On the dichotomizing and reductionist problem with the discourse of “Victim-to-Survivor”

Ok so here I am attempting a first blog post after reading a brief blog posting this week entitled “‘Hurry up and heal’: pain productivity and the inadequacy of ‘victim-vs-survivor’ which expresses exactly something I’ve been attempting to formulate for a long while now…and then reading some follow-up links speaking to the same topic…I wanted to start out with just pulling from those parts I love and gathering them here.  If some of my own expression can come out in addition, all the better.  If not, then…well, I’ve broken the seal and it’s a start.  I’ll be writing in this color for now (In case L wants to chime in with a different color to distinguish her posts) and I’ll attempt to gather up my thoughts by noting down, even if just for my own centralizing purposes, links to related topics/articles for further unpacking or connecting at some future time.

-E, Saturday morning 12.13.2014

In “‘Hurry up and heal’: pain productivity and the inadequacy of ‘victim-vs-survivor’ Dana Bolger writes:

In elevating those who “move forward,” the victim/survivor dichotomy implicitly condemns those who do not, reaffirming myths about what constitutes a good versus bad survivor, and legitimizing certain forms of survivorship over others. To be a (strong) survivor is to carry that weight — figuratively, and literally. To be a (weak) victim is to crumble, “stay” silent, engage in self-harm.

Compulsory survivorship depoliticizes our understanding of violence and its effects. It places the burden of healing on the individual, while comfortably erasing the systems and structures that make surviving hard, harder for some than for others. You are your own salvation. You are your own barrier to progress.


The idea of the victim-survivor transformation is linear, and directional. You’re a victim until one day, you “speak up,” you report, you go to therapy, and poof! you blossom into a survivor. You “put it all behind you,” and then there’s no turning back.

The cult of compulsory survivorship ignores the cyclic nature of healing. The good days. The bad days. Healing is nonlinear, messy, disruptive, and unpredictable. Trauma is, as others have pointed out, generational and historical. We carry trauma in our bones.

I don’t believe the afterward of violence ever really ends. We get better until we don’t.


Who benefits from believing in the “fixable”? Who benefits from insisting that trauma and its effects have ended, from tying up pain with a pretty little bow?

THIS is exactly the type of relevant question to be asking.  To cut through the distraction of conversation about intention and that bullshit we have to look at Power and what it is in SERVICE of.

Our society is invested in the idea that we will return to “normal.” That there is an impending date at which we will be as we were, when the ‘after’ will look like the ‘before,’ when everybody can finally have some peace and quiet. Perhaps for some that day will come. Perhaps it won’t.

We want to believe violence’s impacts are finite. We want to believe that healing is constant and progressive. Perhaps deep down we know this is not true. We cling to it for our own comfort. We insist victims perform resiliency for our own peace of mind.

The relentless imperative to “hurry up and heal” is an appeal to smooth over your rough edges and Move On. Get back to being a productive member of society. We hear it everywhere from our homes to our college campuses to the streets of our burning citiesI urge you to set aside your pain and engage in productive steps forward. Performing our survivorship benefits the privileged (who seek to remain comfortable in their ignorance) and the powerful (who are deeply invested in managing the anger of the marginalized). The compulsory transformation from victim (unproductive) to survivor (productive) serves an imperialist capitalist state.

THIS!  God I really really need some way to keep connected to these larger links otherwise I fall into this inability to validate and affirm my beliefs and outrage over my own experiences because they seem so insular and irrelevant and not connected to these larger contexts in which they ARE in fact operating!!

Our history books paint the U.S. occupation of this country as over and done, a concluded (if tragic) chapter from a colonial past. If the trauma is over, then we can move on and forget. If the trauma is done, we can in good conscience stop carrying that weight.


I don’t know what to call myself these days. Victim/survivor feels inadequate. I want new language. I want new structures and systems and institutions that affirm and support vulnerability, instability, and anger.


