If you were at the AWAKEN Conference 2017, you heard Michelle Miller, a licensed mental health therapist, talk about the journey of being a victim to becoming an overcomer. In essence, she said you need to accept you are a victim, in order to be a survivor before you get through to be an overcomer. It’s really about the ‘AND’ piece of owning all three identities that brings healing. You can see her talk here.
Today, I’d like to discuss this piece of moving from a victim to being an overcomer.Let’s start with understanding the definition of victim. Dictionary.com defines victim as, “a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency.” Deception and being stolen from can result in anything from minor inconveniences to massive traumas. Scripture says that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and he comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).
First, I recognize trauma is a massive subject that can’t fully be addressed in a blog post. However, a starting place in dealing with being a victim is to understand how a trauma has affected us. What did the event tell us about ourselves, our world, and our God? Trauma and great suffering change us. Because it has marked us, it’s not something we simply move on from or forget. Perhaps it changed our sense of safety, prevented us from reaching our purpose, or even changed our very identity. Even if we cannot remember the event, the traumatic event has left its mark on us. In her book Suffering and the Heart of God, Diane Langberg writes,
“Trauma memories do not disappear. Our brains are made so that they do not forget anything. We sometimes have the experience of not being able to find something in our brains or forgetting something, but that is not the same as it disappearing. Since that is the case, it would seem that we must learn how to live with them so that they are not destructive to our present life.”
So, does this mean once a victim, are we to remain a victim, marred and incapable of reaching our potential? Are we damaged goods, so to speak? How do we learn to live with the unbearable?
The question becomes in how we have been changed by the trauma. Sometimes it has changed us in a concrete way, such as a loss of physical or mental ability. But always, it has somehow changed our perception of truth about God, others, and/or ourself. It is here that our work begins.
We have to start by unpacking the different lies we believe. There are literally hundreds of possible lies: I am bad. I am worthless. I cannot change. God will never be there for me. I can’t trust anyone. I’ll always be irreparably damaged. I’ll never be able to have healthy relationships. It’s too late to try to heal. We start by bringing the lie to the Truth, who is Jesus. We ask him to replace the lie with the truth. In this process, sometimes we can’t go forward until we go back to discover when the lie began. This is what Michelle Miller referred to as “owning what happened,” owning how it has changed us. Once we own it, next we learn to speak the truth into daily life, and we begin to refuse to let the lie dictate our behaviors. We take risks to act on our new beliefs. We say no to letting it continue to mar us. This is the piece where we become Survivors. And finally, the new belief becomes a part of who we are, and we become able to react emotionally from this new place. Now we are Overcomers.
So where does sin fit into understanding our victimization? Rarely, if ever, have I seen a person respond well to being deceived or stolen from. We don’t naturally respond as Jesus would respond, and we can admit that. But we don’t have to say we were responsible for the deception or theft, even if we may have provoked it. That behavior is on the deceiver or the thief. Consider the analogy of a bank. Everyone knows there is a lot of cash in a bank. A lot of people want a lot of cash. The bank flaunts the cash by counting it out in public, having ATM machines for the purpose of obtaining cash, and advertising the presence of cash. But only one in a million walks into a bank to steal the cash that does not belong to him. That behavior is on the head of the individual who chooses it. In dealing with our sin and trauma we must come to own our personal wrong doing, wrong thinking, and wrong desires. But we also must not own parts that are not ours to own; that would be to own a lie, and in order to heal we must focus on the truth.
The traumas we experience do continue to shape our stories for the rest of our lives. Healing does not come from denying, hiding, or ignoring the past; it comes from learning and speaking the truth about the past. We overcome by owning our true stories so that they no longer own us.