Why be a Survivor when you can be a Thriver?

Thrivers became the voice in the communities, in our families that stop history from repeating.

After watching Lady Gaga perform Til it Happens to You at the Oscars where she reveals her previously kept secret of being a survivor of sexual assault and seeing so many people follow behind her who called themselves “Survivors” I couldn’t help but think the word doesn’t truly capture how amazing these people truly are. I didn’t see any of them as “Survivors,” but as so much more, that was putting it mildly, each and every one of them are THRIVERS!

It left me thinking and wanting to understand what it really meant to be a “Survivor.” A Survivor is defined as: “To remain alive or in existence. A person who copes well with difficulties in their life. To carry on despite hardships or trauma; persevere: To remain functional or usable.”

I experienced sexual abuse on a date and had repeated experiences of assaults in my late teens. Those experiences back then traumatized me. I felt shame and self-blamed myself for years. It left me feeling helpless turning to food for comfort and support. I remember seeking help and being sent to counseling where I was first informed that I was a “survivor.”

I remember trying it on “I am a survivor” and telling them I didn’t like it. They told me that is what I was. How is it that if someone had something bad happen to them in any other circumstance they don’t go around calling themselves a “survivor,” it was an incident and they moved passed it. It happened, but it doesn’t define who they are as a person.

When someone is sexually violated of their sexuality and robbed of their innocence, their identity changes and they are called a “survivor.”  I never liked it. I felt we were so much more than our circumstances and I didn’t want to be labeled something that didn’t represent who I really was. I didn’t want to feel like the victim any longer and survivor was just a step above.

According to ASCA, “When children are abused they come to believe the messages their abusers deliver, such as: ‘You are worthless’ and ‘You have no value’. Of course, these messages are not true, but children accept and internalize them. These messages become ingrained that, when a child who has been abused or traumatized grows up, the adult survivor will often experience feelings of low self-worth or poor self-confidence. Rebuilding self-esteem is a gradual process, but a crucial one.”

I can see how many may think “Survivor” is a victory, but I believe it is not appropriate, we are all so much more than that. Just moving passed it and moving on makes you a Thriver! You didn’t let your past define you. Having role models like Lady Gaga, Oprah, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe, Queen Latifah, Dr. May Angelou, Vanessa Williams, Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union and dozens of other celebrities that took their challenges and made them lessons for others to learn from grow and thrive.  Thrive is defined as to prosper; be fortunate or successful.  To grow or develop vigorously; flourish: I believe there are no mere survivors, but every one of us are Thrivers!

“If you’re an adult who experienced sexual abuse as a child, know that you are not alone. In the U.S., 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18 and 93% know the perpetrator. Many perpetrators of sexual abuse are in a position of trust or responsible for the child’s care, such as a family member, teacher, clergy member, or coach.” According to RAINN. This doesn’t include the numbers that experience sexual assault as an adult.

Many times the effects of sexual abuse include shame, and self-blame, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-esteem issues, addiction, self- injury and propensity to re-victimization in adulthood.

In Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, “Thrive is structured to fix our broken definition of success.” “Our current definition of success is, as Thrive shows, literally killing us. We need a new way forward… That third metric, she writes in Thrive, includes our well-being, our ability to draw on our intuition and inner wisdom, our sense of wonder, and our capacity for compassion and giving.”

Why be a Survivor when you can be a Thriver?

Thrivers became the voice and role model in the communities, in our families that stop history from repeating itself. They are the hands that lift others to show them the way. They are not defined by what happens to them, they move forward despite adversity. Each one of us can choose to move on, make a difference, help others, be the hope for those that live in silence.

A client of mine who overcame emotional abuse from her ex-husband while working with me, called me one day, years later saying she had cancer and she was going to survive. I remember the conversation like it was yesterday and I said to her, “why just survive through cancer, when you can thrive through it?”  She lite up like a Christmas tree, I felt her energy through the phone. She made it her motto and today is a role model and a light for others to find their way from challenge to victory.

Secrets kill only the person holding them. I spent many years thinking I was the only one that experienced such pain and it made it unbearable. It was only when I learned I was not unique that I was able to stop beating myself up for what a young child doesn’t know and learn to grow through it.

It doesn’t matter what injustice brought you were you are today. What matters is how you use your lessons to help others. You can either be a message or a warning. Be the message and Thrive!