Are Survivors Heroes?

ptsd hero

Photo: Ambro

I’ve written about the idea of survivors as heroes before… Today, let’s start with a definition. According to the dictionary ’hero’ means a person of “distinguished courage and ability.”

Right off the bat, how much do you think that definition applies to you? It may seem strange for all of us who struggle with PTSD to see ourselves as heroic. But before we ended up with posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, we survived something truly awful. Other people may not have. We did. That means we have courage (to endure) and ability (to survive).

Anyone disagree with me so far?

On last week’s episode of YOUR LIFE AFTER TRAUMA one of my guests suggested the idea of shifting from survivor to hero. I love this idea. I think the crux of recovery comes from shifting from powerless to powerful. Accessing our heroic self is a great way to do that. In fact, I’m convinced every single one of us has an heroic self because we:

  1. survived something horrific
  2. continue to live despite the pain
  3. struggle to cope, reclaim and rebuild
  4. seek the path to freedom

Only heroes do all of those things. I have a great respect for all of us on this PTSD recovery journey.

So you can imagine how I felt when a survivor (a friend, no less!) grumbled at me, “There are no heroes!”

I can understand why he feels that way. He survived an awful car wreck that decimated his brain for a little while. He lost his short-term memory, his photographic memory, and feels diminished even though after a few years his brain has (for the most part) bounced back. While it may not be the summa cum laude brain he was used to, it’s still a really great brain.

So, why doesn’t he feel like a hero? After spending a year in a wheelchair and then a few years in physical therapy – he’s now back to living a full life doing all the things he used to do before the accident – why doesn’t he feel heroic in his achievement? He’s even kicked PTSD so, what gives? Seriously, I’m asking your opinion.

I think he’s discounting himself because he disrespects some of how he handled the journey. For at least a year he contemplated and partially acted on suicide plans.  I wonder now if he doesn’t see himself as heroic because he knows how close he was to not being heroic at all. Which I understand because for a long time after my trauma I felt that way, too. I tried to die during my trauma; later, that moment of weakness really sickened me and made me feel pretty worthless.

Does our behavior during and after our trauma prevent us from appreciating the heroic things we do achieve? Or are we so conditioned to only see ourselves as PTSD/survivors that we don’t notice anything else?


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