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Survivor or Victim

Some time ago, I heard a story about the man who, while crossing the street was suddenly struck by a speeding drunk driver. Fortunately, the man was not killed. However, he was severely injured. It was assumed that the man would lose the ability to be able to walk again. The man had a wife and two daughters. While the man was weeping in his bed, he envisioned all that he would lose in his life from this loss – the ability to play sports the way he did before, the ability to walk his daughter down the aisle, the ability to work as he had previously and a host of other thoughts. After hours, days, and weeks of crying, he came to himself and realized that he was not responsible for what happened to him but he was responsible for engaging in the healing and recovery process. His healing was up to him. He would have to schedule his physical therapy appointments. He would have to arrange for someone to transport him to and from the doctor. He would be responsible for organizing his life to make it back to his best possible state. While he had a great support system, his healing was his responsibility. He became a survivor, someone who functions and even prospers in spite of hardship, difficulty or suffering and chooses not to be a victim; someone who remains helpless and hopeless in their situation. This begs the question. When tough times hit, what mindset do you take on – one of a survivor or a victim? How do you know if you are a victim or a survivor? See the following lists:

9 Signs You Are A Victim

1. You complain rather than take action to improve your situation. 2. You discuss the same issues over and over, month after month, and sometimes year after year. 3. You receive solutions but always seem to find them unworkable or inapplicable to your circumstance. 4. You wait for a “superman” to rescue you. 5. You avoid taking responsibility for your actions. You look for people or circumstances to blame for your current condition. 6. You are a parasite. You take but don’t give. You’re more of a liability than an asset because of your selfish perspective. 7. You refuse to take care of yourself so that someone will take care of you. 8. You are constantly in “trouble” because you catastrophize situations. 9. You drain the people around you with your unwillingness to deal with your situations head on.

9 Signs You Are A Survivor

1. You engage in behaviors to move you in the direction of improving your situation and restoring your sense of hope. 2. You are willing to fight the fear of change and instead make sacrifices to position yourself to grow. 3. You are patient because you understand that delayed gratification is a tool on your journey to reach your goal. 4. You fight your fears on a daily basis. 5. You make plans based on reality, not a fantasy world. 6. You embrace your circumstances instead of running from them. 7. You use all the resources at your disposal to bring about positive change. 8. You seek skilled help when you get stuck instead of spinning your wheels. 9. You stay prudent instead of being impulsive and reacting solely off emotion.


As I write this section, I can’t help but think that your upbringing and/or family of origin is primarily where you learn how to be a victim or a survivor. You are supposed to learn who you are and have your authentic self fortified. Unfortunately, many people do not know this experience. In fact, most people are conditioned to disconnect from their authentic selves and live out the lives of other people and in the process develop a shame-based identity. To define shame, it is a feeling of being broken, shoddy and unfit for connection with and love from others. Shame says, “If you knew the truth about me, you would no longer love me.” Sadly, the feeling of shame has become a public health issue as it is correlated with depression, anxiety disorders, and addictions – to name a few.

Families that produce shame generally have these commandments or behaviors:

-Never ask for help because people who ask for help are weak.

-Don’t rock the boat as long as our image looks good. It’s about perception, not reality. This encourages secrets and secrets make us sick.

-Don’t trust anyone because they will exploit your weakness and hurt you. Reminder: We are to set standards for the people in our lives. See Chapter 33’s section on Safe People.

-Don’t question your parents no matter what they do. You owe them your loyalty because they always know what’s best.

-Find a “black sheep” to blame for all our problems because if we acknowledge our own mistakes, it will make us feel defective.

We all have at one point or another experienced shame. The good news is that now we have an idea of why we may feel the way we feel, we can take steps to heal and grow into the persons that we were meant to be. Shame arises out of beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It requires that we buy into the belief that we are alone. When we get to the root of the beliefs behind our shame, we can start to question them using our logic and reason. Once we start questioning them, we might realize that we don't actually agree with them and, from there, we can deconstruct them.

One of the ways you can know if you’re in shame is if you hear tapes playing in your head that say, "you’re not good enough" and/or "who do you think you are?” Without disclosing the names of individuals, here are some specific messages that I have had others share:

- You failed the CPA exam 5x. You’re not really smart. You just got lucky.

- Who are you to write a book? You didn’t go to school for this.”

- You had a baby out of wedlock. You can never have a better life.

- Your child is in prison. You must not be a good parent.

- You’ve been used and abused. No one will want you.

- Why are you going back to school now? Will you even be able to keep up? All you did before was fail. What’s going to change?

- You dropped out of school. You’re not educated. No one cares about your opinion.

- Now that you’re married, why can’t you have a baby? What’s wrong with you?

- You had an abortion. This mistake can never be erased. This will haunt you.

- You are not married yet. Something must be wrong with you.

- You can’t have a child. You feel defective and worthless.

- Why are you crying? Real men don’t cry.

- Why are you still unemployed? You should’ve finished college.

- You’re a felon/ex-con. No one will hire you.

