On Labels

I read this post over at Blooming Lotus the other day, and something just didn’t sit right with me about it. I decided to bookmark it and go back later, so that I could spend some time really thinking about it. Today, as I re-read it, this part still stuck with me in some odd way:

A couple of years ago, a friend called me on my “dependence” upon the label of child abuse survivor. She told me that, although I had been abused as a child, a child abuse survivor did not define who I am. By choosing to identify myself with this label, I was boxing myself in and limiting the potential of who I could be.

If I identify myself a child abuse survivor, then I set limits on my own potential. The human spirit has no limits, so why do I want to limit myself? She pointed out that I was forcing myself to live in a closet while I had mansion at my disposal. Only I could choose to step out of the closet and claim what is rightfully mine – A fulfilling life that is not limited by anything.

I’m still not exactly sure what it is about this that bothers me, but I think it has something to do with the idea that being labeled as a child abuse survivor is the one and only label you can have. Of course, it doesn’t define who I am, but it does define part of who I am. Just like being a husband isn’t ALL that I am, or being a blogger, or working at a law firm. None of those things captures all of what I am, but they are all absolutely part of who I am. The idea that I can’t live up to my potential while also acknowledging that I am a survivor seems wrong to me. Of course I am a survivor, and I’m so much more than that. This is why I have the potential to enjoy a fulfilling life, not because I’ve turned my back on being a survivor, and calling myself one, but because surviving the abuse is only part of who I am.

In fact, it’s a part that connects me to others in the survivor community, and allows me to write about the things I write here. It’s a part that bring about it’s own areas of potential, and areas of triumph.

One of the things that I really tried to stress in the early days of this blog, was that there were a number of folks out there writing about surviving child abuse, or living with depression or other health issues, that were also living their lives, enjoying hobbies, working, etc. I wanted to give people a sense that we’re just like everyone else, we are just as capable of doing meaningful things with our lives, and sharing that online. We just so happen to also be survivors. It’s part of us, and if anything we should be proud of what we’ve had to overcome in order to do the things we are doing as adults now. If you aren’t willing to identify yourself as a survivor, how are the folks just starting down a healing journey going to realize that it can be done? Where are they going to turn to find examples of people who have done, and are doing, what they aim to do? They need to see survivors finding happiness and fulfillment, who can show them how to be a survivor, while being so much more than just a survivor.

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  1. Hi!

    I found your insights into my blog entry interesting. I think that we agree much more than we disagree on this issue. :0)

    I have written a response to your topic over on my blog (http://faithallen.wordpress.com/), which will publish on Monday, 3/30. I have included a link back over to your blog. so hopefully I will drive some traffic your way. :0)

    Take care,

    – Faith (Blooming Lotus)

    1. Faith, I too think there is much we agree on. When I read later on in your post where you are trying to find a balance and stay connected to the survivor community, I think you and I are on the same page, in terms of being a survivor, but not ONLY a survivor. My post was really just a gut-level response to your friend’s comments about not being labeled. I look forward to reading your follow up next week!

  2. I feel that being an abused child has been a metamorphosis in the following order: 1) something I tried to hide 2) something I identified with and leaned on as an excuse for not having my life together 3) something I was trying to heal from and grow beyond 4) something I used to connect to others in the abuse survivor community which validated my feelings and experiences and really furthered my growth 5) something I finally dealt with a healed from so that I am no longer triggered or act from the abused child perspective 6) something I tried to run from once healed so that I could be “normal” 7) something I realized is/and always will be a part of me but does not wholly define me 8) something that gives me a unique perspective and understanding so that I can assist others along the healing path.

    In addition to all of that I have to say that I love my life and I love myself. This is a statement I could not imagine making a few months ago. However, I fully realize that EVERY experience I have had has brought me to the person I am today. While I would not voluntarily choose child abuse as my path to healing and growing as a person, how can I argue with it has made me who I am. This will be a very unpopular sentiment with many readers yet what I have realized is that because of the path I have walked I feel strong enough to speak my truth. Yes, I wish all forms of war, abuse, murder, etc. could be culled from the planet. The fact is that they cannot. I do not phone my parents up and thank them for the abuse (in fact I do not speak to them) however, it has formed me and I like me. I am a child abuse survivor, I am a wife, stepmom, gourmet cook, writer, blogger, and many other things. They are all a part of who I am and I would not try (at this point) to deny any of them.

  3. I used to hate the term – incest survivor. I did not want any part of it. But to deny the reality of being an incest survivor is to deny my own self and I no longer wish to do that. I have come to realize that I need to accept that self and embrace it as well. Embrace not what was done to me, but embrace who I am. And not run away from who I am. Honor myself, respect myself, and speak out against the shame that is not mine.

  4. Mike and Tamara, you both describe the journey of recovery that I have gone through myself and my feelings about that journey to who I am today.

    I don’t write about my recovery process from incest because I want applause or even recognition, even though it does feel good when people praise the courage that they see in my struggle. Like Mike, I write because when I needed to see that other people knew what I was experiencing, someone was there for me. I believe that it is very important to pass on what we learn to those coming along after us. I don’t want to show others what normal is. Normal, for me, was being abused by my dad and ignored by my mother. I want to show others what healthy is. I mean that physically, emotionally and mindfully. Normal, for me, was going through life silently enduring the pain and sadness. Today, I am not silent. I have taken hold of my own power to change the world.

    Now I am off to read Faith’s article that directed Mike to write his article.

  5. I think that Tamara describes the process in stages that most abuse survivors go through. I have seen many survivors who struggle to move on from the hiding, denial, or victimhood. I think that it is an essential and required stage in healing to overcome.

    Personaly I find my choice to self-identify as a survivor as validating, empowering, and healing. I have lots of self chosen labels. I have had family members accuse me of choosing to be miserable and making myself and my life worse. They disagree with the label and working on healing. Ignoring my past is the most often repeated advice. Many other people have encouraged this, at times, even other survivors of child sexual abuse.

    I agree that balance and finding self-identifying labels that are empowering, varied, and bring us a life of healing and joy are important components for anyone, including survivors.

    Thanks so much Mike for your blog.


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