On the problematic discourse around Victim-to-Surivor, Emi Koyama writes:

Many people prefer the word “survivor” to “victim” because “survivor” feels strong and proactive. I understand that, as that is precisely how I felt for a long time also, but I am starting to think that we need to honor and embrace weakness, vulnerability, and passivity as well, or else we end up blaming and invalidating victims (including myself) who do not feel strong some or most of the times.

YES!  This takes me back to Disability Theology and another essay I have yet to write, but was in process with writing…needing to lay down some language to REFRAME this shit and break out of this reductionist dichotomy by which I keep finding myself bound and defending against my own feelings of being pathologically weak and vulnerable and shitty at the same time that some other part of me is intentionally attempting to embrace and surrender to that.

The society views victimhood as something that must be overcome. When we are victimized, we are (sometimes) afforded a small allowance of time, space, and resources in order to recover–limited and conditional exemptions from normal societal expectations and responsibilities–and are given a different set of expectations and responsibilities that we must live up to (mainly focused around getting help, taking care of ourselves, and recovering). “Healing” is not optional, but is a mandatory process by which a “victim” is transformed into a “survivor”; the failure to successfully complete this transformation results in victim-blaming and sanctions.

YES, THIS.  On whose time scale and who determines how deserving one is of “victimhood” and care before the attitude towards an injured person is turned around.  This is the same old trap I stumbled on when I was exploring the word “abject” a few weeks ago – one definition seems to express something worthy of compassion and care –

“1.utterly hopeless, miserable, humiliating, or wretched”

while another is

“2. contemptible; despicable; base-spirited” suggested the very opposite.  What fucked up splitting is going on here.  It’s the same thing going on with “Respectability Politics,” I think.  It’s the same thing that’s always gone on with splitting something into the “good deserving version” and the “bad, undeserving” rather than recognizing the CONDITION and understanding the CONTEXT.

This is the so-called “victim role,” an extension of sociologist Talcott Parsons’ theory of “sick role.” The society needs victims to quickly transition out of victimhood into survivorship so that we can return to our previous positions in the heteronormative and capitalist social and economic arrangements. That, I believe, is the source of this immense pressure to become survivors rather than victims, a cultural attitude that even many feminist groups have internalized.

…More than feminist groups.  This brings me back to discourse from Disability Theology which I’d so love to draw upon…#TBC

“Hence, victimhood is construed as static and uncomfortable. Being a victim means that the abuser has won, and the victim is left without any “power” and is “stuck” where she or he is. The only hope for the victim is not a revolution, or community accountability and care, but “a change in mentality.” I find this rhetoric overly apolitical, individualistic, and victim-blaming.”


#Sandra Bloom on “The Black Hole of Trauma”

I argue that feminist anti-violence movements and communities must embrace unproductive whining and complaining as legitimate means of survival in a world that cannot be made just by simply changing our individual mentalities. We must acknowledge that weakness, vulnerability, and passivity are every bit as creative and resilient as strength and activeness. And I think we can start that by reclaiming “victim” and “victimhood” and resisting the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse of the trauma recovery industry that imposes compulsory hopefulness and optimism in the service of neoliberal capitalist production.

Reclaiming “victim”: Exploring alternatives to the heteronormative “victim to survivor” discourse

Ok so onto a blog post I take issue with and want to react/respond to on this topic:

From http://akhilak.com/blog/2012/13/why-words-matter-victim-v-survivor/

The author writes:

“I am of a firm belief that we should use the term ‘survivor’ and not ‘victim.’  ‘Victim implies passivity, acceptance of one’s circumstances, and a casualty.  The word ‘victim’ robs individuals of their agency and their ability to fight back.’


The word does no such thing. 

The act of over-powering, the act of violence did that.

We need be careful to properly locate and identify the source of action and choice.

To lay a claim of agency upon a condition in which there ISN’T agency of choice is an act of epistemic violence;

made even more destructive, unfortunately, by the willing blindness of the well-intentioned person seeking to ’empower’ an injured person by bestowing such a name/label.