Overcoming one’s traumas and the victim identity can be a tricky thing.
While we tend to think of victim thinking as ‘poor me’ thinking, that is only one type. Victim thinking can take many forms.
Think about trauma like conquering a mountain. The midst of the trauma is tantamount to scaling the mountain . You are at the mercy of the mountain. The mountain and your survival is what consumes you. Every step you take, every decision you make is because of the mountain. At any moment the mountain could claim your life. Your whole goal is to get to the top alive. You suffer because of the mountain, therefore you are an active victim of the mountain.
One day you find yourself on top of the mountain! You are done scaling! You commemorate your victory by planting your flag and do a dance! You sit atop the mountain and look back on the terrain that you overcame and you celebrate it! Rightfully so! You still suffer the mountain though, so you are still a victim of the mountain…a surviving victim, but a victim, nonetheless.
Then comes the time to descend the mountain. Every decision you make is still dictated by the mountain, but things are easier now. You are working with gravity and using tools that make the decent much more rapid than the ascent. You are (re)covering the terrain of the mountain and understanding from a different vantage point just how daunting the task had been. You still suffer the mountain, so you are a recovering victim, but a victim nonetheless.
At the bottom of the mountain a transport waits to take you back to a little city in the foothills of the mountain, where you get a hot bath, sweet-smelling soaps, and a hot meal, as well as a clean bed to rest in. You stay here just long enough to regain your strength. You get the proper treatment to set your wounds and injuries on the right path to healing. You debrief as others ask you questions about your adventure and you relive the accomplishment while telling the tale. You rest and begin to rise again in the aftercare, but still you suffer the effects of the mountain so you are a recuperating victim, but a victim nonetheless.
After you are recuperated you discard the equipment that was damaged in the climb, pack up your gear and head off for home. A place far away from the mountain. In your new home you put up a picture of your victory moment and store away your survival gear. Your home is decorated with many aspects of yourself, but only one picture of your conquering Mt. Trauma. Initially, new people in your life will be curious about the picture on your mantel and they will ask about it. Or you might be in a coffee shop and in conversation about what you’ve been up to, you would naturally mention that you recently conquered Mt. Trauma. After some time, however, Mt. Trauma would not come up in general conversation and you are moving away from being any kind of victim of the mountain. You are a transcending victim.
Eventually, Mt. Trauma would just be a picture on your mantelpiece. Then one day that picture might go into a scrapbook and only be revisited once in a long while along with a lot of other memories. This is the point where you have truly conquered Mt. Trauma and are no longer its victim. You have transcended victimhood and become you’re own hero!
The whole process is necessary for complete healing. You can’t skip a step. You can’t jump from survivor to transcending. Coming down from the mountain, telling your story, getting loving support to recuperate and working through to establish a new norm are all vital in getting to transcendence.
If you get stuck on top of the mountain or in the foothills you are still a victim of the mountain. You cannot stay atop the mountain yelling about how you conquered it, and not still be its victim. You cannot take up residence in the cozy foothills, repeatedly telling your story and not still be its victim. You can’t decorate your house predominantly with pictures of Mt. Trauma, plaques that say you climbed Mt. Trauma and display your survival gear as wall decorations and not still be a victim of Mt. Trauma!
If your identity is centered around how you overcame the mountain, then you have become an inside out victim of the mountain.
What is an inside out victim?
It is someone who’s whole identity revolves around being a survivor. As we’ve discussed, a survivor is still a victim. Many of those in the helping professions, including motivational speakers and self-help phenomena are doing nothing more than glorifying the victim status by disguising it with cute little catch phrases. Continuing to highlight the fact that you were once a victim only serves to perpetuate the victim status. Much like you can’t not think of an elephant when someone tells you not to think of an elephant. They are relative terms. One does not exist without the other. You cannot hear ‘survivor’ without associating it with that of which you had once been an active victim. So even though labeling yourself a survivor sounds like a healthy thing to do, you are continuing to subject your subconscious to the victim dichotomy message.
When things in your past are taking up a lot of space in conversations in the present there is a problem. Inside out victims can often come up with some elaborate schemes to present as noble and healthy individuals. Often they put themselves on display where they can show off (without making it look like it) their success at overcoming their past, setting themselves up as an authority and “help” others overcome as they did. The problem with this is that the repeated retelling of their story is the indication that they have not transcended it at all. In fact, it would be my suggestion that this person never did the recovering and recuperating necessary to reach transcending. My thought is that they kept it deep down hidden, rarely talked about it, until they came across something that seemed to give them a pass straight to transcendence. It doesn’t work that way. There are no short cuts in living authentically and healthy.
This is not to disparage all self-help motivators. The most amazing ones can offer changes in perception so drastic that they change lives. These motivators rarely reveal their own past and when they do, it is mostly in snippets to establish credibility or connection with their client. They don’t advertise their story over and over. They don’t give you fancy terms to identify yourself. They give you real tools that enable you to live a well-lived life that don’t include looking at Mt. Trauma in the rearview mirror.
You may ask why looking at Mt. Trauma in the rearview mirror is not desirable. When do you look in your rearview mirror when you are driving? When you are backing up and when you need to see what is coming up from behind you. If you are moving straight ahead there is no need for a rearview mirror.
I love you.