Breaking down the fence

Your abuser likes to play victim, while you are truly a survivor.

The SwanWaters team likes to joke sometimes about how abusers seem to use victim as a verb. That is, they are actively portraying themselves as victims, martyrs, long-suffering bearers of all sorts of torture, as a method to continue shaping their outward persona. I personally have yet to talk to any escapee of domestic violence that has not experienced the post-escape label of aggressor.

My own ex-husband, to whom I was married for 25 years and with whom I had two children, set about maligning me and painting me as this demon-possessed, bitter hag he was so glad to be rid of, long before I told anyone what had actually happened to me. Now, nearly 6 years later, he still works very hard to look like the victim of my evil designs. It is actually both entertaining and predictable, as any rational person can look at the facts and conclude where the problem lies. One of my attorneys, who also became a good friend, described him as a “freak show”. Oh…and I divorced him.

It’s the Best Tool Against an Empath

Face it: the top tool the abuser has against us is that we are feeling, empathetic people. We don’t want anyone around us to hurt. We want to nurture. We frequently project our own feelings onto those who have zero capacity to feel what we do. Thus, the abuser learns that the very best way to get a reaction is to play the victim card. Woe is them, because we are so hard to live with… or so crazy… or so selfish. What you learn in your healing process is they are actually projecting onto you what they themselves are doing. While you are still living in the fog, though, you take this type of accusation painfully to heart, as they enjoy once again manipulating you through the one method they know for sure will work.

What If the Abuser is Your Parent?

This dynamic, to me, is even worse. You did not choose your parents. Yet, with an abusive or emotionally unavailable parent, you end up feeling guilty for having been born! You likely receive contact from them that is cloaked as an attempt to “reconcile” and “understand” if you have cut or limited contact, when really that communication is loaded with blame and shame for you. Oh, poor mother/father! They raised you, provided for you, nurtured you, and then you walk away? The reality is that an abusive parent has far more power than an abusive partner because they were the first people who shaped your identity.

Why We Say “Survivor”

Yes, being the target of abuse is being a victim, by definition. You are a victim of a series of crimes, both against the state and humanity. We choose to re-frame that as “survivor”, even when we are still in the abuse, because we are choosing to stand up against it. A victim, as many of us see it, is someone who works the angles of pity and self-service to gain attention. A survivor is someone who owns the experience, but refuses to allow it to define them.

I am a survivor of long-term domestic violence because it is what actually happened, but it does not define me as a person. I am defined by my parenting, my service to others, my heart, my treatment of the world around me, my intellect, my friendships, and all manner of things that go to make up a life. I can be a “victim” of abuse in the literal sense, but it did not build a permanent cage around me such that I cannot choose another path.

Get Down Off the Cross, Man; Someone Needs the Wood

In my own personal narrative while undoing the guilt trips and accusations of ruining his life, I was able to look factually at things that happened. I suppressed my emotions surrounding those events and looked at them as a series of news stories. This helped me to call b.s. on so much of what was being claimed by both him and his flying monkeys. Even now, as we await a hearing because my teenagers have asked to change their last name, I’m being labeled as libelous, contemptuous, “alienating”, and intentionally doing this to cause him “emotional harm”. Those accusations years ago would have sent me spinning. Now, I can just laugh and picture my judge’s reaction: “So, Captain Crazy, let me understand this: you left your children 6 years ago and moved over 1,000 miles away from them; you used less than half your visitation time; you called them a couple of times a week at best; you did not participate in any of their education, religious training, healthcare, or activities; and you lied to them telling them you were trying to move back to their area so you could be with them.  And you want this court to believe that she has alienated you from your children?” It is in these times when you can look at the situation and laugh at their egocentric self-crucifixion.

Bring On the Survivor

There is value in you that you learned to overlook. That value gives you the power to survive and thrive, even when you don’t know it in the moment. Find ways to tap into your inner resources, your humor, your passions, your dreams. It’s like being Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz… you do have the power, you just need to learn how to click your ruby slippers together.

You will survive, and your abuser will be doomed to a life of misery just by virtue of his or her own deluded thinking.

we love to read your comments below

Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

Latest posts by Aubrey Cole (see all)


Leave a Reply

Concerns or Questions?

See our FAQs page or submit a question to our support team - we're here and happy to help.

Ask a Question

Subscribe to receive special offers and the latest news delivered to your inbox for free.


Your privacy is important to us and we will never rent or sell your information.


Go up