3 Stages of Survival: Moving from Victim to Survivor and Beyond

Following the trauma of domestic violence people are often identified as victims. Victimhood is only one stage in the recovery process. The stages aren’t linear, they don’t proceed in a straight line. I often tell the people I work with that progress is often one step forward two steps back. The following identifies the various stages of survivorhood: victim, survivor, and thriver.

Stage 1: Victim

Victimization by a domestic violence (DV) perpetrator often leads a person to feel worthless and incapable. Domestic violence is about controlling another person and depleting their sense of power. Control and power over another person can take the form of physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse.

People who are victims often have low self-esteem, feel a sense of shame and worthlessness, and may not feel that they deserve nice things or that they deserve to be treated respectfully by others. Victims may be hypervigilant, always expecting a threat, and feel guarded. People in the victim stage of healing often feel alone, selfish, numb, damaged, confused, and hopeless. It’s common for perpetrators to isolate victims from friends and family. Isolated, lonely people with low self-esteem are easier to control and maintain power over.

Victims of DV are often afraid to tell their stories for a number of reasons. They may fear that their partners will retaliate or be fired from their jobs. Victims may believe that their stories are not worthy of sharing. It is also common for people in the victim stage to feel overwhelmed by their past as they come to recognize the struggles they have endured. DV victims commonly have difficulty setting healthy boundaries and find themselves wrapped up in drama and unhealthy relationships with toxic, unsafe people. Victims tend to put their own needs last and often have difficulty communicating in ways other than being passive or sometimes passive-aggressive. Victims tend to believe that suffering is just the way things are and have a hard time finding joy. Victims also frequently turn to substance abuse or codependent relationships to help them feel like they are doing okay.

Stage 2: Survivor

Once a person begins moving away from unhealthy and violent relationships with an abuser, they can begin reflecting on their experiences in a safe environment. As they recognize the struggle they have survived they begin searching for reasons why this experience happened and how they can heal. People in the survivor stage view themselves as both wounded and healing and begin gaining a sense of hope. A grieving process may take place as the survivor comes to terms with the different losses that have taken place.

Survivors are often eager to tell their stories and want to talk about all the aspects of their experience in their attempts to heal. Support groups can be a great help for people in the survivor stage since they want to share their stories and hear others’ experiences as well. Survivors begin learning ways to set healthy boundaries and explore what is safe or dangerous in their relationships. Through their curiosity and sharing of experiences with others, survivors begin identifying patterns, which can become goals to begin changing. Change takes time for survivors and doesn’t happen overnight or in a matter of weeks. Whereas victims tend to believe that suffering is normal, survivors begin gaining a sense of hopefulness and relief as they see a journey leading them forward.

Survivors also learn to laugh again. They have a healthy sense of humor and can find moments of joy. Instead of needing substances or codependent relationships, survivors can begin regulating their emotional pain and may seek out therapy to explore the new and uncomfortable feelings that have been numbed or disregarded before. Survivors begin learning about a wider range of emotions.

Stage 3: Thriver

Although many people feel satisfied reaching the survivor stage, others believe that there is still more to go on their journey and these people become thrivers. People in the thriving stage have a sense of gratitude for this new found life that seems to be overflowing with miracles and wonderment. Instead of feeling isolated, thrivers feel a sense of connection with others and the universe. Thrivers have healthy connections and are both independent and interdependent. Thrivers have a sense of pride in their ability to care for themselves. They live in the present moment and understand that emotional pain passes and can be learned from.

Thrivers set healthy boundaries with others and protect themselves from toxic people but are also capable of living with an open mind and heart. Thrivers place their own needs first as they recognize that helping others requires care for themselves first. Thrivers create peace instead of chaos and find joy around them. They use healthy humor and feel a range of positive and negative emotions which helps them feel alive and genuine.

Each of the first two stages takes time move on from and some people feel quite content and happy living life in the second stage. Some people experience great difficulty moving from victim to survivor stages and even become more comfortable staying in the victim role. The victim role offers familiarity. Oftentimes when I meet with survivors of DV who have entered into what seem to be healthy relationships, they describe feeling fear and confusion because they don’t know how to cope with a healthy partner and it feels scary. Survivors have often learned a number of coping skills during the victim stage to get through a violent relationship and learning to be in healthy relationships can require learning or building on a whole new set of skills. Reaching out for support is common for survivors and many of them turn toward family and close friends.

More can be found on these stages in the book: Surviving Domestic Violence: A Guide to Healing Your Soul and Building Your Future by Danielle F. Wozniak, PhD, and Karen Allen, PhD.tree-338211_1280

Inspired by the daily prompt: Survival

Fear-less

Life Without Fear

How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? We all feel fear from time to time. If we’re out hiking and we see a bear it’s likely we’ll have a sense of danger and feel fear. We have an identifiable source of our uncomfortable feeling: the bear. If you were incapable of feeling fear, you might approach her while she’s hunting for food with both her cubs. It’s likely you wouldn’t have a very good outcome in this situation!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALike all emotions, fear has a purpose. It’s job is to protect us from dangerous situations.

