It’s when a victim rises up after his or her trauma and says:
“I will NOT be like my abuser!"
"I will not give into my baser nature!"
"I will be different!”
"I will be better!"
Survivor’s Pride is the scaling tool victims need to pry themselves out of their pit of trauma and break a possible pattern of abuse.
Well-intended people develop Survivor's Pride after:
- childhood abuse
- coming out of a sick society
- recovering from a traumatic incident
- suffering bullying
- workplace dysfunction
- a terrible teacher
- any number of traumatic experiences
It is also the main way survivors of family abuse become good spouses and parents.
So initially, Survivor's Pride is a GOOD thing.
In modern psychology, Survivor’s Pride is seen as a goal of sorts. This is because it’s so necessary and effective in breaking out of trauma and a cycle of abuse.
However, it’s like any other form of medication or propulsion.
For example, large doses of vitamin C may be necessary to cure a disease.
Some kind of anesthesia may be necessary to go through surgery.
Pressing the trigger mechanism of a gun propels a bullet out in self-defense, saving your life.
Similarly, an intense dose of Survivor’s Pride may be necessary to propel the person out of the effects of trauma.
But to keep running on Survivor’s Pride eventually leads to what I call “Survivor’s Pitfall.”
If a person continues to take large doses of vitamin C beyond what healing dictates, daily anesthesia without surgery, or holds a gun that never stops firing, then their quality of life basically ends.
They end up hurting themselves (or others).
Sadistic Hostess or Prideful Disassociated Survivor?
The mother was a highly intelligent medical professional with an assertive personality.
At one point, Gitty decided she wanted to walk around the table using the seats in which we were sitting. Without further ado, she squeezed her foot into the miniscule space between my husband’s back and the chair’s back, and hoisted herself up.
Startled, my husband scooted forward to give her enough room. (He wasn't comfortable getting all assertive and confrontational with a 5-year-old girl.) She shuffled across his seat, then stretched out her foot to mine. Not wanting to get into a confrontation with the hostess with whom we were trapped for the rest of Shabbat (and who was sitting there pretending not to notice while a satisfied little smile played about her lips) or knock the child off-balance (she was stretched between the two chairs), I also scooted forward.
The child made a couple of rounds like this (with my husband growing more and more appalled and me feeling increasingly victimized) before her father noticed and told her to stop while subtly shooting his wife a frown and a muttered inquiry. (Apparently, he felt his wife should have picked up on the daughter’s behavior first because his wife was sitting directly across from and facing us while he was at the head of the table, off to the side.)
“Oh!” said the wife with obvious delight and just as obviously fake surprise. “Come here, Gitty, and sit next to me!” she said pleasantly.
Would you do this to your Shabbat guests?
Is that how you treat a pregnant lady?
And how do you think my husband felt as the girl placed the dusty soles of her shoes on the bottom back of his Shabbat suit while forcing him to eat on the edge of his chair? How do you think a 7-months pregnant woman feels forced to sit on the edge of a hard chair while eating?
And why was this intelligent, assertive, cultured woman behaving this way?
Well, I know this woman’s parents and I also know a bit about how she grew up, and her behavior is SO COMMON in people who grew up with...physically abusive parents.
The Process of Survivor's Pride
- As an abused child, she realized that constantly threatening or hitting one’s children with a belt is really bad and unnecessary. (This is the first step in Survivor’s Pride and is often experienced at a very young age.)
- She resolved not to do it as a parent. (This is the second step.)
- But at some point, she realized that she possibly could repeat this terrible behavior herself and needs to actively prevent it. (This is the third step.) Either she saw anger in herself and/or she came across that tired old psych-notion that people who suffered abuse are quite likely to become abusers themselves.
Note: 80% of people abused as children do NOT become abusive parents.
Yes, abusers were themselves abused. That’s true. Behind every abuser is some kind of abuse. Victimizers were previously victims at one point.
That’s the 20%.
But it doesn’t mean that victims eventually become abusers themselves. The vast majority don’t.
