What is the difference between the terms ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’? 

~ One feels very yucky, scary, dank and unfair. It leaves us in a weak, ineffective place of powerlessness. Other feelings that may arise from it include hopelessness, unworthiness, despair, anger, hatred.

~The other feels more uplifting, bold and inspiring. It can lead to a place of recognizing personal power, accomplishment and overcoming. Pride, self-assurance, resilience and strength, can come from embracing this term.

How can both be potential take aways from the same event or situation? What’s really the difference? 


Our feelings and behaviors are a direct result of our thoughts. We tell ourselves how to feel according to what we believe or focus on. When we’re wrapped up in the story of our negative experiences and focus upon how awful and unfair they were, and on the idea that we’ll never get over it, we set ourselves up for sadness, bitterness, lack of trust.

I am speaking from experience. In my early adulthood I had the world pulled out from under me when my 4-year boyfriend ended our relationship with a flat, no-nonsense affect and no explanation. My anticipated future was suddenly an illusion. It rocked me to my core and it took a long time to navigate my grief. But I realized only many, many years later, that I had never resolved my experience fully…never allowed myself to ‘get over’ it. 

I had maintained the role, the mindset of victim…seeing what he did as so wrong and damaging that I couldn’t trust, and it affected my ability to connect with future partners. I realized that because of what I told myself, I kept myself in the victim role and everything I felt confirmed how horrible it had been. That’s some strong circular reasoning there. 

I also lost out on my connection with the positive…my memories and understanding, with the good side of love that I did experience. I managed to ‘forget’ all of the amazing things that were part of that relationship, the wonderful things I learned about love and loving. All of that was negated the moment he said good-bye. I lost the ability to recall the good stuff, because I focused on being, feeling the victim.

But I was reacting to what I felt was done TO me, and in a way that I, and my whole family, saw as very inappropriate and unacceptable. To shift my mindset would require me to validate what he did and how, or say that it wasn’t important, right? No!

We do not have to condone behavior in order to let it go. We can choose to acknowledge what happened, that it wasn’t appreciated or appropriate or acceptable, but then decide to adopt helpful, hopeful, self-loving beliefs about it. We can say it was unfortunate AND that we can grow from it, or realize something about ourselves, or just that even though it happened, we’re ok now and are stronger for it. We can even acknowledge that others make mistakes and they don’t have to mean anything about us. 

We can certainly allow ourselves to feel sad, disappointed, angry, hurt, confused, unheard, etc. in the moment. It’s important to validate our feelings, and to use them as indicators of what’s going on for us. It’s the holding onto them indefinitely that causes problems for us.

We can choose to tell ourselves we’re amazing and strong and resilient and that it’s ok to let it go. We can see ourselves as survivors rather than victims and grow from these experiences.

Debilitating beliefs: 

~There’s something wrong with me.

~It’s my fault.

~I can’t trust anyone, including myself.

~Life is unpredictable so I should just retreat and stay safe.

~This will happen again so I can’t put myself out there.

~I’m damaged and no one will want me.

Empowering beliefs: 

~Look what I got through!

~I’m strong and resilient

~I’m so much stronger than I thought.

~I don’t know others’ stories but I can choose to change my own.

~No matter what, I’m me and ok.

~I can let go of this.

I am in no way trying to minimize trauma of any kind, and if you’re feeling stuck in a trauma response it may be a good idea to work with a trauma therapist or coach. There is much we can do, however, by looking at the messages we tell ourselves and being open to shifting them, to letting go of the way we’ve been seeing it, re-experiencing it, holding onto it.

There are many things in life and our experiences that we have no control over. We ALWAYS have control over what we think and how we will respond. This isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s very powerful and the only way to shift from the victim to survivor mindset.

Which mindset do you choose?

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