Trauma

5 Words for Survivors of Trauma

Words of encouragement for survivors of trauma and the importance behind them.

Posted Oct 28, 2019

If you are a survivor of trauma, I am about to tell you five important words that you may not have heard before or that you may not hear enough. Are you ready?

Everton Vila/Unsplash
Supporting survivors of trauma starts with knowing the truth.
Source: Everton Vila/Unsplash

It was not your fault.

As if enduring a traumatic experience is not difficult enough, there is a false belief which exists that survivors of trauma are the ones to blame for their traumatic experience(s). Many survivors acknowledge feeling criticized, condemned, and dismissed by others for having endured trauma. Where survivors deserve to be treated as survivors, all too often, they may oppositely be treated as if they themselves were at fault, almost as if they are the perpetrator of their own trauma.

The psychological phenomenon that is to blame for these false beliefs is called victim-blaming (or what I prefer to call survivor-blaming). That is, “a psychological phenomenon in which individuals or groups attempt to cope with the bad things that have happened to others by assigning blame to the victim of the trauma or tragedy” (APA Dictionary of Psychology, 2007). In other words, in life, we attempt to cope with tragedies that happen by trying to find a way to believe that we can avoid or control them.

It is far easier to believe the illusion that we can control the negative things that happen in our life because the alternative is terrifying—even if we may, in fact, have no control over them at all (e.g., getting laid off, car accidents, robberies, etc.). This illusion of control may make us feel safer in our world but can lead us to misattribute the blame or cause of events that occur (Ettinger, 2018). In this case, instead of blaming the perpetrator(s) who elicited the abuse, the survivor instead may be blamed for their traumatic experience and is often left with an understanding that this wouldn’t have happened if they had done something different.

Victim-blaming can have many negative effects on survivors of trauma. These consequences may be secondary victimization and traumatization for survivors, apprehension to report the traumatic experience, and even hindered recovery for survivors (Fox & Cook, 2011). A common effect is internalized blame and shame, where the survivor begins to believe this misconception that they themselves are the ones at fault. Despite the reality that survivors are not at fault for their experience, victim-blaming is widely accepted because it makes us feel “safer.” Yet, at what cost?

Research has noted that when we equip ourselves with an awareness of victim-blaming and an understanding of the experiences of trauma, we can begin to combat these beliefs (and mitigate the consequences that survivors face) (Fox & Cook, 2011). When we empower ourselves with knowledge and awareness, we may then be able to recognize this falsehood for what it is. Let us together, then, use awareness as our weapon and no longer indict survivors (others or ourselves) on false charges.

For those of you who may have already forgotten those important five words, I will remind you. It was not your fault.

It doesn’t matter:

  • What you wore
  • If you were flirting
  • Whether you tried to run away
  • If you were drinking
  • Where you were when it happened
  • If you told someone
  • Whether you decided to fight back
  • If you did or said something that “made” them mad
  • If they believe/believed you
  • Who you were hanging out with
  • If you didn’t get out of the relationship
  • If you saw the signs/red flags

The list can go on. Regardless, it was not your (the survivor’s) fault. You did not ask to endure your traumatic experience(s). You are a survivor, not the one to blame. Let’s stop the nonsense here.

References

Ettinger, R. H. (2018). Psychology: The science of behavior (6th ed.). Redding, CA: BVT Publishing.

Fox, K. A., & Cook, C. L. (2011). Is Knowledge Power? The Effects of a Victimology Course on Victim Blaming. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 26(17), 3407–3427. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260511403752

Harber, K. D., Podolski, P., & Williams, C. H. (2015). Emotional disclosure and victim blaming. Emotion, 15(5), 603-614. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.proxy.library.oregonstate.edu/10.1037/emo0000056

VandenBos, Gary R. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2007. Print.