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#71556 - 10/15/02 09:28 AM fight or flight or frozen
Roy Offline

Registered: 08/02/02
Posts: 184
Loc: Los Angeles
Several days ago I had a conversation with someone I had just met. He knew prior to our meeting that I had been raped as an adult and expressed that he was surprised at my size. I am 6'1" and weight about 230 lbs. (I'm having another conversation with Jenny Craig later in the week!). He was surprised because he had envision me being a little guy, unable to defend myself against the guy who raped me. His comment bothered me. I must stress that I do not think he meant any harm and I harbor no ill will toward this man. However, in the years since I was raped I have received other similar comments from people all centering around the issue of whether or not I defended myself. I'm sure the people I have told about my experience are genuinely surprised that such a thing could happen to me. Believe me, no one was more surprised than me! It bothers me because there is an implication that I maybe wanted it, or liked it, or whatever. I don't know. Maybe they are just surprised and that's all there is to it.

Without going into all the gory details, let me just say that I did say no, I did say stop, let my wishes be known, etc. It was clear I did not want to be penetrated. I have often asked myself over the years why I didn't fight back harder, or done something more to get away. Run it over and over and over in my head. The reality is that the guy was taller than I and used leverage and his left arm to pin me down. The whole thing was over in a few minutes, yet shattered my life.

What I'm getting at is that I suspect that for individuals who have been previously violated in some way, there is a third automatic response to the fight or flight mechanism. It is the state of being frozen, unable to protect oneself from what is clearly about to happen. Even if they have the physical means to do so. I remember feeling absolutely frozen, with no immediate thought to try to fight the guy off or run away or anything. It was simply not available to me for the few precious seconds it took for him to get the upper hand. I think this is because I had been victimized earlier in life by my mother who constantly violated my boundaries and used me to meet her needs, neglecting mine in the process. I was her pseudo-husband, so to speak. I think the same thing happens with guys who are sexuall abused as children. We are set up for future victimization in a variety of ways, some of them violent.

While I was using drugs, crystal meth, and having sex with lots of guys, there were three times I encountered guys who seemed defenseless in some way. Since these were casual encounters and I was unaware of their history, I had little to go on, but something seemed unusual. I could not figure it out at the time, but in retrospect I think I have. While having sex in one form or another, each of these guys seemed uncomfortable with what I was doing, like I was violating them in some way. It was very confusing for me because they continued to engage with me sexually at the time, even after I asked if everything was OK or if they wanted to stop. At the time I just figured I was misreading things, but the memory and confusion have stayed with me, bothering me to some degree. It is abhorrent to me to think that I may have been abusive to someone, even unwittingly.

Now I think that maybe they were experiencing what I went through. Sort of a frozen helplessness due to previous exploitations, such that they (and I) were rendered quite unable to stop the violation. This would explain why some people seem to have a history of multiple victimizations. The mechanism or filters that are available to most people for self-protection are simply not there for those who have been victims. This leaves us extra vulnerable to those who would exploit. Of course, this just makes things worse and leads to further victimization.

Maybe you guys know all this stuff already and I'm just a little slow on the uptake. But realizing this has helped me understand why it happened to me. I was at risk for such a thing and did not even know it. This expensive path of healing I have been on hopefully results in a better warning system so I don't spend my life as a victim. Thanks for listening/reading and for all the wonderful love and support I have received from so many of you.

#71557 - 10/15/02 03:04 PM Re: fight or flight or frozen
SoCalJohn Offline

Registered: 05/18/01
Posts: 510
Loc: Los Angeles, California

This is a new way of looking at things for me, thanks for posting this.

I know for me what happens inside my head is different now from what comes out of my mouth and what my body does, they used to be the same. I am not sure when it changed, but it has changed on the outside i am still waiting for it to change on the inside. What happens for me inside is my brain says *don't hurt me* and like just hopes for the best, what used to happen on the outside was that i would just become real passive and hope for the best, kind of what you and brian were describing, frozen in the headlights and unable to do much of anything.

Now i at least stand taller and speak firmly and do what i need to do to get myself out of potentialy icky situations, i may be cringing on the inside but on the outside i am doing something. The other thing that has chanegd a lot over the years is i pay a lot more attention to my intuition now than i used to, if i walk into any situation and get a funny feeling, i am out of there right away, i dont even hesitate at all anymore.

Thanks Roy for posting this, good stuff.


I asked him about this law he spoke of, he said,,, *watch* he then asked the others to share about their lives,,, the others talked of how things were for them, how things worked in their lives,,, and as they believed, it was so.

#71558 - 10/15/02 04:04 PM Re: fight or flight or frozen
JamesMichael Offline

Registered: 07/24/02
Posts: 134
Very good post Roy. Spot-on (as the Brits say). In so many cases of our collective abuses, we did not fight or flee because we were not able to. So, what's the alternative? Freeze.

