After surviving a traumatic event or experience, it can be incredibly difficult to change how you see yourself. It can become all consuming: Why did this happen? Why did this person do this to me? Why can’t I get over it? Why? Why? Why?

It’s true that part of your persona is now “victim of _____ (name your tragedy here)”. As you recover, you may approach your daily life as a mother, father, daughter, son, brother, sister, wife, husband, friend, employee, manager, athlete, AND victim. But how do you push that designation victim farther down the list and erase it? And replace it with being a survivor? It takes time and no matter how desperately you want to, you can’t rush the process. Our bodies heal on their own time.

Stages of Trauma Recovery
  • Shock or denial, ashamed if they didn’t suffer enough.
  • Acknowledge the event or experience, and confronting emotions.
  • See themselves for where they have come after the trauma. Feel resilient and less damaged.
  • Thriving and able to see the trauma as a meaningful experience, maybe moving towards advocacy, education, or support roles.
Steps You Can Take
  • Take ownership of the parts you can.
    • If you were the victim of a crime or assault, for example, what happened to you isn’t your fault. You don’t own that. Be grateful you are here. Be grateful you did what you needed to survive.
    • Speak to yourself like you would a friend. Our inner dialogues can be our greatest enemy when it gets in the cycle of blaming us: For not doing more, for not fighting harder, for not seeing the signs sooner, for wearing the wrong thing, for saying the wrong thing. Next time you hear that voice, ask yourself if you’d speak to your best friend like that if he or she were going through this? Or would your family and friends speak to you like this – telling you it’s your fault? How would you talk to a friend going through this? What is your family saying to you?
    • Remember that your inner thoughts/beliefs/emotions create your external reality. If you choose to feel abandoned, hurt, lonely, hopeless, you can make that a reality.
  • Look for ways to choose to give to others.
    • When you focus only on yourself, your feelings, and not outside of your own experiences (even if you are only reliving the trauma), it can be hard to move out of being a victim.
    • Giving to others provides a new perspective—you may see the pain and suffering of others, you can see where YOU make a difference (and matter), you stop thinking of yourself and put your energy into others.
    • You can break the addiction to feeling bad about your life and experiences. You turn that around to accepting that you are doing the best you can (like everyone else) and can choose positivity.
  • Start living the positivity you tell yourself.
    • Choose beliefs which empower you—in what you can do, in how you can react to situations, in how you take ownership of your thoughts and actions, in how you see yourself. Believe you deserve happiness and healing. You deserve to be more than what happened to you.
    • Accept happiness. Often survivors of trauma become comfortable in sadness. You may have to remind yourself to be happy, allow yourself to be happy, to accept happiness in your life, even in small instances.
    • Share your experience with others. You don’t have to stay in the trauma to share your experience. When you are ready, you can write your story with the purpose of helping others.

As someone who moved through this process without actually realizing it, looking at the stages of recovery from the outside is fascinating. At every stage of my recovery, I was simply doing what I felt I had to do. I didn’t have a map, but I’m pleased to see that I was moving myself in the right direction. In my case, anger was my underlying emotion, the thing that got me moving towards survivorship and advocacy. I WAS a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing. I AM a survivor. What about you?