So if you were abused, do you have a higher chance of becoming an abuser yourself?
Yes, you could become one of that 20%.
But it’s much more likely that you’ll be one of the 80%.
Modern psychology has ingrained this idea that if you’ve suffered abuse, it’s like being bitten by a werewolf:
- You’ve been infected and now you’re going to turn into a monster.
But because this notion has been flung around so often for so long, people believe in it.
Because any honest self-aware person sees ugly attributes in him- or herself which, if left unbridled, could lead to becoming abusive, people take this notion to heart.
Consequently, it makes people very afraid of their own self, causing them to spend their lives walking on inner eggshells so as not to awaken the monster they’re convinced is secretly inside.
I’ve seen this more times than I can count.
Anyway, back to this particular woman (and many other survivors of abuse):
- She waits for trigger situations to occur.
- And when she’s finally a mother and she finds herself in those same trigger situations and she responds differently (yet another step of Survivor’s Pride), she feels great.
- She has overcome her upbringing! Yay! She really IS different than her abusive parents! She has broken the cycle! Her kids are going to be better, too! She did it! Woo-hoo!
So that’s Survivor’s Pride and how it works.
The "Me" Disguised as "You"
Chazal very clearly and repeatedly tell us that God cannot be in the same space as a gaavtan, as one who experiences pride.
(God can’t be in the same space as a liar or flatterer, either.)
In fact, gaavah is so problematic while humility is so ideal that mussar books almost always dedicate entire chapters to either gaavah or humility...or even to both.
In the above example with Gitty's mother, it looks like our hostess was kind of sadistic, right? She’s obviously enjoying our discomfort. She enjoys using her child to torment her helpless guests.
Nope, that’s not what was going on.
Usually, people in the grip of Survivor’s Pride disassociate a bit.
In a trigger situation, they hyperfocus on themselves.
It becomes all about them: their reaction, their victory, their proof of having overcome their “programming” and keeping their imagined inner monster at bay.
And while they will say—and sincerely believe—that they are acting in their child’s best interests, it’s just not true.
Yes, they very much want to act in their child's best interests. But at some point, the Pride in Survivor's Pride gets in their way.
At that moment, they are disassociated and their child isn’t really there.
Neither is anybody else.
Suddenly, it’s all about them.
Is Permissive Parenting a Form of Survivor's Pride? Not Usually.
Yes, some permissive parents are responding to strict or repressive childhoods.
But in contrast, permissive parents...
- usually don’t really care about their children
- aren’t ever really thinking about them.
- may be unconsciously angry at their children, and so leave them to their own devices.
- can be passive-aggressives who allow their children to act out the parents’ aggressions and annoy the wits out of other people.
In contrast, parents acting on Survivor’s Pride think about their children all the time, even obsessively. They are willing to go to great lengths to do whatever they think is best for their children regardless of time, costs, efforts, or anything else.
Parents functioning within Survivor’s Pride are constantly competing against the memories of their own parents AND against their own imagined inner monster.
They often don’t realize how foolish or irresponsible they look to outsiders.
They often imagine that observers are secretly amazed at or admiring of their supernatural patience.
The Survivor's "Smirk"
He held on to the back of her shirt and didn’t let go. She couldn’t walk normally or faster than he allowed. He continued to hold on even as his mother bent over to pick up a toddler or needed to do things in the kitchen. He wore a foolish smile the whole time and she had that same self-satisfied little smile I saw on the mother of Gitty in the above example.
(Mothers operating under Survivor’s Pride always wear this same little smile when they disassociate in the face of their child's challenging behavior.)
Now, I found this very hard to watch. Personally, I would be going out of mind if one of my kids had attached himself to me—and such an episode wouldn’t last more than a second by me—so it was very difficult to watch it for so long.
But I knew how she'd grown up with a very rage-filled, abusive father and a detached mother, and I understood what was going on in her mind. She was gliding around in the joy and satisfaction of knowing how her parents would've responded to such a child and how much more tolerant and patient she was as a parent. (She'd expressed this kind of thinking on several occasions before.) She was high on the pride of being mitgaber (overcoming a negative character trait).