I think a history of freezing has led to a degree of spacing-out when I'm really stressed.

Thanks for reminding us of this whole process.

#71559 - 10/15/02 09:00 PM Re: fight or flight or frozen
Roy Offline

Registered: 08/02/02
Posts: 184
Loc: Los Angeles
Brian you evil bitch! You are a testy little thing, aren't you?

Given that most of us probably struggle with codepency issues, and are therefore people pleasers, most of us are probably pretty good in bed, attentive to our partners. In my situation, it wasn't that the three guys I mentioned earlier weren't having a good time. It was something more disturbing, like I was violating them in some way which was hard to read at the time, but which makes sense in retrospect. Normally, if I start to do something the other person does not like or want, it is communicated somehow and I respond in turn. In these cases, looking back on it, it was like they weren't entirely there. And I just now figured out that they were disassociating, a psychological defense where one "leaves" their body for a time while enduring something painful, unpleasant, traumatic. Without intending to, I was probably triggering an older wound, around which they were defenseless. Isn't it amazing how talking and writing about things helps you figure shit out? With these three guys, I was the abuser (without meaning to be) and they were the deer in the headlights.

I totally agree with the deer in the headlights comparison. That's exactly how I felt. And I know it was more than surprise, it was that I had been conditioned by years of previous abuse, 20 to 30 years before, to believe that I was helpless and must endure being violated. Simply shut up, "hold still" and wait until its over. Hope for the best. Hope I survive. I remember hoping that this guy was not intentionally infecting me with HIV. We had had a specific conversation about safe sex and how I would not have intercourse without condoms, to which he eventually agreed. At the time, I had two end stage AIDS clients in the hospital, dying. This was just before the advent of protease inhibitors. I also had other clients who had told me how they had been deliberately infected by others, one in a gang rape situation. I really thought that that was what was happening and I was absolutely terrified. Took me over three years to get tested for HIV, negative thank god, but who knows, maybe that is what he intended and I just got lucky. Sorry, I'm sort of rambling here, its just good to talk about this and get it out. Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. Even yours Brian. ;\)

#71560 - 10/16/02 01:41 AM Re: fight or flight or frozen
The Dean Offline
Moderator Emeritus
Registered: 07/15/02
Posts: 2080
Loc: Milwaukee, WI
Hi Roy,
I have to laugh at the banter between you and Brian. That is healthy.

It is shocking to me the number of adult men who have been raped. I was repeatedly raped but I was a kid and then a teen when it ended 3 or 4 years later. I feel a bit ill at ease that men are being raped today, by other men. I think I would lose my mind--or more liekly kill. I really believe I have the enregy to kill in a situation like that. I would grieve it, but I would kill or at least it seems I would. I am a weak old man so I would have to run the guy down with my car. But my rage is still such that I fear for what I might do in a fit of impetous rage.

OK, it would take a really sick guy to want to rape me today!! Don't say it. But I do very much grieve for how shattering it is to adults who are raped. None of us would allow that if we could.
The fear that a person might kill or in some way seriously harm us is there, even if we do not see a weapon. I was caught in a cross fire once and the shot went across the hood of my car. I never saw the situation at all until after the shot was fired. We just never know.

My perp choked me until I was just losing consciousness every time. All a person would have to do to me today would be to put their arm or hands around my neck and I would panic.

I am sorry you went through this Roy. You are a generous person working to help dying people.But to the perp you were just someone he wanted to exert power over.

It is dumb for me to say it, but I tust you can put that out of your mind in so far as it would affect you image of yourself as a man. You are a stronger man that the man who has never been tested this way. Thanks for your many posts here. We are lucky to have a group of men here who help us all by bringing up, thinmgs we all fuss about.

Bob ;\)

If we do not live what we believe, then we will begin to believe what we live.

#71561 - 10/16/02 05:50 AM Re: fight or flight or frozen
Ron_dup1 Offline

Registered: 05/13/02
Posts: 87
Loc: Arkansas
Frozen in Fear! I know that feeling well. I am almost always in control of things in my life and I like it that way. BUT, if someone threatens me in ANY way I simply cannot move, speak, or even think for that matter. I have often wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Your post has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about it and dealing with it. Thank you for your post!
I went to the Retreat in Sept. and several times found myself in that "deer in the headlights" state. My small group was great and would often stop and ask if I needed to move or if I was feeling unsafe. It was wonderful to be around people who not only understood but also wanted to help me.
I continue to work on it with my therapist and now understand that years of sexual abuse and the chaos of my home (alcoholic mom, absent dad) have trained me well over the years to just try and disappear in times of fear or conflict so as not to draw ANY attention to myself! I just freeze and shut-up. The walls come up and I am no longer there.
Thanks again for you post.


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