I’ve noticed that many people who have been abused get upset or defensive if someone calls them a victim. At the same time, I’ve also noticed that many people will speak with disdain about people who are “victims,” as if a victim is disgusting. So many people–both those who have been abused, and those who have no clue what it is like–act like being a victim is a horrible thing. I disagree with this attitude. First of all, if you were victimized, if you were abused, if you were bullied, if you were smeared, if you were beaten, if you were mistreated, if you were misused…you are or have been a victim. And if someone did those things to make you their victim, they are the ones who should be shamed–not you.
I think many people who look down on victims are doing it as a defense. If they look down on victims, and blame victims for what happened to them, then they can pretend that the same thing won’t happen to them. They can pretend being victimized is a choice they can avoid. Nope…it doesn’t work that way. Many people who are abused or assaulted or victimized or whatever were victims through no fault of their own. They were harmed despite being innocent and despite doing the right things. Looking down one’s nose at victims is not going to protect anyone from possibly being next!
When people who were victimized get upset about being considered victims, it could mean that they have recovered so well that they don’t want to be held back by the victim label. However, many people who object to the term are not fully recovered and haven’t gotten out of the first stages–and that’s totally understandable and acceptable. There is no reason to rush to be a survivor. If you went through abuse, you probably won’t wake up the next day as a bad ass Wonder Woman. And that’s okay. Recovery is a process. You don’t go from traumatized victim to strong survivor overnight, or in a few days, or weeks, or even months. Some people need years to grow stronger and wiser after going through hell. As a therapist told me, even when you do feel better, there will always be a little scar on your emotions.
In many ways, this process is important. We’ve heard of the grieving process that people go through after loss; well, recovering from abuse is also a process. If you try to rush through it and claim you are strong again before you really are, you might run right into the next narcissist because you didn’t really go through the healing process and learn the lessons. Years ago, I read a book about forgiveness that acknowledged that most people can’t just forgive on a whim. Instead, they need time to process what happened to them. (And frankly, in my opinion, we don’t always have to forgive, but the author didn’t agree with me on that one!) It makes sense that trying to end the process without really working through it will leave you half recovered and missing important steps.
This reminds me of my oldest child who took off reading in kindergarten. He loved it and was going around reading every thing he saw–including road signs, shampoo bottles, food labels, and all kinds of things that weren’t really part of his age-level for reading. I thought it was pretty neat that he was reading all these big words! But then in first grade, his teacher alerted me that he’d taken off reading really well and was reading several grades ahead, but had “gaps” in his reading steps because he didn’t go through the process to learn to read. So he could rattle off a sixth grade book, but skipped some of the required baby steps for his first grade class. She wanted to slow him down a bit and make sure he got the proper reading foundation.
Recovery is the same way. I walked away from my first abusive relationship and read tons of books. I felt like I really knew what I was doing, and I started dating again after a couple years.
I ended up with a devastating sociopath.
It turned out that I knew where I needed to be, but I didn’t really get all the steps or the full understanding. I wasn’t as much of a survivor as I thought I was…yet.
While many people will say that we shouldn’t consider ourselves victims and we should call ourselves survivors, I don’t think it is that simple. We need to really understand the severity of what someone did to us, how it hurt us, how we feel, and how wrong it was, to come out the other side with a full understanding and a better “narcdar.”
So all that said, it is OKAY if you aren’t immediately an amazingly wise and strong survivor. It is OKAY if you still hurt and feel confused. You don’t have to rebound and be a recovery expert right away. It’s totally normal to feel all the feelings and acknowledge them.