After her son finally detached himself, she turned to me with a glowing smile.
“Your son is very attached to you, isn’t he?” I said for lack of a better thing to say.
“Oh, he is!” she enthused, bursting with pride and an ear-splitting grin.
Well, she and her husband ended up having some unbearably challenging issues with this same child—and some of their other children too. And the challenges just kept going on and on.
I’ve seen this with a lot of Survivor’s Pride-oriented parents.
That self-satisfied little smile while their kids are going bonkers or screaming or acting like jerks...or while the Survivor's Pride Parent is slaving away, cooking up an exhaustive meal or performing intensive cleaning while sick or about to go into labor.
And so on.
There are different manifestations of Survivor’s Pride (it depends on what they interpret as the root problem in their dysfunctional family), but as long as they’re operating under Survivor’s Pride, they’re not really focused on what their child needs.
While in Survivor’s Pride Mode, the focus is on the parent’s needs.
And this will always lead to problems because in chinuch, the focus must be on the child.
And a parent must strive to give that child whatever the child actually needs (not wants, but needs), no matter how challenging that is for the parent.
And you can’t do that while you’re in Survivor’s Pride Mode.
You want to. You're a good person and you really want to give your child what he or she truly needs.
But believe me, you ultimately can't as long as you're cocooned in Survivor's Pride.
Even more importantly, God isn’t really with you at that moment that you’re feeling sooo proud of yourself for (yet again!) overcoming your childhood.
If God isn’t really with you, then you can’t have siyata d’Shmaya in raising your child.
So just to be clear: Survivor’s Pride is a great and necessary tool.
It really is wonderful that you're overcoming your trauma and negative programming.
God created Survivor's Pride for your benefit, just like He created vitamin C, anesthesia, and gun triggers.
Yet eventually, you need to wean yourself off of it.
Before Stumbling, There’s a Haughty Spirit…It Is Better To Be Of Humble Spirit With The Lowly Than To Divide The Spoils With The Haughty (Mishlei/Proverbs 16)
If you’ve managed to overcome trauma and abuse, it’s because of God’s Compassion toward you. It’s because of His Great Love for you.
It's a sign that God has big plans for you.
You wanted something good—to be a better person than you were raised to be—and Hashem happily helped you along that chosen path.
Even more, He imbibed you with that good desire in the first place.
In Instilling Humility in Children, Sarah Chana Radcliffe recommends taking pleasure rather than pride in one’s accomplishments.
And that sounds about right.
Judaism emphasizes joy. God wants you to be happy.
So if you accomplish something, it’s very important to say “Baruch Hashem!”
Thank You, God, for enabling me to be different than my parents.
Thank You, God, for enabling me to better.
Thank You, God, for enabling me to achieve my goals.
I feel soooo happy!
I guess You must really like me a lot.
After all, I see that You don’t do this for everyone. You didn’t do it for my parents, for example.
But You’ve done it for me. Wow. Gosh…well, I love You too. Thanks!
I felt like I needed to say all this because I’ve seen too many good people stumble while trying their best and juggling all those bowling balls thrust on them by well-meaning Survivor’s Pride.
And these very good people are really suffering as a result.
I hate suffering.
I hate suffering myself and I hate to see other people suffering, especially if they don't really have to.
So to sum up:
- Hitgabrut (Overcoming)? Yes, 100% YES.
- Pride? No.
After the initial boost of Survivor’s Pride, the survivor must switch into Gratitude-Based Survivor’s Pleasure in order to continue the path of becoming an emotionally healthy person and a truly good parent.
The path to Survivor's Pleasure:
- Acknowledge your accomplishments - they're real!
- Take pleasure in your accomplishments.
- Thank God for all the good things you're managing to accomplish.
- Remember: Hashem really loves you and wants you to be both happy and good.
Well, I hope this helps.