Victim or Survivor?

Victim or Survivor?

Victim or Survivor?

It’s human nature to play the victim card. We have all been victims of something in this broken world. We have all suffered, and we all inherited suffering in one way or the other. When we are officially senior citizens, for example, and we seem to discover another malady every other day, we can get stuck being a victim. When we have an injury or sickness that is debilitating, we tend to embrace victimhood. At an even deeper level, when our ethnic or racial identity has suffered historical, horrific mistreatment and we still see vestiges of that prejudice today, it’s easy to remain a victim. When something unwelcome or hurtful happens to us, or has happened to our family, we slip right into victimhood without even thinking.

But to embrace victimhood, when we glue ourselves to the victim identity, there is very little benefit. If we see a certified victim every time we look into a mirror, only bad things happen.

(1.)  It’s surprisingly easy for victimhood to overshadow our primary identity… We are made in the image of God. We are recipients of a glorious, creative act of a loving God. Human life is sacred and triumphant, and each person has dignity and worth. It is beneath us to get stuck in victimhood. We were not created to dwell in the pit of defeat and cynicism. We are meant to enjoy a much higher mode of living, more hopeful and victorious. We all have the high calling of noble personhood. We have a purpose that is not to be drowned in defeat.

(2.)  Victims tend to live with an inordinate amount of self-pity and complaint and defensiveness. Victimhood makes it very difficult to be grateful, thankful for what we do have instead of resentful of life’s inevitable shortcomings. Gratitude is crucial to mental health, and has been found to be a key to a long-lasting, productive life. Gratitude leaves little room for victimhood. The more grateful one is, the less victimhood is embraced.

(3.)  Psychological studies have shown that those stuck in victimhood experience many side effects: They become dependent on others. They become embittered. They are less forgiving of others and more judgmental. They tend to be pessimistic. According to these studies, victims tend to blame others, they are stuck in the past, and they have a limited ability to overcome difficulty.

(4.)  It’s only natural to think of ourselves as victims when we are actually victimized. We grieve when we’ve lost something important, whether a person we love, or our physical health, or even our freedom. Grief comes naturally to the victim, and that’s okay. It’s only natural to feel angry at injustice done to us or our family. When we see systematic injustice, it’s only natural to become cynical and defensive. But there is a time to acknowledge the damage done, and a time to pick up the pieces, to make the best of it. It is not healthy to get stuck in grief, or cynicism, or anger. “For everything, there is a season… a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to gain and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away.” (from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). It does us no good to dwell as the perpetually wronged party. There is a time for victimhood, and there is a time to be a survivor.

The good news is that we can choose how to respond when bad things happen. According to psychiatrist Dr. Edith Eger, in her book The Choice, we can choose to be what she called a “triumphant survivor.” Rather than holding on to victimization, we need to make the best of the past, or maybe even escape from its after-effects. Choose to go from “trauma to triumph,” she says. Dr. Eger maintains that permanent victims become their own jailors, and will be enslaved by their victimization. Victims simply don’t rise above whatever difficulties they might face. Dr. Eger confirms that victimhood is optional. She knows of what she speaks, since she is a Jewish woman who lost her family in the Holocaust and was herself someone who suffered terribly in the Nazi death camps. Despite her tragic history with Nazism, and the history of abuse historically visited upon the Jewish people, she chose to become a survivor, a victorious survivor.

If it’s detrimental for us to dwell in victimhood, it is likewise unfruitful to treat others as mere victims. It is demeaning to the other person when we reduce them to victimhood. It is dehumanizing to be locked into the victim’s cycle of dependency, cynicism and ingratitude. When we pity someone, we tend to have low expectations of that person, which detracts from the innate dignity of that person. Labeling someone as a mere victim discourages personal responsibility, blaming others for all their problems. That only makes that person less likely to overcome a difficult history or circumstance. For victims to redeem a history of mistreatment, forgiveness and courage and hope are needed, not someone’s pity. It is humiliating to be pitied, for it distracts the victim from recognizing the truth that they were made in the image of God, that they are actually a recipient of glory. Instead, help the victim rise above the difficulty, not succumb to victimhood. Help them to forgive others, whether in history or right now. Tell them that victimhood is beneath them, that they can redeem the wrongs by honorably improving the circumstances and righting the wrongs done to them. Help them act out of survivor-hood instead of victimhood. Show the victims that we believe in them, that we have faith in them to rise above their difficulties. Help the victims live in hopefulness and forgiveness as they become triumphant survivors in the midst of unfairness and injustice. Everything is redeemable in some meaningful way. Help others to redeem the past by improving the present and making something good come out of the bad. Every sin can be forgiven, and every past can be redeemed.