Freezing vs. Fighting: Two Strategic Responses to Assault

The better you understand yourself, the easier it will be for you to recover from stress. When you don’t understand yourself, you are prone to setting unreasonable expectations which you then punish yourself for being unable to meet. Victims of assault are very quick to turn against themselves when they decided that they don’t approve of how they behaved. But what causes this kind of internal conflict? And what can you do about it?

Your soul is the part of you that cares about right and wrong. When someone assaults you, your soul instinctively understands that your abuser is doing wrong. Your soul wants you to defend yourself by coming to your own rescue. We all admire and appreciate the fellow who risks his life to save someone who is trapped in a dire situation. It is your soul that basks in the rightness of such moments, and it is your soul that feels horrified when people treat each other cruelly.

Physical assault is a terrible thing. If sexual assault is added to the mix, it’s all the more horrifying to your soul. Once it realizes what is happening, your soul becomes frantic, ordering your body and mind to either run or fight–whatever it takes to get you out of danger. And yet in many cases, your body will just stand there, frozen, as if in some strange state of paralysis. Why on earth would it do this when your body is the part of you that is being targeted? All bodies want to feel good and be safe. Assault is painful and dangerous, so why doesn’t your body do what is obviously in its own best interests by lashing out against your attacker? Even more baffling to your soul are situations in which your body actually starts cooperating with your abuser–actually helping them to abuse you by following instructions and acting like some kind of obedient automaton.

When you look back on an assault and feel ashamed and disturbed by your submissive response, that it is your soul talking. Your soul is full of criticism for the way you behaved because it can’t see any justification for it. And yet the truth is that your freezing and/or cooperative response to being assault was very smart, very clever, and directed by the subconscious part of your mind.

Two Defense Strategies

Humans respond to threats in two main ways. No one gets to choose which strategy they’ll use–these things are already programmed into you at birth and they stick with you your whole life. I’m going to explain both strategies in this post, but before I do, you need to understand this key point: both strategies are equally intelligent. This is not a case of “good vs. bad.” Blue isn’t it better than green, they’re just different. They also compliment each other. You wouldn’t want a blue sky and blue grass. You wouldn’t want a green sky and green grass either. Blue seems like an excellent color for the sky, and green looks great on the ground. It is both colors existing together that result in beautiful scenery. In the same way, the natural differences among humans were designed to complement and enhance each other.

Like your soul, your mind is very interested in keeping you safe, and it is just as alarmed as your soul is when you fall under attack. But while your soul panics, your subconscious is like an experienced war general who knows how to keep his wits about him in emergency situations. As soon as the trouble starts, your subconscious performs a rapid threat assessment. What kind of injuries are you being threatened with? How well equipped is your attacker? How agitated is your attacker? How is your attacker likely to respond if you resist? What is the current state of your internal resources? Your subconscious performs its complex analysis with lightning speed, and then seizes control of your body while it ignores the frantic protests of your soul. Your subconscious considers itself to be far superior to your soul in handling emergencies, so it isn’t about to hand over the reins and let your soul do something stupid.

In these moments, your subconscious’ top priority is getting you through the crisis with as little damage as possible. If you have a mind that naturally defaults to an aggressive strategy, then your subconscious will favor the idea of you rushing at your attacker with everything you’ve got in an attempt to swiftly turn the tables on him. Aggressives instinctively lash out when they are threatened. Whether they use words, actions, or both, they tend to use a loud, dramatic style that is intended to surprise and intimidate their enemies. The man who leaps at his mugger and attempts to rip the mugger’s gun away from him is an aggressive. The boyfriend who gives his girlfriend a hard whack across the face after she delivers some cutting remark is an aggressive. The woman who is quick to get into screaming matches with her girlfriends is an aggressive. The wife who hurls things at her husband’s head when he gives her sass is an aggressive. The driver who cusses out other drivers and is quick to use his horn is an aggressive. Serial rapists, school bullies, gang leaders, and heroic soldiers tend to be aggressives. Aggressive lash out when they feel threatened and stressed. They tend to vent their emotions as they feel them, which can make them come across as angry and intimidating. They are attracted to violent forms of revenge, and can find it very therapeutic to lash out vicariously at others through violent video games or by watching violent movies.

There are many advantages to the aggressive style. Since they find holding in their emotions very difficult to do, they are better at keeping their stress levels down by venting as they go. When you hear stories of people doing heroic things, an aggressive was often involved. Aggressives often refuse to let bad odds intimidate them. When it comes to turning the tables on their attackers, they would much rather try and fail then never try. Their tendency to rapidly escalate conflicts can get them into unnecessary trouble, but they also accomplish some very admirable things that their fellow passives would never dare to attempt.

