In an emergency situation, we learn in biology class, an animal or human can fight or flee. Adrenaline is called up and the organism prepares for action. The thing they don’t tell us is that the “freeze” response is just as basic. Think of a rabbit freezing at the sight of a predator it can’t get away from. Think of a mouse playing dead in the jaws of the cat, waiting for the chance to dart away.
For those of us who were abused as children, it’s often the freeze response that we experienced. We couldn’t run away if we were small. We couldn’t fight back while we depended for our very lives on the adults who were abusing us. So we froze, with our tender nervous systems at high alert, adrenaline pumping, but unable to act.
Some brave souls among us learned to fight back, whatever the cost. I admire them. I learned helplessness and it’s taken years to learn that I now can fight back. I’ve found out how to yell, pound pillows, stomp around the room, or draw angry red and black pictures. I’ve experienced how cathartic and empowering it is to give bodily expression to anger and outrage in a safe place - not aimed at anyone, just venting. Then I can respond as a grownup from a position of strength and some calm. What a difference that makes!