• Dara Kountz

Domestic Abuse Victim or Survivor? What’s the difference, does it matter?

So, over the holidays, I was having a conversation and abuse cane up. As I usually do in these situations, I stated that I was an abuse victim because, well as you all know, I’m very open about it.

The person I was talking to immediately corrected me that I was an abuse survivor not victim.

Strangely, my first instinct was to protest that, no, I was a victim but, then, I paused and the thought: Is there a difference? Does it matter?

And I thought about that for several days and came to a few conclusions.

I define victim and survivor differently. In my head, these two words may be synonyms but the connotations are very different. To me, a survivor is one who overcomes something that is tragic but…impersonal, out of the person’s control. A victim overcomes a result of bad decisions.

Please, note, I do not say this to in any way lessen the strength and determination any survivor had to show to overcome and survive. I am not saying that a survivor is inferior or superior to a victim. And I am definitely not saying a survivor or a victim is any less traumatized, hurt or tragic than the other. I don’t even say that my definitions are right.

These are my personal definitions, how I interpret them through my experience and thoughts and they apply only to me.

But, I feel that I need to state my own definitions because I need to acknowledge them. If I’m to be free and healed and, basically, me, I have to own my own truths because if I don’t, then how can I check my thought processes? How can I explain what’s in my head?

So, inside my head a survivor comes through a trauma out of their control like a tornado, forest fire, death of a child, war, something that was not due to anything under their control, not a direct result of mistakes or bad choices.

Inside my head, a victim comes through a trauma that is partly due to their choice, their bad decision like being raped while passed out drunk, being robbed when taking a shortcut through some alleys, being abused because you didn’t leave when the red flags first showed.

Again, please understand, I am not victim blaming. I don’t care what kind of bad decision you make, you do NOT deserve to be raped, beaten, robbed or murdered. Those people who choose to hurt a person in a vulnerable position bear ALL the blame because they chose to be horrible people and hurt someone who was vulnerable.

I do not blame myself for the abuse I suffered because I didn’t deserve it. I am a victim because I made bad choices that put me in a vulnerable position and kept me there but that does not excuse the man who took advantage of that to hurt me and wreck me and try to break me for his pleasure, his selfishness, his ego.

As strange as it may sound, taking the mantle of victim as my own empowered me because it freed me from guilt, it freed me from thinking the abuse was my fault, that I deserved it because I didn’t leave when I should have.

Naming myself victim allowed me to stop hating me, to stop insulting me, hurting me, calling myself weak and stupid.

Yes, I put myself in a vulnerable position because I was desperate for approval, desperate not to be alone. Later, I kept myself in a vulnerable position because I was even more desperate for approval, because I was afraid I didn’t deserve to be loved, because I believed the cruel words of my ‘loving husband’ who I knew for a fact was lying to everyone else.

I made those mistakes but that is not the reason I was abused.

Because I still make bad choices. I still make mistakes. I still put myself in vulnerable positions because I am human and I am not perfect. But guess what? My husband does not take advantage of my mistakes to hurt me. He comforts me and helps me up when I fall. The people around me do not immediately pounce to take advantage of me when I’m weak. They run to help, to encourage, to reassure because that is what good people do.

Monsters take advantage of another person when they are vulnerable and monsters deserve all the blame for their behavior, not the victim (or the survivor).

Still, these are my definitions and how my definitions help me heal and relate.

These are not other people’s definitions, not the connotations others place on it.

So, do I correct those that call me a survivor? No, because what others call me doesn’t matter. How they react to me, how they treat me matters not the label.

Do I correct others that call themselves survivor not victim? Of course not! Each person that comes through trauma must find their own way to define it, to heal. I will never question how someone else defines themselves if it is helping them heal.

Survivor or victim? Does the difference matter?

In the world? No, the label doesn’t matter, only the acknowledgement of the need, the pain matters.

In my head? Yes, it matters in my head to me because my truth sets me free.

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