Admittedly, I am kind of a passive person—I’m generally up and ready for whatever; I’m a uniquely capable person who can handle most situations, as one friend likes to put it—but I’m not what anyone would label weak or permissive. I’m likely the last person people would think of as a victim. A survivor, maybe, if you know a bit about my past. But, even then, I think “victim” isn’t usually a term people would associate with me. Hell, it’s not a term that I’m terribly comfortable with myself.
Which is weird, isn’t it?
Because, yes, I am a survivor.
I have survived domestic abuse, relationship abuse, workplace harassment, street harassment, online harassment, racial profiling, and probably more that I don’t really want to think about right now. I have survived.
Which kind of logically necessitates that, before I became a survivor, I was a victim.
There’s just not really a way for that not to be true.
No matter how tough or resilient or capable I am, I’ve been victimized. By parents, partners, friends, employers, strangers, and authority figures.
And the only reason why I think people, including myself, think of me more as a survivor than a victim is because I never needed help to get out. I was tough or resilient or capable or—hell, let’s be honest—lucky enough to find a way out.
Which sounds really admirable and courageous.
But, looking at it, it’s really just sad.
Because, in truth, I got out without help, not because I never needed help, but because I can’t remember a time where it felt like there was help. Because I, like so many of us, was raised with the idea that “the sad truth is, no one will help you in this world but you.”
Which is a fucked-up notion, isn’t it?
To expect the most courage and action from the person with the least amount of power in an abusive situation? To ask a person who’s being beaten down to rise up and do what the rest of us don’t seem terribly inclined to do? For god’s sake, we require women to risk their careers and security to report harassment. We expect wives to risk their lives to leave abusive husbands. We ask minorities to be able to somehow navigate generations of racial tensions with supposedly trained and often armed authorities. We require children to report on parents who abuse them. All because of this terribly defeatistly pessimistic notion that you can’t expect anyone to help you in this world but you.
You might as well ask why a drowning person can’t just learn to breathe underwater. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond to abuse the way you think I should be able to; I was too busy surviving.
And I suspect it’s worse for those of us who are seen as tough or capable. Because, of course, no one ever thinks we need help. We’re tough. We aren’t victims; we’re survivors. If anyone could breathe underwater, it’d be us.
Made worse by the fact that, if you’ve never been offered help, never received help, never seen what help looks like, how can you be expected to know how to ask for it? To be entirely fair, even when I’ve been offered help, I’ve never known what to do with it. After a lifetime of relying only on myself, it feels uniquely unsafe to rely on others. Because I’ve been taught that it could disappear or even turn on me at any time.
I’ve learned my lessons too well, it would seem.
Like I said, I don’t have any of the answers. I don’t know what should or shouldn’t be done. I don’t know how this all ends.
But I do know that it’s unfortunate that we’ve created a culture that discourages people from seeking help while simultaneously blaming them for not doing so fast or well enough. That expects solutions from people stuck in no-win situations who are just trying to survive. That seems to expect nothing better from abusers (hey, it sucks bad guys exist but that’s just the way of the world, right?), while demanding everything from victims.
I don’t have answers, but I know that that solves nothing.