Why Your Choice of Words Do Matter

“I’m a survivor not a victim”

As a burn survivor one of the things that makes me cringe a little every time I hear someone say it is, ‘Burn Victim.’ Whether they are referring to me or another person, it doesn’t matter, no matter what the context is, I hate the word victim. This is not something that every so often someone dumb says it to me. This is something even my closest and dearest friends have said to me or even refer to me as until I got it tattooed on my skin and explained the difference.

Here is why your choice of words matter so much and why there is a huge difference between calling someone a ‘burn victim’ vs. ‘burn survivor.’

When you look up the definition of ‘victim’ here is what comes up,

“a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.”

Okay, so here is where people are going to tell me that I was injured in an accident therefore I am a ‘victim’ to what happened to me. Right? No, that is where you are wrong! I may have been a victim at one point when I was first injured or during my recovery process but now I have overcome my injury and am not a victim.

The difference is that the word ‘victim’ robs an individual’s ability to fight back and keep going on with their life.

On the other hand, survivor’s definition is,

“a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.”

A survivor displays individual’s resistances and overcomes extreme obstacles and has inner strength.

A survivor has overcome what has happened to them and is moving forward with their life! A victim has not!

I have been through hell and back. I have had more surgeries, treatments and been in more pain then the average person can began to understand. I have been driven to tears because my body can’t do what my mind strives even after I try so hard. I have dealt with frustrations from living a life of never ending surgeries, stares, judgments and rude comments.

In spite of all my frustrations and my obstacles I have been through in my life, I have survived my injury and it does not stop me from doing what I want to do.

At one point the Doctors told my family I had a less than a 2% chance of living and if I did I would most likely be blind and never walk again. Well guess what?! I proved them wrong! Now I not only ride horses but I show and train horses. I love hiking, snowboarding, yoga, traveling and really anything outdoors. I recently graduated from college with a bachelors degree in Animal Science-Equine Management and now I manage a herd of 17 Therapeutic Riding Horses, volunteers and I am a Therapeutic Riding Instructor. I have hiked up, snowboarded down and rock climbed up mountains. I have been sky diving, zip lining through jungles and white water rafting. If you think I can’t do something, I will most likely do everything I can to prove you wrong.

My injury is apart of me and saying it doesn’t affect me would be a lie, it does affect my life. Sometimes more than I would like to admit. But I do not dwell on the past or feel sorry for myself (which neither should you). It is in the past and it should stay there. This is why I don’t always like to talk about it, no I don’t mind it on my terms, but I am not just what happened to me when I was 2. I am so much more than that.

Being a survivor and not a victim is a mindset. One individual person may be in a victim mindset still in their own recovery process but referring to them as a victim diminishes their power to overcome what has happened to them. On the other hand, the word survivor empowers an individual. By empowering an individual and not diminishing someone for something bad that has happened, even if it was their fault, you are recognizing that they have overcome difficult obstacles but they are still with us today! Having that mindset yourself and giving that to others allows that individual to be able to do anything they set their mind to. And that is why your choice in words do matter so much.

I personally have had people not believe in me and test me to the limits because of my injury and scars. I have gone back to school literally the day after surgery, I have had custom riding pants made so that I can do what I love in spite of my scars, repeated grades in school, and I have done everything in my best effort to prove them wrong. That is why “I am a survivor and not a victim.”