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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hide, Freeze, or Acquiesce

As children we have experiences that set patterns for our future lives.   

We have scary experiences.  Maybe you were chased and bitten by a dog.  Maybe your father hit you.  Maybe you accidentally found yourself locked in a closet or container and couldn't get out.  These things are frightening, more so the first time.  They come out of the blue and we have no experience to draw on to know how to deal with them.

But once we've dealt with them, we have more information.  If it happens again we know what we did last time and whether it worked or not.  This can help us know how to deal with it this time.  And if what we did to protect ourselves was successful then it is likely to become our first choice the next time something similar happens.  And sometimes what worked once doesn't work the next time, so we try something else.

Eventually, we have a collection of strategies for dealing with fearful situations.  My strategies were hide, freeze, or acquiesce.  These were the things that worked, that minimized or shortened my suffering and pain.

And while these strategies served me well in situations where I was powerless, they also put me in jeopordy in situations that I could have done something about.

I have heard people openly declare that they were not abused as children, that they've never been sexually assaulted.  This is difficult for my mind to process.  There has been so much in my life, it's been so prevelent, it's hard for me to imagine a life without it.  I cannot imgaine being an adult female and not having been sexually assaulted.  Or verbally abused.  I don't think these people are lying, I just can't imagine it.

So maybe your experience in junior high was different from mine.  But for me junior high was a time when it seemed like every boy I knew was exploring his sexuality and his connection with the girls around him.  Grabbing, groping, touching whatever he could get his hands on.  Dirty jokes.  Sex talk.  Mooning and flashing people.

Now put me in this situation.  I find myself alone with a boy in the high school dugout.  He starts to grope me.  Do I tell him to stop?  Do I yell?  Do I leave?  No.  I freeze.  Because I have learned that this is the best way for me to get through the situation.  It's just my body.  It doesn't matter what he does to it. 

And once I am out of the situation, do I tell someone?  No.  I avoid him.  I hide.

And then there is the time I am sleeping over at a friend's house.  I am asleep on the couch and wake up to find her older brother pushing his naked penis into my face.  Do I cry out?  Do I tell his parents?  No.  I push him back slightly and turn over to face the couch.  My version of hiding in this case.

And there were many times when someone wanted me to do something I didn't want to do, but I gave in because it seemed like the safest thing to do.  Just acquiesce.

I didn't learn to fight until I got married, but even then I often fell back on my earlier coping tactics.  Giving in to maintain the peace or protect my children.

It's what I knew.  They were the tools I had.  I did the best I knew how in an effort to protect myself.

Because that's all we can do.  The best we can with the tools we have.

1 comment:

Bonnie said...

Oh, I just wrote about this too. We are so often critical of ourselves, or receive criticism from others that we could just ignore, when we were just doing the best we could. It also helps to see others' experiences to broaden and alter our bullpen of responses. Grow, grow, grow. Heal. It's what we do. Learning the new strategy under fire ... that's fast growth. I sure hope we give that to our children. I sure appreciate the power of faith to try something someone else offers as a tool. I look forward to a world with no abusers.