Animals and humans respond in one of three ways when exposed to an immediate danger. One is to act. It may be to flee – take to their feet and run away. However, that is not always, how we react. Perhaps our subconscious evaluates the threat and decides it is not worth the effort and we freeze, or we turn around and fight…
If we do not flee or fight, we freeze
The body’s muscles lock, and we are frozen. It’s not always just the muscles; sometimes it’s also the brain that shuts down.
When the danger passes, sometimes we say, “What happened?” and experience momentary memory loss. The experience makes an impression on us, and both our body and brain are flabbergasted. When the experience sinks in, we do what we can to shake it off. We try to move past it by telling others about the experience or physically try to shake ourselves back into reality as if we need to shake our ruffled feathers back into place. We need a hug, a run, a hot bath – anything that can get let go of the tension.
We may face dangers every day. Maybe it’s a car that whizzes too close past us, a person who cusses or yells at us and we recognise the coping mechanism. However, some events are more severe and leave a deep impression on us. Maybe it involves something that we find so private, that we cannot easily talk about it or are not able to shake it off. We go into hiding. The experience settles in and we are left physically and mentally affected. We are left with a body frozen in a reaction and a brain that cannot make sense of our experience. Suddenly, a vulnerability is developed that our bodies didn’t previously possess.
When sex went wrong
Some women report that an assault has infiltrated their muscles as if their pelvic floor has set itself to be constantly on guard. They feel as though they do not have the tools to get their muscles to let go. Their brain and body are on a constant alert.
The reaction can be even more severe when the assault is of a sexual nature. A woman might experience that someone has forced themselves onto her and has thereby violated all her boundaries. This can make her doubt, whether she will ever be able to stand up for herself again.
It may also be a situation where casual sex went wrong. She was affected and not sure if she got to say no or possibly the gravity of the situation did not come into consciousness until her intoxication had worn off. A blackout can leave her wondering what went on.
Besides, problems can arise if a sexual partner suddenly crosses boundaries a woman has set for herself. For example, what happens when a woman’s partner suddenly decides to grab her throat? Although she might respond with severe action – throwing him out – she is still left with unanswered questions about what happened. Despite taking action, she is left with unanswered questions.
Those kinds of experiences many girls and women go through. The memories reside in them, and they cannot move on from it. Muscles and nerves remember and close off the body with the aim to protect when similar threats emerge. Different things can pose a threat; it can be as slight as a particular smell, a touch, or a type of light.
The body has decided that you should not be put in danger again and sets off an internal alarm at any reminder of past problematic situations. The brain freezes and sometimes reproduces images from the assault. This internal alarm creates an escape mechanism for you to stay “safe,” according to your mind.
FIND THE KEY
It is recommended that you try to talk about your experience to process it. Besides talking through your trauma, you need to find a way to let go of the feeling stuck in your mind and muscles. Patience, kindness and dedication are necessary when it comes to teaching your body how to react to specific stimuli without setting off your internal alarm. Pushing yourself to recreate situations that are reminiscent of the assault is certainly anxiety provoking. For some, it may involve everything connected with sexual behaviour, if the assault was of sexual character.
Forgive your body that it is still trying to protect you.
One thing is working on your sexuality. It is much harder to overcome allowing another person to get close to you and to let yourself to be vulnerable with them, trusting that they will respond respectfully. It is a process, which many women describe as difficult, but it is possible to work your way out of a physical assault, even a sexual one.
Courage and willpower
Many of these steps require you work on your own, but hopefully, you will also find others to trust and support you through the process.