Tonic Immobility

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Subthreshold PTSD

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

So This is What “Normal” Feels Like

I got so used to always having a low level of anxiety that it feels really weird (in a good way) to have that almost entirely gone. For the first time in months, I feel very “me” again. I’m relaxed. I’m taking joy in the little things. I’m overly excited about learning anything new. I’m laughing a lot. I don’t take as long to calm down. I’m not thinking about the past much anymore. I’m not getting triggered often or experiencing many intrusive thoughts… I wish this could last forever.  Continue reading So This is What “Normal” Feels Like

Trying Not to Suffer in Silence

Very few people know that I suffer from symptoms of PTSD. Even fewer people hear me talk about it on a regular basis. Recently I wrote a post in which I essentially said that I want to start talking about mental illness the way I would talk about any other illness, such as a migraine. I want to be more open about what I’m going through both for the added support and to fight mental health stigma. Today I took a baby step toward that goal. Continue reading Trying Not to Suffer in Silence

Let’s Talk about Mental Illness Like we Talk about Migraines

Let’s imagine for a moment that I posted a Facebook status saying
“I really hope this migraine goes away soon. It’s impossible to study for finals right now.”

Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at that. Having migraines, unfortunately, is super common. I would get sympathy and maybe even some advice.

Now, let’s imagine I posted this status on Facebook:
“I really hope this PTSD episode goes away soon. It’s impossible to study for finals right now.”

I feel like even in this day and age, even with so many people fighting mental illness stigma, it would still be a little strange and out of place if I posted the second status right now.  Continue reading Let’s Talk about Mental Illness Like we Talk about Migraines