A couple of years ago I did TV interview that, unbeknown to me, was edited before airing, and I was introduced as “a victim of domestic violence”.
I had been taking part in an awareness walk which was covered by Channel 7. The reporter asked me for my insights and the reasons I attended the walk. They chose to ignore my angle, which was highlighting the strength and resourcefulness of women who had left abusive relationships, and they went with their own pre-planned agenda, depicting me and countless other women as something we are not. I was pissed off.
I think it’s fair to say that the general perception of a “victim” is that of a helpless, hopeless, unresourced individual at the mercy of circumstance, and is someone to be pitied or felt sorry for.
Well, I’m certainly no victim, and I think it’s important to recognise that labelling human beings who have had a particular experience adds to the challenges of their recovery. And not just the recovery of the individual, but the recovery of the collective consciousness, from this existing paradigm of violence and repression and the level of acceptance that society has of violence against women.
There is absolutely no doubt that anyone who has experienced abuse in any form has been victimised, possibly targeted and deliberately hurt, but particularly in the case of domestic abuse, and for those who have left abusive situations, we are ignoring one incredibly important common trait.
Anyone who has been able to lift themselves out of an abusive relationship, whether it’s their first try or their 20th try, has an extraordinary amount of strength, courage, sheer guts and determination. The neurological, psychological, physical, social and financial barriers facing someone in this position are likely way beyond the comprehension of those who have not been on this soul wrenching journey. Recognition, appreciation and respect need to be given, by the truck load, to the often emotionally ragged humans that keep pushing forward regardless, and this forms a big part of the change that needs to happen around this phenomenon that we currently refer to as domestic violence.
Domestic violence is an experience. It is a transition through many physical, mental and emotional states. It will reshape beliefs and perceptions, it colours your world, it can take you to a place so dark that you question whether light can ever exist again. Abuse can affect the most drastic of harm on a soul, but to label a human being as “victim” or “survivor” or any of those titles that put individuals into a convenient box, eventually turns a lived experience into a personality trait. A human being who’s had an experience becomes defined and assigned. They become the label, and there really is no point in trying to positivise the label, as “survivor” or “thriver”, because the words are yet another label tethering them to the post that is the victim perception.
Human beings are each unique, yet we are all the same. We are individuals yet connected. We are more the same than we are different, and yet we seek to create and enforce our differences and separateness. We have ALL had experiences, but they are not who we are. One third of women in the west have experienced some type of abuse, yet we avoid identifying with them or as one of the them, because of the perception of the "victim" and the shame that goes with it.
We are not our experiences
I want you to understand what labelling can do to an already undermined human spirit. It’s like the bonsai effect. Growth can only occur at a limited rate and to a fraction of potential because of the severe bounds placed in those words, these labels.
This is true not only for those who have experienced abuse, it applies to all human interactions where a label is placed and that label is taken on as a part of personal identity. Think about it. When someone asks you what you do for work, how do you reply? “I’m an admin officer” “I’m an accountant” “I’m a farmer” “I AM ...…” You may be in danger of being assigned certain personality traits and judgements according to someone else’s perception of your profession. But it’s what you do, not who you are. YOU are separate from your day job, and infinitely more complex and interesting than merely your activity as an accountant or a barista are you not? But we are conditioned to categorise and label.
And what about labels like depressed, disabled, unemployed, homeless? What are your perceptions of these unique humans? Nobody likes to think of themselves as being judgemental, but I ask you to scratch your own surface and look at your generalised beliefs and unconscious categorisations.
Our experiences ought to be a catalyst for exponential growth, for expansion, for us to fulfil a potential that may not have existed had we not had that particular experience. The ultimate is to transform what we previously saw as a “bad” experience into a force for good, for change, for awareness. Would that be possible if that victim label is taken on and embedded as a permanent personality trait? Probably not.
Perception is everything
How you perceive those around you and what you think you know about them, dictates how you behave toward them. It also creates energy that is strongly felt and transferred. Your perceptions colour your world. We are connected, we know this. Being aware and present to our beliefs and perceptions, the stories that we run about ourselves and others, takes effort, but brings massive reward in the beautiful and deep sense of connection, empathy and compassion that is born from making that effort.
We are all simply human beings, being and doing our utmost with the resources we currently have.
When you meet someone who has made it out the other side of abuse, and you learn about some of her story DO NOT say “wow, you are so brave” “That must have been terrible” “You’re a survivor”. YOU are different. BE different. You can say it like it is, bold and loud “LADY, YOU ARE A FUQING LEGEND!”, because your beliefs about her experience and your expression of those beliefs and perceptions are AS important to her recovery and growth as her own.
I have the privilege of serving and creating a vision for healing trauma on Yuggera Lands. I give deep gratitude and offer respect to the local Elders of the community of which I am proud to be a part. I honour their generosity, wisdom and leadership. May we all learn and integrate the ancient knowledge available through human connection.