When a passive sizes up a situation and determines that the odds are stacked against him, he defaults to a very different strategy than aggressives use. To a passive, the only smart way to respond to a serious threat is to keep the enemy as calm as possible and satisfy his demands as quickly as possible so that he will go away. Both passives and aggressives have the same goal: to escape the situation with as little injury as possible. But when a passive feels the odds are against him, agitating his enemy seems guaranteed to result in worse injuries, so he sees no value in taking that kind of risk. A passive does not cooperate because he is a coward–on the contrary, passives show very impressive courage under fire.

Assault is extremely distressing to any mind, and yet the passive’s goal is keep his reactions cloaked as much as possible. The woman who freezes and quietly whimpers while being raped is a passive. The man who instantly hands his wallet over to a mugger is a passive. The boy who cowers in the shadow of a school bully and quietly absorbs a beating is a passive. The husband who instantly gives in whenever his wife raises her voice is a passive. The child who freezes while he is being groped is a passive. Passives pull inward when they are threatened or stressed. They try to hide their emotions, they keep their physical movements at a minimum, they use lower, calmer vocal tones, and they often remain emotionally shutdown long after the crisis has passed. Passives are easily intimidated into keeping ongoing abuse a secret because they feel that pacifying their abusers is a critical part of their self-defense.

When under attack, a passive’s subconscious will resort to some very impressive tricks to allow the all important calm exterior to be maintained. In cases of prolonged assault, the mind of a passive can actually block out sensations of pain. These temporary blocks are dropped once the immediate danger has passed, at which point the victim suddenly becomes aware of how much damage was done to his body. Even while their minds are managing nerve sensations, passives can remain shockingly calm and coherent, able to respond to their attackers and carry out complex instructions. Their emotional reactions to being assaulted are just as intense as aggressives, but passives are able to cloak their feelings so that only a fraction of what they are feeling is glimpsed on the surface.

The fact that passives keep their reactions so well hidden often causes their crises to go unnoticed by others. Traumatized passives often find it very difficult to break out of their instinctive emotional lock down mode, and this often causes those closest to them to greatly underestimate how much stress they are still under long after the assault. Yet by focusing on the goal of not agitating their attackers, passives often do succeed at escaping their attackers with minimal physical harm. Since assault is a lashing out activity, many attackers tend to be traumatized aggressives, and aggressives who are in a state of psychological trauma are very likely to escalate violence if they are provoked. So the passive logic has great merit to it, and there are many situations in which the passive style is by far the better choice.

In their every day relationships, passives instinctively try to diffuse conflicts instead of escalating them. They have a much easier time working together in large groups than aggressives do, and they tend to be easier to supervise as they are more likely to obey orders than challenge them. Aggressives prefer to surround themselves with passives because passives will be less likely to challenge them. Since aggressives often feel they must rise to meet a challenger and be ever ready to use a lot of dramatic posturing, it’s hard for aggressives to relax around each other. School bullies, gang leaders, and aggressive businessmen try to surround themselves with passives who will follow their lead and quietly tolerate their abuse.

Passives do much better in customer service jobs where interfacing with rude customers is a frequent requirement. They come across as much more patient and tolerant than aggressives, yet their calm is deceptive. Passives do feel far more than they let on, which is why having safe relationships in which they can talk about their true feelings is so important to their mental health. Cussing out the general world doesn’t help passives the way it helps aggressives. Role playing violent characters is often stressful for them, while aggressives can find the same activities fun and calming. Passives can do better at resolving conflicts since they aren’t so quick to raise their voices and hit things. But for all of their strengths, passives can really thrive under the shelter of aggressives.

When passives and aggressives pair up, they can balance each other out in beautiful ways. Passives are vulnerable to being doormats who don’t speak up for themselves as often as they should. Aggressives tend to speak up too much, creating problems where none existed. Observing the aggressive style of blurting out emotions as they are felt can make passives feel like they have permission to talk about their stresses as well, instead of having to keep most of their emotions jammed down. Observing the passive approach to conflict can inspire aggressives to tone down their posturing and feel less pressure to engage with challengers. Aggressives teach passives that there is great value in venting emotions. Passives teach aggressives that there is great wisdom in staying calm. Working together, the two temperaments can really help each other flourish and improve their individual responses to stress.

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