survivor (mental health and trauma)Last updated
Individuals may call themselves “survivor” for several reasons. One person may use it to emphasize their own agency, discussing how their resilience enabled them to live through a difficult period. Another person may use the term to convey how they have healed emotionally over time. A third might use the term to reduce the prominence the perpetrator of abuse or trauma has in their own life story.
But while the term may feel empowering to certain people, others feel that “survivor” places an unspoken expectation to quickly move on from trauma. Healing from trauma is rarely a straightforward experience. A person can seem to recover quickly and forget the bad experience, only to be overwhelmed with memories and anxiety weeks or years later. In interviews or reports, using the terms preferred by the individual in question ensures that your framing aligns with their lived experience.
Survivor is term of empowerment used by some people who have lived through trauma, abuse, or mistreatment. While some individuals may self-identify with this term, others may not. Taking into account the person’s preferred terminology whenever possible aligns your framing with their lived experience.