Identity is defined as the “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is”. We all have many roles we play but under them I believe we have certain ideals we are trying to live up to. When I first opened my dojo, I developed a model of Victim –> Survivor –> Warrior. I defined these terms as:
- Victim: A person defined by what was done to them
- Survivor: A person defined by how they overcame what was done to them
- Warrior: A person who recognizes the event as one component of their past
I further identified that as a martial arts and empowerment teacher, I worked specifically to help people move from one state to the next, which defined these as a hierarchy. It was an incredibly useful model but it had a serious downside, as all these models do. By defining what state we are in or have achieved, we can development an attachment to being in that state. As a culture, we vilify “being a victim” and glorify “being a warrior”. These strong emotional reactions can get us stuck in a particular state.
Everyone has heard the phrase “Stop being a victim”. This seems like an innocuous phrase but there is a subversive damage here. Too often I see people who cannot acknowledge having been victimized because it feels like they failed somehow. They try to take responsibility for what was done to them because that gives them a locus of control. (OR try to ascribe responsibility which is Victim Blaming). They don’t see the massive difference between being a victim (as we use the term colloquially) and having been victimized. The irony is that if you cannot acknowledge the victimization, you’ll get blindly stuck in the Victim stage. A crucial step to healing is to acknowledge that someone did in fact victimize you. You don’t have to dwell here but you do have to pick up the mail. Three key factors will take you from victim to survivor:
- Acknowledge that harm was done to you
- Recognize you are victim of that harm
- Release the attachment to the harm
Stage 1 happens often as a result of shock at the time of the trauma. Stories abound of someone not knowing they’d been shot, stabbed, or injured. If you are stuck in step 1, you’ll refuse to acknowledge that harm was done to you. This is akin to saying “I didn’t get shot” despite the bleeding wound or “It’s ok. It doesn’t hurt.”
Stage 2 is incredibly for most of us to admit. We have to admit we’ve been shot and need medical attention. You can get stuck in this stage if you are too busy denying it to actually put it behind you. If you just acknowledged it, then you could begin to move on.
Stage 3: We move on. Moving on is how we release the attachment to the hurt. You can get treatment, like removing the bullet and getting stitched up. Releasing the attachment is the transition stage into Survivor. It includes granting forgiveness, rewriting your story, grieving the lost future and creating a new one.
The thing is, you can’t skip these steps. You may not do them in order and you may do each one multiple times before you are clearly in Survivor. You may spend time slipping back and forth between Survivor and Victim. This is not only ok, it’s a victory. It takes heart to keep engaging, to not just bury the hurt and move on as if nothing happened. As long as you don’t deny your experience, you’ll find healing eventually.
If you are lucky enough to be supporting someone through this process, as a friend or teacher, be mindful of your language. It jams up a person’s healing to ask them to deny their experience. Instead of asking them to “walk it off”, ask them to take a walk and then check in to see how they are doing. You see, there is wisdom in the “walk it off” but only if it’s used in healing, not denying. Go to the magic water cooler and have a drink and see what’s needed next.