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The “V” word

VICTIM: What comes to mind when you hear that word?

  • Don’t be a victim.
  • She’s always playing the victim.
  • I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.

Let me be the first to stand up and say that people should be allowed to use their own words when they talk about themselves. If you identify as a survivor rather than a victim, I honor your truth and your choice of words. But if you feel victimized, I firmly support you in feeling like, and calling yourself, a victim.

The word “victim,” from the Latin victima, meaning “sacrificial animal,” is used to mean someone to whom something bad has happened — usually something they didn’t ask for, expect or deserve.

I think feeling like a victim is a reasonable response when bad things happen to good people.

When I’m minding my own business, or even doing good deeds for others, and someone comes along and hurts me or my property, I don’t immediately feel like a survivor. I feel victimized. It’s the first place I go, and – if I may be so bold – I think it’s a natural place to go when something senseless and awful happens.

You can’t swap out the word “victim” and replace it with the word “survivor” without affecting how the person in question feels … which, of course, is the whole reason the word “survivor” became so popular. It’s supposed to make people who’ve been victimized feel powerful again.

Unfortunately, insisting on calling someone a powerful name if what they really feel is powerless only reinforces their loss of identity and control. Here they might be feeling as though they were broken in two from what happened to them, and they’re told, “You’re not a victim, you’re a survivor!” How invalidating is that?

I’m not saying that everyone who’s been hurt automatically feels a loss of identity, power or control; only that some people do, and that feeling victimized should be considered a normal and valid response.

In time, the initial shock and pain of the victimization might morph into an integrated sense of having survived. But not always. If it does, well then I imagine one starts to feel like a survivor.

But let’s have some respect for the word “victim,” and for the people who identify that way. Let’s not throw them under the bus by distorting their sense of reality, but support them in expressing their pain.

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "The “V” word"

  • Jody Marie (@JodyMariePDX)
    March 24, 2012 - 10:17 am Reply

    I totally agree with you. Someone who is a victim can’t immediately claim to be a survivor…there is a process that needs to take place to get to that powerful survivor state of mind. The negative connotation of the word ‘victim’ conjures up in my mind that person who doesn’t move forward with their life, they don’t take strides to move towards a place of healing and they sit to the side resentful of everyone else’s happiness. I’m understanding when someone identifies with the victim role for a certain time period, but some people take it too far, and the balance is tipped such that self-restoration seems out of reach. Thank goodness there are professionals like you who can intervene!

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 25, 2012 - 11:17 am Reply

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Jody Marie.

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