I know these are difficult messages to read, but they are real, and we can’t heal unless we bring these things into the light and deal with them. Unfortunately, these messages are planted into our minds and hearts from our upbringing, our families, friends, and our culture. This perpetuates a continuous sense of inadequacy instead of bringing about hope for redemption and encouragement to learn from our pain. Some people spend their whole lives overcoming the negative messages from their past. So the questions become, what makes shame stronger and more powerful and what weakens and eradicates it?

Shame is strengthened by three things:

1) Secrets - Shame is tough, but it is nothing in comparison to knowing that you are almost required to keep your mouth shut about something. We are as sick as the secrets we keep. Finding a safe place to help you unload your burdens can help you tremendously – maybe a support group, a church meeting that focuses on your particular struggle, or a trusted and competent counselor/coach. The prior chapter shares a powerful lesson on how to evaluate safe people to speak to. Also, Chapter 37 will include pointers on choosing a counselor.

2) Elephants in the room – When tough issues like the scenarios mentioned above are not put on the table to be discussed, their power to disrupt your emotional and psychological state grows. It also destroys the ability to have true intimacy and community and sometimes leads to worse things, like medicating your pain with substances like food, alcohol, drugs, overspending, acting out sexually, and being around unsafe and/or unhealthy environments or other things.

3) Judgment or condemnation – Attacking other people gives some people a false sense of superiority. It’s easier to hurt others than to identify with them. Because once you identify with someone, you place both parties on level ground and some people always want to have a sense of superiority which many times is rooted in insecurity. (If you are insecure, see Chapter 13 on how to begin to have a healthy self-regard.) Many people judge in the name of, “I’m just telling the truth.” Word to the wise: Truth can be used as a sword or a scalpel: A scalpel is a medical device that cuts for the purpose of healing. A sword is used to bring harm. Be mindful of your intent and the effect of the truth as you relay a message to someone. Ask yourself these questions as you THINK:

a. Is it true?

b. Is it helpful?

c. Is it inspiring?

d. Is it necessary?

e. Is it kind?

I am personally learning every day the degree to which people were not affirmed, myself included. As a result, I am learning to develop the habit of being encouraging and speaking life, especially when providing constructive feedback. This will help others overcome self-doubt and believe they are enough.

Shame can be removed using:

1) Compassion and empathy. Compassion is the ability to have concern for the suffering of other people. Empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Advice: The next time you see some type of abuse of a human being, take it personally. The way to truly create a safe and healthy community that fights shame is for everyone in that community to not tolerate it.

2) An awareness of your shame triggers. A trigger is something that sets you off emotionally. Everyone has a different set of triggers. Many times, your shame triggers come from your childhood or maybe some difficult or traumatic experience you had in the past. For me, it’s in the area of academics. I didn’t feel smart as a kid because of bad messaging from well-intentioned but unwise people who called me derogatory names thinking they would motivate me to do better in school. Words do hurt, and they can affect the course of someone’s life. The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18:21, NIV) I walked around feeling dumb and destined to fail in school and ultimately in life. It took a lot of prayer, work in counseling and self-awareness to realize this was not the case, but now I have identified the triggers and work to stay confident in my abilities and be honest about my weaknesses. I had to have compassion for myself and give myself room to be imperfect. We all have areas where we feel shame. Much of the work is figuring out your triggers and being prepared to fight against them so you can move through life without letting shame paralyze you. Common shame triggers show up in the areas of body image or physical appearance, abuse, financial status, intelligence, particularly when it comes to getting a degree or certification, parenting, past sexual relationships, and criminal past, to name a few. You may be able to add to this list. The point is that these issues may affect your life, but they should not and do not affect your self-worth. That’s where the work needs to be done. Get aware. Get honest. Get healed and walk in freedom. Easier said than done, I know, but you have to get started to get to emotional freedom. Find a place that’s safe like a counselor’s office or a support group and get to work in dealing with your shame by affirming your value apart from any accomplishment, position, possession, appearance, title or skill and get perspective on what you are here to do. I pray that God gives you courage in dealing with these issues in getting your life back from shame.

3) An awareness of the shame messages of the culture you’re in and pushing back on them. This helps us know when to take responsibility and also when to oppose the views of the culture that perpetuate shame. This awareness includes three things:

a. Investigating why certain messages exist.

b. Determining how these messages impact the community.

c. Determining who gains from the messages.

Once we’ve done this work, we can boldly proclaim that we are not broken or defective. We are enough, and out of the sense of being enough, we can live more full, impactful, and wholehearted lives.

A word to anyone who works with people in any capacity:

Guilt and shame are two tools that can be used in working with people. Guilt says you did something bad. Shame says you are bad. Guilt focuses on behavior. Shame focuses on the person. Shame is a dangerous tool to use to change behavior. It often causes more harm than good and perpetuates a negative culture that emotionally abuses to achieve progress. Results may be achieved in the short term, but over time, it has damaging effects on a person’s soul and ultimately their community. Guilt, however, affirms the dignity of the person while correcting mistakes or bad behavior. Remember to focus on guilt and not shame.

Here’s a quote to end this section: Be kind because everyone is in a fight that you know nothing about.

Examine the list on the previous page. Take some time and list the negative messaging from your culture and family. Use Chapter 7 on differentiation to help you in breaking down the different areas of beliefs:

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