Coping: Burn Victim or Burn Survivor?

By: Michael Appleman, M.S.


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Do the you think of yourself as a burn survivor or a burn victim? This is not an inconsequential question. When an individual is a burn survivor he/she can view the burn injury as a learning experience or a punishment. The learning experience can be something that redirects his/her life. This can be a direction that he/she may never have taken. It can be something that positively changes the burn survivors life. It can lead to positive thoughts that results in helping the individual recover more quickly and focuse on what they can do to assure that it doesn't happen again, to themselves or anyone else.

Victims concern themselves, not with HOW the burn came about, not WHY. For them, burns are not accidents. Instead they function as graphic proof that somehow, fairly or unfairly, judgment has been rendered and a consequence (the burn) occurred. Unlike survivors, victims spend energy, not on getting well, but on inquiring into the depths of the injury and the evil that caused it. When you are a victim you loose the strength to help yourself and others.

For a burn survivor, things are not always that simple. Any burn survivor can drift into the victim role once in a while. It is usually part of the recovery process. Possibly all of us maintain some lasting copy of the primitive idea that EVERY burn represents a well-deserved penalty. When the affliction goes on and on, it's all too easy to deal with it, not only as punishment, but as anguish. Most victims of torture see themselves taking revenge. If you ask a doctor about this type of patient, he/she will state that this individual usually does not do well.

Finally, if an individual accepts that accidents do happen, then their task of recovery is clear: This type of individual will assess any contributing negligence, make any corrections needed, deal with it all as a learning experience and get on with life. There are many productive ways of thinking about, and coping with, one's burn. Taking the victim's role is not one of them.