Sharing – Understanding the ways children cope with threats
Again, another reminder that if you simply froze in response to abuse as a child, instead of trying to get away, or fighting, that’s actually pretty normal, and beyond your control:
The stress response is a survival response. It is an innate biological response to threat or perceived threat. It prepares the body to fight or flee. If we can’t fight or flee, we freeze and shut down. When a child is in danger and feels trapped, these ‘survival’ responses are activated. They are not conscious responses; they are often triggered without the child knowing. They stop the child or adult from being overwhelmed.
Children are often unable to fight or flee. This makes them more likely freeze or dissociate. The younger the child the more likely they will dissociate in response to trauma. The process of dissociation enables them to divide their experience. This is a protective ‘survival’ response to being overwhelmed. The child can then separate aspects of the experience from their awareness.
I was abused as a kid. Often, I was abused in my own house, late at night. Where could I have run to? How could I have fought off someone older, stronger, and physically larger than me? My mind, somehow, knew that those options really weren’t available to me, so it froze, and dissociated, as described above. Why then, are there still so many people out there who look at that type of reaction to being abused and somehow think less of me, for not fighting, not telling, not running away.
My reaction, and the reaction of many, many, survivors was far more natural, normal, and completely beyond my ability to control than any of the other reactions you expect us to have had. Frankly, if you don’t get this, educate yourself before you even think about talking to another survivor.
Survivors, stop beating yourself up for not fighting or running. You had no control over your abuse, and pretty much no control over your response to it either. Your brain, and your body, were doing whatever they could to simply help you survive. Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness that you are still here. That means you have a chance to heal, and a life to lead.
You need not waste any more of it feeling shame because of how you reacted when you didn’t choose that either.