I was reading this post about how labeling hurts us, and while it’s not specifically about abuse survivors, I think it is very applicable. One of the scariest things about telling people about our past, and about sharing our stories is labeling. Except that’s not how we communicate it, exactly. Instead we talk a lot about not being believed, of course, but secondarily we talk about what people will think of us. That their opinion and view of us, as a person will change, and not in a good way.
Why is that? Well, one, you are, by sharing your story, adding information they didn’t have before, so some adjustment in how they view you is pretty normal. It’s the sign of solid education to be able to take in new information and adjust our thoughts and opinions. So why do we have so much fear around it? I think Joan’s description in the post is what we really fear:
Why is labeling someone harmful? Because when we do it, we reduce another person’s identity to a characteristic they may only display during a small slice of time. We reduce them to a one dimensional trait. It’s demeaning. And can be humiliating and frustrating to the person who has been labelled.
The thing I suspect many people worry about, and something that makes me crazy to be honest, is when people see “abuse victim”, or especially “sexual abuse victim”, and their brain immediately takes the shortcut to everything society says about that label. Being a survivor of childhood abuse is not “one” thing, but having your identity boiled down to that “one” thing, is dehumanizing. This is especially true when the stereotypes that we believe about survivors, don’t match who we really are!
Sadly, I think these labels about survivors are also believed by too many survivors themselves. Unfortunately, for many reasons, we seem to commonly assume that if someone is a survivor of abuse they are weak, broken, full of shame, self-loathing, etc. Or maybe you think of something else? Maybe you think of all survivors as strong because you know one who comes across as brave enough to share their story, but does that one action really define them? Sure, that one action is a sign of strength, in that one moment. But what about all of their other days? That survivor who seems scared and weak, maybe they were that day, as they struggled with healing and shame, but what about all of the other days?
Survivors are a lot of things, and we’re all different. Leave the labels at home and look at the individual.