What is at the core of victimhood?
Violation and powerlessness. Violation is when someone or something breaks through the boundary of your personhood with force or without right. Powerlessness is having absolutely no power or opportunity to change what is happening in the moment. The combination of these two experiences results in terror. Terror is far beyond fear -- its heart stopping, mind-numbing horror. This is why it's so difficult to work on healing victimization. You have to go back and revisit this level of terror, exploring how the mind, body and soul compensated for having this experience. The thought of revisiting victimization can feel unbearable.
So what do you do instead? Lots of people end up bargaining with this terror -- making decisions according to this experience of terror without even realizing it. Your whole life can change because you make these conscious and unconscious decisions avoiding the effects of the victimization.
Bargaining manifests in a couple of ways. Firstly, you may stop doing activities associated with the violation. Maybe a rape survivor stops drinking or an accident victim stops driving. But then the terror wants more, so the rape survivor stops going out at all, and the accident victim gives up his/her driver’s license. You see where this is going right? The victim world will keep shrinking with this type of bargaining with terror.
The second way people bargain with the terror is to convince themselves that they did not experience powerlessness. This is often attempted by blaming oneself for the violation. “If I had only done that, then this wouldn’t have happened...” Even worse, people tell themselves they deserve what happened to them. When desperately searching for an answer to why this happened, this line of thinking may provide answers, but they are often inaccurate, so they end up making you feel worse.
Bargaining can go on for a very long time before it too becomes unbearable.
What is the path to survivorhood?
Every time a person replays a traumatic event over in his/her head (or while sleeping), the brain is trying to fix it. It replays that experience hoping for a different outcome or another possible way to avoid that terror. The brain keeps trying in earnest. It never gives up.
By actively working to heal the places of victimhood within you, the brain gets the different ending for which it is searching. Then, the brain can heal and move on, and so can you.
Options for working to heal victimhood are endless, but let’s name a few.
1. Work with a counselor, therapist, or trusted healing professional. This is often vital to the healing process. Counseling is geared around unfolding trauma slowly--greeting the powerlessness and terror with great care. Support and guidance in therapy make the trip back to revisit the terror do-able. Why not have someone safe with you who can help you? You deserve it.
2. Reclaim your thoughts. Your brain works overtime to heal trauma, so it can feel like your thoughts are invaded constantly. Our brains work for us, but when thoughts are racing, it can feel like its the other way around. You can learn to quiet the mind and to discern between true statements and ones that are “trauma-thinking.” Breathing, meditation, exercise, yoga, etc., are all ways to practice reclaiming the mind.
3. Keep yourself safe. This is very different from the "avoiding" to which I earlier referred. This is making different, conscious decisions based on what you have learned in surviving your trauma. This may include actions like standing up for yourself when someone hurts your feelings, ending a relationship that harms you, or stopping reckless behavior that lands you in dangerous situations.
4. Celebrate Yourself. The best way to do this is to take wonderful care of yourself. Start treating yourself the way you want to be treated. Enjoy every ounce of yourself. Change the things that need changing, and keep illuminating the core of YOU.
The truth is you are already a survivor. You always have been. When you wholeheartedly understand that--you arrive. Welcome home.