What It Means to Be a Survivor

Written by on April 20, 2021 in Perseverance, Self-Determination

What it Means to be a Survivor
Anyone who has ever experienced a traumatic event or prolonged period of disruption and uncertainty will have his or her own ideas about what it means to be a survivor.

Our trusty online dictionary defines a survivor as one who copes and gets through a bad situation or affliction.

I prefer the description provided by the National Crime Victim Law Institute.

A survivor is a person who endures adversity, moves through it, and perseveres; a person with resiliency who remains undefeated.

Survivors Are All Around Us

The term survivor is often attached to those who have fought cancer or lived through some form of abuse or physical assault.

But it’s important to acknowledge the broad range of adverse situations and suffering that people all around us experience in their lives.

Those who have overcome catastrophic injuries, life-threatening illness, or the sudden loss of a loved one, particularly as a result of violence or suicide, surely qualify as survivors.

Many others have survived emotional abuse, divorce, extreme poverty, homelessness, and blatant discrimination.

I believe there are members of the black and LGBT communities who might say that surviving is what they do every single day.

And we must not overlook those among us whose lives have been turned upside down over the last year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some will be quick to argue that certain experiences are far more destructive than others.

But assigning a degree of severity serves no worthwhile purpose.

Regardless of the nature of our individual experiences, the wounds and pain we feel are real and each story of the hard-fought journey to recovery matters.

There is No Single Path to Recovery

We are unique in our experiences, attitudes, and the resources we have access to, so it makes sense that the process of recovery for each of us will vary.

The journey to recovery is rarely easy or straightforward.

There may be alternating periods of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and guilt before eventual acceptance.

The intensity and sequence of these stages will vary depending on factors such as the individual’s personality, self-awareness, and level of resilience.

Some survivors seem outwardly normal, appearing to be holding up well despite the burdens they carry, while others become mired in feelings of hopelessness, unable to function or move forward.

Inevitably there will be well-meaning others who fall back on that familiar old cliche, “Time heals all wounds.”

Well, sometimes it doesn’t.

Time can remove us from the immediacy of a traumatic event or loss so that we can begin to function again.

But distancing ourselves from the event has a way of becoming a curious dance, one step forward and two steps back, hopeful one day, damaged and wounded the next.

It’s like walking through a minefield.

You never know when something will trigger a memory and set off your emotions.

So, what’s the key to becoming a survivor?

It begins by accepting that the journey will be a process fueled by your willingness to make the effort.

Ditch the notion of “bouncing back” to a place of comfortable familiarity and instead focus on growing through your experiences.

Have faith that as long as you believe in yourself and keep moving, you will find your way.

What It Means to Be a Survivor

Becoming a survivor changes you in ways that are not always visible, and that you may not even recognize until much later.

It means …

  • Discovering that you are not alone.
  • Living without fear, shame, or guilt.
  • Being able to sleep peacefully at night.
  • Feeling a new sense of meaning and purpose.
  • Understanding it’s okay to admit it when you’re not okay.
  • Accepting and valuing the beauty of your perfectly imperfect self.
  • Making peace with not having all the answers.
  • Developing coping skills that you can count on.
  • Learning the importance of loving and respecting yourself.
  • A new sense of confidence and willingness to challenge yourself.
  • Recognizing, maybe for the first time, that you have the power within you to create the quality and course of your journey.

There is also a greater sense of understanding and compassion for others who are going through similar experiences.

Many turn to telling their own stories as a way to help others, to offer proof and assurance that difficulty won’t break us; that it is not only possible to endure and survive adversity, but to grow stronger and thrive as a result of the experience.

The power of sharing your story, honestly and from your heart, provides a way to understand, respect, and make meaning of the trauma or loss.

One day, your story may turn out to be someone else’s survival guide.

The Takeaway

No matter how hard we may try to deny, outrun, or sidestep them, unexpected challenges of all shapes and sizes are inevitable in life.

One need only follow news coverage of the rich and famous for proof that even great wealth cannot shield us from adversity.

The key to growing through life’s inevitable moments of difficulty is to be willing to face the challenges head-on, knowing that if you just keep going, you will find a way and you will be okay.

This is what it means to be a survivor.

Will you be the passenger or driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach, and founder of Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies, and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living Start Here.

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