When a traumatic incident is taking place, it’s rare for us to be able to make sound, conscious decisions. While experiencing trauma, most decisions are subconscious and a result of a hormonal rush.
During a sexual assault, the part of the brain responsible for feeling emotions such as fear (the amygdala), recognizes threats and unleashes a chain of neural activity which allows the body to stop all unnecessary functions (such as digestion) and focus all resources on the threat at hand.
Unless trained for highly stressful situations (such as police or military forces), it is very difficult to make cognitive decisions such as fight or flight.
Our brains resort to default behaviors of survival, which may include:
- A trance-like state
- Also known as Dissociation. It is a dream-like state in which your brain removes parts of the experience away from the consciousness, in order to protect itself. This can lead to memory loss, feelings of surreality or detachment.
- Freeze Response
- Also known as Tonic Immobility or temporary paralysis. It is the freeze response that can make you immobile or unable to move, while still being conscious of everything that is occurring.
- Rigid muscles and a drop in body temperature are some other signs. This is a completely involuntary response, and yet sometimes people feel that they could have done more to fight or call for help. It is important to keep in mind that these are survival responses our body enforces and we do not have any conscious control of them within the moment.
- Limp muscles/collapsing
- Also known as Collapsed Mobility. It can be a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure to the point where a person faints or loses muscle tone (feels limp). This constricts any bodily action or movement, in response to an assault situation.