic needs include adequate and appropriate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, andlove or care. The idea of neglect presupposes that the neglectful person is capable of being responsible in the first place. For example, it is neglect when an employed parent fails to care for their child adequately. It is still neglect when a parent is unable to provide for their child despite their best efforts due to extreme poverty or illness, but the neglect is perhaps mitigated by the circumstances. Neglect can only happen to dependent persons. For this reason, it most typically involves children or dependent elders who are not taken care of properly by their families or caregivers.
- Hate Crimes are a type of abuse that involve verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse toward an individual or a group of individuals based solely on some characteristic they may share in common with others such as their religious or sexual affiliations or the color of their skin. In the United States hate crime are defined as crimes in which “the defendant’s conduct was motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity of another individual or group of individuals” (HR 4797). In 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act added disabilities to the above list.
Hate crimes involve scapegoating; the placing of blame for something that has occurred (or is believed to have occurred; whether or not it really has occurred) on an undeserving individual or group simply because they share characteristics with those alleged to have been involved in the upsetting event. For example, hate crimes against people involved in the Islamic faith rose in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks after it was made clear that those terrorists subscribed to a form of the Islamic faith. Other examples are easy to list. Attacks on Jews throughout history have been justified by saying that “the Jews killed Jesus”. Racial tensions in America and around the world remain high despite years of efforts attempting to lessen such tensions. Attacks on gay people (Matthew Sheppard) and transgender people (Gwen Araujo) occur with frequency because their sexuality is non-mainstream and thus threatening, and because some clergy preach that such non-mainstream forms of sexuality are abominations, using selected portions of the Bible to justify their particular brands of intolerance.
Managing Triggers/Inner Child
* Make sure you are in a comfortable situation;
* Keep your journal, a drawing pad, reprogramming worksheets, comforting toys and some tissues handy. It is often helpful to keep a positive or inspiring object, image or guardian “icon” visible….something that reminds you of your desire to heal..
* Remind yourself of your positive motives and possible short-term consequences….and your reasons for risking them. It is often helpful to make some message signs (block letters, so kid alters or vulnerable inner child state can read them). For example:
This story may trigger my feelings and/or memories.
I can stop reading if I need to. If I am very upset, I can __________ until I feel better, (Fill in the blank with what works best for you, for example, “listen to some music”, “hold my teddy bear”, “call a friend”, “write in my journal”, “yell, and pound on a pillow”, “mash some clay”, “draw ugly pictures”, etc)
I am choosing to read so that I can heal by honoring and comforting my pain
I do not want to add more pain through self punishment in the present.
I am willing to release old pain, but I do not want to become confused by
it so that I think I need to be hurt any more.
* Be aware that narratives can sometimes open up associated memory fragments (a memory “bank”) which can seem mixed, confused or contradictory. Remember, you have time to sort out all of the pieces. Things are not always as they first appear. Trust your feelings as valid to your experience.
* Remember to ask yourself, “If I knew a child who just experienced what I am remembering or feeling, what would he or she need to feel comforted?” Then provide for yourself as best you are able.
The key to healing of the adult is the healing of the child.