The Unconventional Apology Project challenges the too common notions of domestic violence ‘survivors’ as weak or damaged and invites society at large to reimagine overcomers of interpersonal violence as brave, wonderful and bold people with bright futures ahead of them. Image:Chantal Barley

Being an #overcomer of interpersonal violence — not a survivor

Emilia Lahti
Sep 21, 2016 · 4 min read

Language is the foundation of how we communicate. It affects our thinking and the way we view the world, ourselves and one another. It gives birth to constructs which become our mental imagery, help us describe and define our lives, and also answer the question: “Who am I?” Answering this question gives birth to stories about ourselves and these stories ultimately become broader narratives–“stories so big that our lives fit inside them.” (Jim Loehr).

Narratives build expectations and impact our thinking, values and behavior. They can transform everything they touch through their capacity to elicit emotions of fear, love, compassion, anger or shame, and so on. What we think about the world, ourselves and about other people’s experiences and how they are defined by those experiences, is not irrelevant. One could perhaps even go far as to say there are no meaningless thoughts because sooner or later, they manifest themselves through our attitudes, gestures and actions.

In the last few years, I have become increasingly interested in the public narratives around interpersonal violence (it refers to the emotional, sexual, physical, financial or spiritual abuse of someone). As a person who’s experienced the pain of emotional and physical abuse first hand and then witnessed the shaming of ‘survivors’ and pressure for silence imposed by the society at large, I felt an inner imperative to challenge the current state of things. To design and create programs that pave the way to a future with less violence, zero shame for those who’ve been exposed to violence and more safe spaces.

I have one simple suggestion:

Let’s move on from ‘survivor’ to ‘overcomer’.

I know Word spellcheck and Grammarly still paint a red line underneath the word, which in my mind, is even more of a reason to start using it!

We can take it, own it, embrace it, adorn it with mental imagery of courage and badassery, and we can help change our inner and outer realities with the tiny but powerful tool of words. (Words sure were once used to disempower and diminish. If you are an overcomer of abuse, you know what I mean.)

Even though survivor is already a lightyear away from its sad little predecessor, the victim, it fails us most of the time simply because hidden in the word is a notion that life post-interpersonal violence is bound to be survival at best. Besides, there’s an unsettling continuos flavor to the label survivor that the overcomer doesn’t have. Surviving is an ongoing state. To overcome means to gain control, move on and take action.

The future is always first an idea. Let’s break the silence, share our stories and support those who have been hurt. Let’s shape the public narrative and make it reverberate the power of



The inspiration to finally write this post came from revisiting the Unconventional Apology Project, one of my favorite digital activism projects currently out there, and created by the extraordinary Chantal Barlow (pictured in the main image of this post). I was thinking how there’s not a bit of survivorship in the smiles and eyes that greet you at the website. I know there is struggle, there’s no denying that, but what I see are overcomers, warriors, fighters and individuals, who are courageously redefining the narrative around domestic violence overcomership.

Surf here to be inspired, see what an overcomer of domestic violence looks like and pause for a moment to honor the human ability to rise again and thrive against all odds (or click here to see another individual like them).

-Chantal Barlow describing the Unconventional Apology Project at an interview by HuffPost-

What we are: happy, joyful, thoughtful, vulnerable, badass, sometimes sad, just like everyone else.

What we are NOT by default: inherently broken, damaged, weak or responsible for our trauma. If anything, it’s the opposite, so let’s refrain from language that perpetuates narratives of weakness and instead, use our words to empower. Change the language, change the narrative.

Take back the story.


Ps. I’m currently training to run 1,500 miles across the length of New Zealand to change the narrative around interpersonal violence and celebrate the strength of all the wonderful overcomers in the world!

You can find out more about sisu and the Sisu not Silence campaign at our Indiegogo Generosity fundraiser page

and at
The Sisu Lab Blog

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