(Disclaimer: This topic can be a little heavy for some people, so to compensate, I’m going to step up the goofiness today. )
So – you know what? It occurred to me that I’m trying to explain the fight/flight/freeze response using zebras and lions, and…
Zebras don’t usually fight lions.
So before we go any further, you need to know more about Dave the Zebra. He’s not your ordinary zebra.
Dave’s had it with the lion bullying his friends. (You all remember what happened to George?)
Dave’s been learning karate. He’s gotten pretty good. The next time that lion messes with any of his friends, Dave’s going to unleash some zebra fury.
When the lion comes along, Dave’s reflex takes over. He feels the adrenaline rush; he hears the theme music from Rocky playing in his head…
He feels fear. Fear is not a choice – it’s part of reflex. Fear is a signal of possible danger.
And then he feels… anger. Rage. Maybe even vicious, blind rage, like he’s never felt before.
(How are you doing? Remember – if this is uncomfortable, take a moment to breathe and remind yourself that we’re talking about a zebra, a little horse in striped pajamas…)
Like fear, feeling rage in a potentially life-threatening situation is also reflex. Rage helps Dave summon every ounce of bad-ass that he’s got, and to focus on neutralizing the threat.
(Hey – if you’re a zebra pulling karate moves on a lion, every bit of help counts, right?)
And aside from that – he feels a whole lot of… nothing. Feeling numb is also part of reflex; you see, when an animal is in danger, it may be cold, tired, weak, hungry, or injured (or arguing with its wife). All of that stuff just gets in the way when you have to focus on survival. So, numbing everything out is important to survival – it helps you focus on the danger and nothing else.
The last emotion involved in the survival reflex results from adrenaline. Adrenaline is basically a drug that the body produces itself. It’s a painkiller, so it allows Dave to keep beating up on the lion, even if Dave is exhausted or injured himself. To help do that, adrenaline makes you feel a little loopy/drunk/happy. This is part of how the body protects itself from stuff like pain or fatigue getting in the way of survival.
Later, Dave might feel ashamed and even horrified that he felt pleasure at beating the crap out of the lion. That’s why it’s really important for him to know that these feelings are a hard-wired part of reflex; they are not a choice, and he is not to blame for how he felt at the time. Shame and guilt don’t help him heal – they just feed depression and keep him stuck.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.