A survivor, not a victim

How do you feel when you hear of somebody seeking financial compensation?  How about leaving your comment for the readers here?

My feelings are often ambivalent.


Take two people who both feel bullied and emotionally abused by each other at work.  One of them decides to resign and “move on”.  The other seems to be fixated on getting financial compensation for pain and suffering.  The union which deals with aggrieved members all the time discourages this course in this particular case, and friends believe this apparent goal is hindering any reasonable self-assessment, a sensible resolution and personal growth.

On the one hand I cannot deny that there are many people have suffered serious, deliberate and damaging harm from an “accident”, negligence, or malice.  Isn’t it fair and even necessary that the person or people responsible for this harm are penalized under law in financial and other ways, and that the victim is helped as much as is helpful, including financially?

Another benefit of our increasingly litigious culture is that more attention is now at last being given to work safety, child safety, risk assessment and management, safe practice, and more.  The downside of this is that many of us are finding our work is more and more asphyxiated by rules and regulations, necessary and good as some of these may be!

It also seems to me that growing numbers of people are seeing themselves as possible “victims” and resorting to litigation “because there may be something in it for me”.  We see law firms specialising in these cases, placing “public notice” advertisements and benefitting hugely from penalties which are meant to be compensation for avoidable suffering.

What we are seeing seems to me to be a measure of our increasingly greedy and materialistic communal ethos that brings little or no real or lasting well-being.  Our community fixation with money, law and compensation is distorting and discouraging us all – whether accused, complainants, people-in-conflict, or simply working.

Why raise this here?

For many years now I have been reading the stories of disappointed, traumatised and sometimes troubled parents and patients.  I blog every week about the imperfections of our medical workers, our parents, and of our own success in dealing with trauma.  I am personally acquainted with the pain that infant surgery can bring to parents and patients.

But I am very clear: I write as a survivor, not a victim.

A victim takes on a mindset that is quite different from that of the survivor.  The victim is angry, the survivor is grateful.  The victim is looks back, the survivor looks forward.  The victim seeks punishment, the survivor seeks personal benefit.  The victim is focussed on self, the survivor is focussed on others.

Who would really want to stay a victim?

3 thoughts on “A survivor, not a victim

  1. Mark

    In your closing statement, “who would WANT to stay a victim”, i would intellectually answer “Nobody”. This assumes of course, one has matured emotionally to the point where they CAN choose. As we have discussed between ourselves, survivors of childhood trauma do not mature in various areas of their person in a linear fashion. Certain areas lag way behind due to their flavor of PTSD. Sometimes it might take (as in my case) 40 years to get to the point where they can choose to walk away from their “victimhood” and join the ranks of survivors.

    We do not hang onto our victimhood for profit or pity, but merely because it is the only way we have ever viewed our trauma, through the eyes of a powerless child whose pleas went unheard, whose desires were ignored, whose trust was abused, who never really understood what happened, who lived with the mantra “why Me? In our childlike worldview, things were done TO us, not FOR us. And so we learned what it was like to be victimized.

    So this is a very valid post for this blog. Hopefully discussions such as these will serve as catalysts to nudge PTSD victims forward and into the ranks of survivors. For who indeed would want to stay a powerless victim? If anyone reading this feels trapped in victimhood, speak up here. Let’s talk, let’s work together and help you take the first steps toward freedom.

  2. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    Thanks so much, Mark for your input which is so very important. In writing this post I struggled with the knowledge that everything one says or writes in this context really needs to be counter-balanced; yet I didn’t want to end up saying nothing.
    You are right: we all want to be free of feeling and acting like a victim, yet the power to choose freedom and actually being a “survivor” rather than a “victim” are indeed quite another thing. And yes, many of us (me included) have taken many years to travel across that transition.
    I’m very grateful that this site and I personally regularly get input from people on that journey, and join with you in inviting others to join in sharing something of where they’ve been or are, thereby helping and encouraging others to embark on the journey.

  3. Wendy

    Perhaps those who feel helpless identify with victim status. Also, sometimes one has been victimized and financial remuneration is in order. Calling oneself a survivor and getting compensated monetarily seems a contradiction, but it is not.

    I love Mark’s comment, for isn’t it so true that for many of us, we continue to be victims in certain areas in our lives because of PTSD (post-traumatic stress). I love thinking of folks helping each other move from being victims to being survivors. What a challenge it is to help someone see, depending on his or her readiness, that one has power in many situations that typically bring a feeling of powerlessness.

    What a great forum for this type of discussion! I especially love, Fred, that last paragraph where you list the polarities, the differences between one who is a victim and one who is a survivor. That we can move from one end of the spectrum to the other is a blessing. Growth is possible, and this is the message that we have to keep broadcasting.


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