Stiff, just the body wants to protect you
When a person is faced with a dangerous situation, if he thinks he is certain of winning, he will resist, and if he thinks he is likely to lose in the resistance, he will run away. If neither fight or flight can ensure their safety, then the body will enter the third mechanism: stiffness.
But few people know that it is your body that wants to protect you. Many victims of sexual assault will blame themselves excessively after the incident and be captured by a sense of shame. Especially men, they are more likely to feel cowardly. Because under normal circumstances, when encountering bad things, if you do not make a choice, you will be accused of not being brave enough.
Back that night, at the moment when Evelyn couldn’t move, the area of the brain responsible for making us think rationally received pressure from fear. If there is no such pressure, she may choose to run away or confront. But the fact is that this pressure causes the entire area called “prefrontal cortex (responsible for rational thinking)” to fail to function properly.
When a person’s body is controlled by the attacker and he is extremely afraid of serious injury or death, extreme survival reflexes will take over the body.
At this time, the body will become stiff, and the hands will become weak, as if they are disabled, unable to speak or cry. This response is called tonicim mobility, which is what Evelyn calls stiffness. The body believes that if the victim resists at this time, he will suffer more harm. Not only that, the victim’s heart rate and blood pressure will become extremely weak, and even suddenly become sleepy.
“I remember that it was not very painful when I was raped. The only time I felt pain was when he pushed me back to the kitchen bench, and when he used violence to grab me.”
“A few months later, I fell and the memory of my whole body pain suddenly came back. But I didn’t remember that I felt too much physical pain during the rape. Oh my God, my brain and body It’s amazing to be able to protect me like this.”
The reason why Ephrin didn’t feel much pain was due to another reaction-dissociation. With the help of extreme survival reflex, the victim was able to withdraw from the terrible emotions and feelings. If injury and death really come at that time, the pain will not fully manifest.
To a certain extent, studies have shown that this can help people better weather the following crises: for example, falling from heights, being injured by animals, and of course sexual assault.
Evelin recalled the situation at the time: “It’s like a room is covered with smoke, and you can’t see exactly what happened.”
Chasing them just like the nightmare, with a sense of shame
Many victims do not know this automatic mechanism of the brain and often feel ashamed afterwards. Some researchers have even linked this rigid response to the anxiety and depression of the victim afterwards.
Chelsea Levinson was raped in 2004. After that, her nightmare lingered: “Someone is chasing me, it looks like a chasing shot of an action movie. The problem is, every time I try to resist, my body will not move. I am I wanted to scream, but there was only a gasp in my throat.”
The problem is that Chelsea is not weak. She is the darling of the basketball team and often plays rugby. But in a crisis, even she could not move.
What made her feel more guilty was that there was another person in the room who was drunk. “If I scream loudly, I might be able to escape. However, I am almost like a dead body.”
Too many victims of sexual assault have been asked by friends, family members, and even the police: Why don’t you run away? Why don’t you scream? But you must know that even soldiers or soldiers need to undergo rigorous repetitive training to be able to pull the trigger in the fear of bullet rain forest.
“Either escape or resist” does not provide a good overview of people’s reactions when facing a crisis. In fact, it should be, “Either escape or resist, or cannot move.”
After 2004, he chased Chelsea like the nightmare, and he was ashamed. Three months after that incident, winter came. She and her mother ate in the tavern in their hometown. When mom paid the bill, she slipped a 20-dollar bill on the table to her.
“Why are you giving me money?” she asked suspiciously.
“Nail, use the kind of fake nails you like to make. Next time a man wants to take advantage of you, poke him in the eye.”
Chelsea did not know at the time that stiffness was the most common response to injuries. She thanked her mother, but a burning guilt rose in her heart because she did nothing during the rape. This kind of thinking has always made her unforgettable, even in the eyes of her mother, she is also an “imperfect victim”.
In real life, when the victim opens up to you, the best way is to trust the other person and tell them “this is not your fault.”
Don’t let it win you
Chelsea searched for information and found that a large number of rape victims had similar experiences. After knowing the principle, Chelsea felt much better: “This is too curative. It is possible to know that this stiff reaction is not only ordinary, but also natural.”
She also found that if a victim has been sexually assaulted before, then a stiff reaction is more likely to occur when the assault recurs.
As if fulfilled, this kind of stiff reaction happened to her again one weekend in 2015.
She and her husband went to the massage parlor for a massage. A female therapist who was massaging her suddenly said something was wrong, and changed to a male masseur.
“My cheeks became hot from anger and fear. I stared at the masseur’s feet from the breathing hole on the massage bed, desperately trying to scream and make him stop – tell him to use too much force. It hurts, let the masseuse come back. My muscles tightened, and I begged myself to say something, just say something. But the truth is, I was silent and couldn’t respond at all.”
After she came out, she told her husband, who asked in surprise, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She knew that this situation might happen in the future. This kind of situation where she wants to speak for herself but can’t do it.
She explained to her husband why there was such a stiff reaction, and after the explanation, she was relieved. I can recognize myself from the perspective of a third person without being ashamed of myself. For her, this is a big step forward.
Related researchers have repeatedly emphasized the importance of recognizing stiff reactions. However, this phenomenon has not been popularized in the mainstream media. From any point of view, such neglect is harmful to the recovery of the victim’s mind.
If they think it is their own responsibility, how can victims seek treatment and help in a timely manner?
If they think it is their own responsibility, how can the victims go to the police and bring these villains to justice?
Even if you did, because a large part of the rapes occurred among acquaintances or even relatives, if the police didn’t know the stiff reaction, how could they stop asking “Why didn’t you resist” and then think you were lying?
People can even tell them that it is not the victim’s fault. But if you can’t understand why you couldn’t move at that time, how can you say this from the heart?
The spiritual healing of rape victims takes a long time, and there are always different things to challenge their ability to forgive themselves. For Chelsea, she will continue to say to herself every day from now on, “You did nothing wrong; it is not your fault.”