Are YOU a Domestic Violence Survivor?
The subject of being a domestic violence survivor is one that brings up many questions about overcoming domestic abuse. Those who are in abusive relationships or who have left abusive partners are often referred to as victims, former victims, or survivors. To some, they are all just terms with common meanings. To others, the terms may share a commonality in experience (domestic violence and abuse) - but they indicate a different level of progress or stage in a person's outlook on life and the role abuse is allowed or not allowed to play.
In the opening text of my book, "Dear Lord, Deliver Me From This Hell", readers find the following comment:
The definition of "survival" is:
(1) act or fact of surviving; continuance of life; living or lasting longer than others;
(2) person, thing, custom, or belief, etc., that has lasted from an earlier time.
I have lived past domestic violence, I have outlasted that point in time when I was a victim and moved past it. I found the person inside myself who could not accept domestic violence and made it past that stage in my life to find another way. In short, I regained my self - my own person, welfare, interests and beliefs.
In 1991 I resolved to have a better life by escaping the abusive marriage. I never turned back. My intent in that opening paragraph is to make one point clear - being a victim and being a survivor are two different things. As the reader of this article, I ask that you consider this concept. Why? Because those who have moved past domestic violence are at a different stage of their life than those who remain there - and understanding that difference will help you to see how domestic violence and abusive relationships are overcome by the individual, and ultimately overcome by society.
The difference in those stages makes all the difference in the world. Not that one (a "victim" or a "survivor") is personally "better" or more intelligent than the other. However, the connotations of the two terms carries a significant difference in their meanings; and therefore has definite implication toward the future of the individual person and societal understanding of the phenomenon of domestic abuse.
Surviving means more than just having lived through yesterday's verbal abuse or last night's physical beating. It means more than just "you are still alive today". For many, surviving means that you have left the emotional, mental and physical captivity of an abuser and have committed yourself to moving on to an improved lifestyle. It also means you have learned or are learning a lot, and accept your inability to change the impossible. It means you also see what you can change and are committed to making that change.
So "what's a victim then?" you might ask. A victim is someone who is still trapped in the relationship. Still trying to resolve the problem and take accountability for the abuser's actions. Still feeling responsible to solve the abusers problems in dealing with others. A victim is still an emotional and mental captive to the abuser's never ending book of tricks and deception. The mental and emotional abuses still work - the victim is dragged back in time and time again by:
Some individuals also remain victims even after leaving the relationship. They continue to hope that somehow the abusive partner will change. They allow the abuser to continue blaming them, lay unreasonable guilt on them, violate restraining orders or protective orders, threaten them in phone calls. In some of these situations, the victim seeks help from social programs, a counselor or therapist or friends and family; and then fool themselves by defending their hopes and disagreeing with or not utilizing the suggestions and help given to them.
A survivor does not do any of those things. A survivor is a former victim. A survivor faces their challenges and becomes empowered by those same challenges. A survivor says to their self, "OK, I can't change this relationship or the abuser, but I can change my life and stop contributing to this situation." A survivor makes a commitment to rid themselves and their life of the perpetrator (abuser). Whereas a victim continues to feel helpless and accept blame, a survivor gathers together their courage and demonstrates their strength in spite of their fears.
A survivor stops listening to the verbal and emotional abuse that tears down their self-esteem - and says "No, that's not true. I am capable. I may be afraid, I may feel defeated and hopeless, but I can change this situation by putting it behind. I will face that challenge and I will not give up! I am not helping myself or the abuser by remaining in this sick relationship." And that point in their life is a significant turning point for the victim who becomes a survivor.
Perhaps that phrase, "turning point", says it all. A survivor has reached the turning point that a victim still cannot see. Reaching that turning point and making the commitment to change their life marks the place in time where one becomes a survivor and refuses to be a victim any longer. That doesn't mean it's easy; that doesn't mean a survivor wakes up one day and suddenly everything is "a piece of cake" and perfectly clear. We still need support; we still have to heal many emotional traumas from a myriad of abuses. We still have to sort out a lot of confusion in our own minds. But that turning point means we see our own mental captivity as a victim and refuse to tolerate it any longer. A survivor breaks free of abuse.
And finally, many (not all, but many) survivors do one other thing, sooner or later: They go back to help others. They take what knowledge they have and their experiences and start sharing with others. They reach out to victims with a helping hand. They try to help society understand the problem. They support every "young survivor" (any person who has just crossed that same turning point) with hope, understanding and the support they so desperately need.
I will always believe very strongly that being a survivor of domestic violence means being a former victim, and having moved on by putting the perpetrator behind them.
Written by Kim Eyer, © 2002
To visit Kim Eyers' US website on Domestic Violence, Rhiannon3, please click here!
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