Fight, Flight or Freeze

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In 1982, while living in Stone Mountain, Georgia, I was lucky enough to find a support group for incest survivors. Not that I was looking for one, cause I didn’t even know such a thing existed.  I just accidentally heard about them on the radio one night while leaving a Laser Light Show held in Stone Mountain Park. I called the number from the radio show the next day, made arrangements to meet Kathy, the person from the radio show and facilitator for the incest survivors group. The group didn’t have a official name like ISA (incest survivors anonymous). We were just Group,we met every other week at The Bridge Counseling Center in the down town area of Atlanta. For the most part we were a tightly knit group of women who connected with each other through our desire to heal. Kathy kept the group going for several years.  She served as group facilitator, a Social Worker from a local child protective agency.   I remember Kathy as being tall, (turns out she wasn’t), thin (she was), gracious with a big heart, with dark wavy hair.  Plus she had a bit of rebellion in her. A quirky thing I still remember about her is that she hated wearing panty hose.  Sometimes she was forced to wear them and so when she did, they were always too baggy at the knees. I teased her about it.

Being in this group and participating for a couple of years  accounts for most of the real healing I had while participating in psychotherapy. Healing me  in obvious ways, by just by being with a group of other survivors. We traded struggles, survival tips, we learned from each other how to tell what had happened to us. We shared in an intimate setting of a  8 x 10 room, (that felt like an amphitheater),  our private horrors, pains and shames. Even though we could see we all were damaged from the abuse, we also saw how strong each of us were.  What psychology knew about survivors at the time  were  myths surrounding our damaged lives that didn’t leave us many options for being very healthy. We chose between being frigid, prostitutes, or we could become drunk/drugged to numb the pain. Not much else. But Kathy helped us see, we were not bound to these lives if we were willing to do the work necessary to heal ourselves. What society seemed to think about us  was not true, as we could plainly see in our group. We were women who had careers, who had love lives, bore children and were able to maintain semi-intimate relationships. We wanted to feel healthy, to be able to love freely. Really, just to feel normal. So we fought to regain our dignity, our sense of autonomy, and undo the damage inflicted upon us.

I wanted to learn what had happened to me. How it happened, how it came to be and why me? What made it different in Jack’s mind that it was okay to violate me? Why did he do it? I got clear on a few issues  that really halted my progress (up until then) in healing. For one thing, I mistakenly thought I participated willingly.  Because I didn’t throw punches to stop the sexual abuse, I used to think I must not have fought Jack’s sexual violations.  I learned in group, that it made little difference to Jack what I thought or if I had fought.   I didn’t want him hurting me, but that didn’t matter. Because it didn’t matter to Jack what I wanted, and it didn’t seem to  matter to my Mom what happened to me. In my young child mind’s way of thinking, since it didn’t matter what what I thought or felt then, that in later years, and in unconscious ways,  it shouldn’t matter to me what I wanted, it only mattered what others wanted.  In my childhood, fighting with anyone would be a sure spanking and being sent to bed. We surely didn’t fight with adults and besides, he was bigger than me.  It did no good to run away. There was no way to get away from him, no place to take flight, and there was no where to go. Running into the other room just didn’t  get me far enough away from him.  So I froze and endured.

I learned later that what I did what I did to survive was considered part of the fight or flight response to stressful situations. Freezing like a deer in headlights is a normal reaction too. Fight, flight and freeze are all valid responses to fearful situations. Just in case you are one who feels guilty when you freeze.

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3 thoughts on “Fight, Flight or Freeze

  1. Michele Morrison

    This is good explaining. I hope you know that many of us have that same “freeze” response to many things in our lives…and know exactly what you mean. I had that response to your last posting…couldn’t respond because it freaked me out so much. If the ACCOUNT of your abuse can be so debilitating…OMG…you have my deepest respect and admiration for being so eloquently present and passionate about recovering, and reclaiming your sweet peace in your own time and way. Kudos, Kim…sending love, and love knows the big life-changing and heart-opening tricks of best outcomes. And as I’m typing this, my sleeping cat gets up, climbs on my chest, and nuzzles my neck…comforting both of us. Now she’s back at another of her eternal naps. Oh my…the blessings are!

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  2. kimmysurviving

    Thank you for being the kind of person who doesn’t look away when the world presents its’ ugliness to you. I am at a loss as to why you would be willing to look but I know it comforts me in a deep and satisfying way.In fact, it helps me to have the courage to keep at it. I have listened to you through our years of acquaintance and have grown to admire your strength and wisdom, your willingness to explore all the dimensions from God, not just the pretty ones.
    I do know that people have a freezing component to the flight or fight response. I mentioned it to help other survivors who read my blog and can understand they responded in a normal way to a unnatural situation.

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