Are you Surviving or Thriving?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010 14:05

By Ellen Brown

Do you ever feel like you’re just getting by in life? Surviving, rather than thriving?

I certainly felt that way many years ago, and last week, I “sat down” with my friends Dan Hays and Stash Serafin to discuss the topic of thriving (opposed to surviving) on our Blog Talk Radio show, Dialogues with Dignity.

After our roundtable discussion last week, I started thinking about how I’d been able to thrive after spending many years healing from child sexual abuse. Because it wasn’t quite clear to me, and there certainly wasn’t some magical line I crossed over from victim to survivor to thriver. Yet somehow I DID transcend my past; there is no denying it.

So how did I make that shift? I’ve found many tools for thriving along my journey, but one of the big things is  that I spent several years processing the feelings that bubbled after the memories of abuse surfaced. I cried. I raged. I told and retold my “story” countless times to therapists and groups and even to total strangers, at one point, I’m embarrassed to admit. Until I was sick and tired of that story. Bored of telling it, bored of hearing it and sick of blaming others for the circumstances of my life.

I can’t remember if the boredom set in gradually or not. But I do remember attending a healing workshop one day, years ago, and hearing myself , once more, relate the story of how I had been abused when I was young in great detail. Then, something shifted inside, and it suddenly felt as though my “true self” was witnessing the whole scene from a distance. I heard a voice inside say , “oh brother. Not again. This is sooooo boooorring….”

It was as though I could no longer stand describing myself that way. There was no denying that I had been abused. There was no denying that the abuse affected me in profound ways. But on that day, something shifted in me, and I refused to think of myself in that small and limiting way. While it was convenient for me to blame others —  including my mother – for hurting me and “ruining my life,” doing so was keeping me stuck. I’d allowed my story to keep me down in the dark abyss of despair. And I was tired of living down there. It was familiar, yes, but oh so dreary and oppressive.

That day, I felt a warmth starting in my abdomen and growing larger, swirling and pulsing. Hopeful and powerful. Urging me forward.

On that day, I promised myself that I’d never again use my “survivor label” as a badge of honor. I was a survivor, yes, but so much more than that, and I was tired of defining myself by that label. Tired of blaming the people in my life who had hurt me when I was young for my problems today. That day, I made a promise to myself to stop defining myself by what happened to me in my childhood and to take responsibility for my life. So I could thrive.

So, how about YOU? Are you surviving rather than thriving? Or have you found a way to thrive?

I’d love to hear what you have to say. Please leave a comment, here, on Stepping Stones, by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.

Are you dealing with job loss, the death of a loved one, or another challenging life transition? If so, I’d love to help out. Visit my website at to sign up for an introductory coaching session or a coaching package that’s right for you. Since coaching sessions are conducted by phone, I can work with clients anywhere in the world.

If you’d like to hear more about the benefits of thriving, check out one of our recent episodes of Dialogues with Dignity, in which we discuss that very topic:

Ellen Brown is a certified professional coach based in Cleveland, OH.

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13 Responses to “Are you Surviving or Thriving?”

  1. Carl Slater says:

    August 24th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    What a powerful and healing statement! And so well written. I do enjoy reading good writing like yours as well as well expressed and healing thoughts. Thanks. 

  2. Ellen Brown says:

    August 25th, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Thank YOU, Carl! I really appreciate your kind words about the piece!

  3. Randall Krause says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 9:47 am

    For me, this part really caught my attention: “I do remember attending a healing workshop one day, years ago, and hearing myself , once more, relate the story of how I had been abused when I was young in great detail. Then, something shifted inside, and it suddenly felt as though my “true self” was witnessing the whole scene from a distance. I heard a voice inside say , “oh brother. Not again. This is sooooo boooorring….””

    It’s wonderful how, when we are able to witness our life, rather than be unconscious of it, things can change. Your story is a wonderful example of how this can happen. I wonder if you had a regular meditation practice at the time — which helps witnessing — or whether this was a spontaneous experience?

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

  4. Ellen Brown says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 10:09 am

    What you say about being able to witness our lives is SO true, Randall. I can’t remember if I had an regular meditation practice (i.e., everyday) at the time. But I was doing yoga and meditating, at least, on a part-time basis. And that absolutely made the difference. Thank you for pointing that out, and for your kind words about my post!

  5. Stash Serafin says:

    August 26th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    As always, another brilliant post as we are shifting from surviving to thriving.

    I loved the bubbles and how you allowed yourself to feel, and as we say, we feel, deal, and heal. For me, allowing myself to feel but feel gently does help the process. Plus, when I can witness myself from a distance and be aware of just being aware makes such a difference.

  6. Roberta says:

    August 27th, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Yes, but how to thrive?? I recognize that I am more surviving these days, yet feel uncertain about how to change with what I’ve got.

  7. Kat Tansey says:

    August 27th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    Beautifully written as usual, Ellen. Your clarity in the workshop was a major shift, and I’m glad you were able to process and spill your guts enough times to reach that shift. Some will say we can shorten this process, and maybe there are ways to do this, but my feeling is that the pain and betrayal must be voiced, must be heard, for us to move forward. We owe a debt of gratitude to all those people who have witnessed our pain, whether it be child abuse, divorce, battering, or any of the many things we as humans undergo in our paths to freedom. And then we become the witness for someone else…

  8. Ellen Brown says:

    August 27th, 2010 at 6:37 pm


    Thriving is a process, in my humble opinion. In order to thrive, we have to first move from victim to survivor and work through the pain of our past. For me it was a gradual process. And I don’t pretend that it was easy or magical. It happened because I allowed myself to feel my feelings, get support, and have some faith …

    If you’ve interested in learning more about some tools for thriving, please tune into our Dialogues with Dignity show on Wednesday Sept. 1 on Blog Talk Radio at 8 ET. We will be talking about different tools we’ve used to heal and thrive. I hope you’ll join us!

  9. Are You Surviving or Thriving? « Dialogues With Dignity says:

    September 7th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    [...] This blog post on thriving originally appeared on my blog, Stepping Stones: [...]

  10. Laurie Wallin says:

    September 9th, 2010 at 12:46 am

    Oh wow!! A kindred spirit! And another life coach! As I read, I kept thinking “that’s me! that’s me too!” I love this post and your heart to spark others to genuine life of thriving. My favorite quote ever is the Maya Angelou one that states, “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.” I often end my talks for mom’s groups with that quote to keep them moving in that direction. So very glad to find you here on this site. I’ll be coming around your site again!

  11. Ellen Brown says:

    September 9th, 2010 at 8:27 am

    So nice to meet you, Laurie, and I’m so glad you stopped by. I love that quote from Maya Angelou, and I’d never heard it before, so thanks for sharing it. I look forward to seeing your around sometime soon!

  12. Dorothy Sander says:

    September 21st, 2010 at 8:44 am

    My husband is a victim of child abuse. I am a victim of child indifference and a victim of a victim of child abuse. Together we have chartered a course that has begun to lead us into the light. It is slow. It is painful. It is surviving, but I could not call it thriving. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  13. Ellen Brown says:

    September 21st, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    I hear what you’re saying, Dorothy. I think we do go through phases where we feel like victims and survivors. And sometimes it is difficult to move beyond the “survival” phase. But it IS possible, if you keep on healing and having faith (whatever that means for you)!

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