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Victim/Survivor vs. Survivor/Thriver: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog

We are told not to use the word victim. Nobody wants to identify with being victimized. The words that are preferred are survivor and thriver, or warrior for those who are out leading the movement on many fronts.

I have spent the last 7 or 8 years moving from victim/survivor to thriver/warrior. I have written dozens of articles about learning to take back control of my life after I began therapy. I am a different man today than I was even two years ago, but something is nagging at me.

As I began to heal, I got more comfortable with myself, and being around others. Although I still had (have) trouble like many survivors with feeling inadequate or not good enough. If I send an email and don’t hear back right away, I start thinking of what I said wrong to make them upset with me. Sometimes I do not attend events or gatherings because I just don’t feel comfortable being part of a group. I am truly an introvert. I tell myself there is nothing wrong with that, I am just taking care of myself.

That care means I am safe, I am comfortable and I feel nurtured. Evidently, because I didn’t feel that way as a child or it was taken away from me, I created that space for myself. The piece that I am having trouble with is that my safe space is a place in my mind where no one can reach me, and I am alone there.

I had traits as a child that made me more likely to be victimized than some. I was naïve, trusting, and comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with people. I was not getting my needs met at home, and my position in the family left me feeling powerless.

When I am constantly on the lookout for anyone trying to take advantage of me, am I being a survivor, or am I being over-vigilant from suspicion?

After surviving the abuse, I told no one, so my behavior patterns developed as a reaction to being victimized. When I acted tough as nails, was I thriving, or was I acting out of fear? When I am constantly on the lookout for anyone trying to take advantage of me, am I being a survivor, or am I being over-vigilant from suspicion? When I pretend I am fine and then withdraw from others, is that not a reaction learned from withholding my feelings when I am hurting?

Many of these traits are common among survivors. When we are working on them, we are survivor-thrivers. When we yield to them, I believe we are actually acting as victim-survivors. We are letting our fear of being victimized control our behavior.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me more than a little pissed off at myself. It’s one thing to accept that as a child an adult took advantage of me and that was not my fault. It is an entirely different matter to have an awareness that some of my adult coping mechanisms are a reaction to having been victimized.

I have always enjoyed my alone time (fully in control with no threats possible). Now I am beginning to see that as an outcome of being victimized, and if that is true, then I need to change it, because I no longer wish to live as a victim/survivor. It doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy some time alone, or even to retreat there to recoup on occasion. I am just saying it is not a healthy place to spend a lot or all of my time.

As you travel your healing path, I encourage you to look at some of your coping tools and ask yourself, “Am I retreating to a defensive mode, or am I engaging life?” I am an expert at running, hiding myself and my feelings. I want to work to find ways to share that space with loved ones. I have access to a fearlessness today that is a direct result of surviving child sex abuse. I now choose health and wellness over withdrawn, hurting and alone.

Healing from child sex abuse is not for the weak of heart. The sooner we address our pain, the sooner we can find renewed life. Waiting for the person who abused you to take accountability or some other miracle to set you free is taking a ride on a slow boat, I fear. The miracles start when you begin the healing journey, and I am finding both the healing and the miracles continue, if you stay open to them.

May it be so.

Randy Ellison

*Randy thumbnail-1Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child-sexual-abuse, victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. Randy also works as a consultant for nonprofits dealing with awareness and prevention of intimate violence. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He maintains his own website

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