People who struggle with trauma-related conditions frequently feel as though they’re living in a constant state of fear. It’s like they are seeing the bear over and over and it feels very real even though the bear is no longer there. This can be where anxiety begins. Fear is something we feel when there is an imminent, identifiable danger. Anxiety is a feeling of tension occurring  when we think about danger. Anxiety is about your thoughts of danger, fear is about a visible source of danger. For trauma survivors, a life without fear may seem like a blessing! Waking up one morning and not feeling any fear may seem like a miracle for some who live with fear on a daily basis. However, some amount of fear can help protect us.

Types of Fears Survivors May Have

  • Fear of sleeping due to nightmares
  • Fear of being judged by service providers
  • Fear of more abuse by a perpetrator
  • Fear of losing close relationships
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Fear of trusting others
  • Fear that your reactions will be unpredictable
  • Fear that life will end early or suddenly
  • Fear that the traumatic event will happen again

Managing Fear

The goal when working with fear is not to become fearless but to fear less. Recovery from trauma is possible if you work actively to make changes. The following are some ways to begin managing your trauma-related fears.

  • Identify triggers
  • Gain awareness of the connection between the trauma and its consequences
  • Use healthy coping skills
  • Build social support
  • Practice spirituality
  • Access community resources (legal, mental health, advocacy, medical, etc.)
  • Maintain a daily routine
  • Recognize positive moments to build optimism
  • Pay attention to your self-talk and use positive language

Positive personal growth is possible following trauma. Some individuals are able to gain a new sense of meaning or purpose in life after a traumatic event. Others share lessons they learned from their difficult experiences and provide valuable education about recovery. Keep in mind that fear is there to protect you. Learning how to manage fear takes time. Survivors are generally resilient and capable of developing skills that can help manage symptoms and possibly prevent long term problems.

 

~Inspired by the daily prompt Fearless Fantasies ~

Stress & Nutrition

healthyWhat is your favorite thing to eat? Is it sweet, crunchy, or chewy? Does it taste better eaten hot or cold? Do you look forward to eating it once a year during special occasions or do you eat it more often? What is it about that particular food that makes it your favorite? Does it have a special meaning for you? Is it a comfort food?

I often meet with people who refer to themselves as “stress eaters,” someone who eats more often and less healthily when they’re under stress. Other people I meet with identify themselves as the opposite, someone who loses their appetite when under stress. Feeling anxious or stressed can affect our relationship with food and we may eat more or less depending on how our bodies respond to that stress. chocolate-chip-cookies

Some foods and the ingredients in them are associated with increased anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, candy, and soda pop. People frequently also consume alcohol or nicotine which can affect mood. Salt is sometimes related to an increase in blood pressure. Anxiety can be associated with heart disease, especially with frequently increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

Being mindful of the food you eat can help manage anxiety. Maintaining a diet with balanced amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fiber, nuts, and proteins can help manage anxiety and boost your mood. These foods contain vitamins and are associated with your brain’s production of dopamine and serotonin which can affect levels of energy and alertness.

Here are a few general tips to help improve your mood and manage nutrition and anxiety:

  • Drink plenty of water, dehydration can affect your mood
  • Use caffeine in moderation, it can make you feel jittery or nervous and can act as a diuretic which may lead to dehydration
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, it can interfere with sleep
  • Find enjoyable ways to be active to manage weight, reduce anxiety, and improve your heart health
  • Get plenty of rest, lack of sleep is associated with stimulating areas of the brain that process emotions and can trigger anxiety
  • Learn ways to relax, if you’re someone who loses your appetite when anxiety sets in it can help to know that appetite usually returns once you’re in a more relaxed state

What do you notice about your relationship with food when you feel anxious?

 Inspired by a prompt from ~Pour Some Sugar on Me~


When I grow up…

When you think back to when you were 10 years old what did you dream of being when you grew up? Did you achieve that dream or did you take another path? How does what you became connect with what you wanted to be as a 10 year old?forkintheroad

When I was 10 years old I discovered music and knew I was going to grow up to be a great musician. I pursued my dream up into college and, based on the feedback I received from others, was a pretty great musician. I practiced diligently and consistently but found I was losing interest as a music major after a couple of years at the college level. I felt disappointed and reluctant to let go of something I had poured so much time and effort into and part of me felt like I was letting go of a part of my identity when I decided to take a break from college and musical performance.

I eventually decided to pursue an interest in studying psychology and returned to college. I immediately loved the class content and found that I thrived on reading, studying, taking tests, and writing papers! Of course, I needed to do something with a psychology degree and decided that I wanted to pursue a path as a counselor, which meant more school. Grad school was grueling but incredibly rewarding and transformative for me. Leaving behind my musician-identity allowed me to discover new talents I never realized I had. I found that letting go was both scary and rewarding. Now, I enjoy helping others explore their own identities and paths.

I think my two paths are connected with a desire for creativity. Music allowed me to create new compositions and interpret notes in my own way. Counseling allows me to meet hundreds of different people and help create positive changes as we work toward goals together. Counselors can use different theories and dozens of techniques to help people which provides an ideal environment for creativity. Among many other things, counseling can be a helpful way to explore your identity, interests, strengths, and feelings about facing life’s transitions. I’m happy to be a part of so many people’s lives whose personal journeys have crossed paths with the professional path I chose.

Inspired by a prompt from: Ballerina Fireman Astronaut Movie Star