Trigger warning: sexual assault
Most people know that the body goes into “fight or flight” mode when in a dangerous and stressful situation. What many people don’t know is that there are more possible responses, one of which is to freeze. A person can literally be involuntarily, temporarily paralyzed with fear. This is called tonic immobility.
According to recent research, the majority of female rape survivors do not fight back or yell for help because of tonic immobility. Another study found that half of people who survived childhood sexual abuse also experienced tonic immobility.
They can’t fight. They can’t run. They’re trapped inside their own bodies. It sucks, but it’s not their fault. Understandably, being unable to move during a traumatic event would have a lasting effect on someone. The same study also found that “those who experienced extreme tonic immobility were twice as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and three times more likely to suffer severe depression in the months after the attack than women who did not have this response.”
There are many reasons not to fight back during a sexual assault. Sometimes it’s simply not necessary. Sometimes the survivor would be physically harmed even more if they fought back. Sometimes the perpetrator is very strong and there’d be no chance of escaping anyway. And sometimes tonic immobility takes over and a person can’t fight back even if they want to. Whatever the reason, not fighting back is totally valid.
So I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about survivors of sexual assault needing to fight back.
Click here for an article about tonic immobility.
Thank you for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.
13 Steps for Managing Flashbacks by Pete Walker, MA, MFT
- Say to yourself: “I am having a flashback”. Flashbacks take us into a timeless part of the psyche that feels as helpless, hopeless and surrounded by danger as we were in childhood. The feelings and sensations you are experiencing are past memories that cannot hurt you now.
- Remind yourself: “I feel afraid but I am not in danger! I am safe now, here in the present.” Remember you are now in the safety of the present, far from the danger of the past.
Click here for the full list.
Obviously I don’t mean to say that it’s a good thing that I’ve survived sexual assault and witnessed domestic abuse, but I’ve been thinking lately about how it’s changed me in a good way. I’ve written about how sexual assault has changed me in the past, but here are a few new thought’s I’ve had about the subject: Continue reading How Sexual Assault and Domestic Abuse Have Changed Me… In a Good Way?
Last fall, I saw sexually assaulted while swing dancing by a guy we’ll call L. He doesn’t dance much anymore, but it still shouldn’t have been a surprise when I ran into him yesterday. Luckily, I was able to keep my cool for the most part. I was shocked and uncomfortable when I first saw him. I even considered leaving. But why let him steal my joy? So I stayed and tried to stay on the opposite end of the room whenever possible. He seemed to be avoiding me as well. My first few dances after he arrived were detached and the smile I had on my face was very fake. I tried to stay in the moment, think happy thoughts (such as putting the image in my head of A on one knee) and remind myself that L can’t harm me anymore. I hope I don’t see him again ever… but at least it was bearable to run into him. I’m so thankful that my PTSD has been giving me a break these last couple months.
I like to talk about mental illness on this blog and my personal struggles with mental health. But let’s be clear: I’m not technically mentally ill. I’m in a weird gray area, because I have symptoms of PTSD but it’s not serious enough for a diagnosis. Recently I found out that there’s an unofficial name for this: subthreshold PTSD. Continue reading Subthreshold PTSD