Fight, flight or freeze. This is a concept we speak of often at Hopeful Hearts Ministry because 99% of us who have undergone some sense of traumatic event have carried a hefty bag of shame across our shoulders for years because we didn’t fight or run.
Only in the past decade has the truth to our psychological response been unearthed and the understanding of being frozen explained in such a way that we, as survivors, can feel a sense of validation for why we would remain and endure such acts.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately with the #MeToo movement. Every single day, it seems, in the past three months new victims are coming forward with their stories. I have silently (and many times publically) applauded every single one and at the same time I’m listening to a softer undercurrent of reaction around me that has finally brought me out of hibernation.
“Why did they wait so long?”
“They didn’t say anything because it would take away from their dream, isn’t that self-serving too?”
“How do we know this really happened? It seems odd to have so many come forward all of a sudden.”
These and other statements set my heart ablaze with indignation. Why did they wait so long? Because, no matter the circumstance, whether it was a forced sexual encounter, groping, flashing, voyeurism, or even an inappropriate suggestive comment or touch, the mind freezes with the inability to compute this behavior with what was once, only seconds before, safe and ‘normal’.
“For human beings, the freeze response can occur when we’re terrified and feel like there is no chance for our survival or no chance for escape. It happens in car accidents, to rape victims and to people who are robbed at gunpoint. Sometimes they pass out, freeze or mentally remove themselves from their bodies, and don’t feel the pain of the attack, and sometimes have no (explicit) memory of it afterwards.” ~Stressstop.com
For more information or to read the entire article on the Fight, Flight or Freeze response click here
Another great article explains all the responses in this way: “Here, in brief, is how the survival-oriented acute stress response operates. Accurately or not, if you assess the immediately menacing force as something you potentially have the power to defeat, you go into fight mode. In such instances, the hormones released by your sympathetic nervous system—especially adrenaline—prime you to do battle and, hopefully, triumph over the hostile entity. Conversely, if you view the antagonistic force as too powerful to overcome, your impulse is to outrun it (and the faster the better). And this, of course, is the flight response, also linked to the instantaneous ramping up of your emergency biochemical supplies—so that, ideally, you can escape from this adversarial power (whether it be human, animal, or some calamity of nature).
So where, in what you perceive as a dire threat, is the totally disabling freeze response? By default, this reaction refers to a situation in which you’ve concluded (in a matter of seconds—if not milliseconds) that you can neither defeat the frighteningly dangerous opponent confronting you nor safely bolt from it. And ironically, this self-paralyzing response can in the moment be just as adaptive as either valiantly fighting the enemy or, more cautiously, fleeing from it.” ~PsychologyToday.com
To read more of this article click here
They didn’t say anything because it would take away from their dream, isn’t that self-serving too? Clearly this person was referring to the hundreds that have come forward, especially from the Hollywood scene, against those who had a superior role to them in the workplace. However, again in response to the freeze, when we are thinking of our livelihood, and yes, often of our dream, we tend to already mentally place ourselves in a subordinate role to those that can make or break that dream or keep you from sustaining the only livelihood you know how to live. From my experience I can relate this to my first rape in high school. I had known this young man for seven years and he had never treated me in a manner that would have led me to believe he wasn’t trustworthy or safe. In the same breath, I’d say I looked to him to be ‘superior’ to me within our circle of friends because he was so good-looking and had no issue, it seemed, with dating, etc. I truly felt if I could catch and hold his attention it would be a social win for me. That’s why when he violently raped me I walked away stunned and never told. In fact, I went straight to my best friends house and acted as if I wanted it, in case it got out, because in some strange way I felt it was all on me. The fault was my own because I couldn’t make it stop.
I can’t speak for any of the women and men who have come forward about directors and actors, etc but I can empathize with that moment of being so stunned, in such disbelief and so frozen you can’t think ahead beyond the dream you’ve nurtured for years.
How do we know this really happened? It seems odd so many have come forward all of a sudden. In this case, our voices are louder when we are in numbers. As in the case of the gymnastics victims of Dr. Nassar, there were the few that tried to speak. They bravely came forward and no one would listen. They were one person. It is heartbreaking to even write this, to know that it is the sad truth. I’m not sure if with my second rape in college that I would have been heard if there weren’t four other women in my one sorority that had fallen victim to the same man. He had professors, business professionals and coaches in the area come forward on behalf of his character because he was an asset to the university’s football team. I nearly let the fight go because I knew I was outnumbered. Few listened and they did believe but we were but a whisper to his screaming entourage. And then I had strength in numbers. My case went to the Grand Jury and ultimately was no billed because of lack of evidence. I don’t know where this man is, but I know his reputation preceded him and if anything I saved a few more women from getting raped.
#MeToo is bringing forth the cold, harsh truth to what we are willing to tolerate in this world. No more tolerating what is clearly not accepted. And when we speak up we give strength to those who have felt alone for ages.