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Last week, in the post on sexual assault’s afterlife, I touched on my grandmother’s vocal response to the event along with my own inability to make a sound during the assault. It is easy to assume a four-year-old child is unable to confront a sexual predator, but this is not always the case. Some children scream, cry, and fight physically, while others, like me, manifest sudden voicelessness and physical paralysis. This is the manifestation of the Freeze aspect of the the Fight, Flight, or Freeze Stress Response. During sudden trauma, we sometimes fight, we sometimes take flight, and, as happened to me, we sometimes freeze. Daily tapping, along with healthy sleep habits, eating habits, thinking habits, physical movement habits, meditation habits, and social habits, can build resilience into our lives that helps the Stress Response do the work it is meant to do – protect us from actual danger.
It sounds so simple; however, we are a package deal. Life on Planet Earth means that if we live long enough, we are required to get to know ourselves physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually as individuals and as an essential part of a vast, magnificent, interconnected whole. This is no easy task. Rocket scientists may learn how to build and send rockets to the moon, but they may never learn how to craft well rounded lives lived in positive relationship with others and our shared Earth home.
Tapping daily helps us to grow in self knowledge, in compassion, and in problem solving skills. Tapping quiets our internal critics and in doing so creates space for vital insights, those breathtaking shifts in perspective that make it possible for us to move forward, alone and in relationships, with confidence. When we regularly address specific stresses in our environment, including our family, economic, work, and natural environment concerns, we reduce the likelihood of Stress Response hyper-vigilance over trivial matters. Addressing the everyday stresses in our lives means increased opportunities for team work, creative partnerships, and mutually positive outcomes. And we all need these positive outcomes to better navigate life’s stresses. We all take pleasure in feeling the resourcefulness tapping builds and supports, but how does daily tapping relate to those situations in which we have been traumatized?
The voicelessness I felt as an almost-four-year old is a very real possibility when we are confronted by violent sexual predation. One of the reasons many sexual assault survivors won’t report is because they somehow feel they have colluded with their predators by not screaming, fighting, or running away. The Freeze Response, when misunderstood, may feel like the worst ineptitude. “I failed to stop this,” the inner critic says; “I didn’t fight. What’s wrong with me? Is this my fault?”
The answer to this last question is always NO. The Freeze Response is a powerful life-saving strategy meant to keep us alive through the worst. Some predators get sadistic pleasure from a fight. The body in its wisdom knows this. If we feel let down by our voicelessness during serious attack, it is very important to honour the body afterward with gratitude and loving attention; sometimes talk therapy feels right, sometimes massage, and sometimes long Goddess Baths in which we cry and tell our assailant what we wish we’d said in the moment. Building support networks helps us to return to confidence in our ability to move forward. Tapping can offer special comfort during this time of sensitive aftercare.
For example, to consciously re-establish a sense of trust in the body, beginning on the Karate Chop point:
“Even though I didn’t scream or fight, I love and trust my wise body. Even though a part of me feels I should have done something to resist, I love and accept the wisdom of that part of me that went into Freeze Response. Even though a part of me is ashamed I just froze, I refuse to accept blame for the assault and I love myself for living through this event and wanting . . . expecting . . . to heal.
Tapping through the points, beginning on the eyebrow point and ending at the top of the head:
“the attack terrified me; I just froze; I felt paralyzed; I WAS paralyzed; I couldn’t scream; I had no voice; I didn’t fight; I was paralyzed.”
This is a powerful script because as we tap the body returns to harmony regarding the cultural messages that tell us those who fight and scream or who try to run away demonstrate the correct response to sexual predators. Many counselors and police officers advise us to fight, to scream, to blow our whistles and use our mace, because those who are able to stop an attack feel empowered. Those who freeze, and those who fight but are overpowered, are traumatized a second time when they are told they should have done something more to prevent the attack. It shouldn’t be this way, and we can change this blame-the-victim culture by educating ourselves about the power and limits of the Stress Response.
After tapping a round that specifically addresses freezing, it is helpful to add a second round of tapping where we explore the positive consequences of surviving the attack:
“I couldn’t use my voice then, but I can use it now; I know my body froze to keep me alive; sometimes freezing happens; freezing doesn’t make me bad; freezing doesn’t mean I colluded; freezing happens when we are terrorized; it is a survival mechanism and I am grateful for it; I am so grateful to my wonderful wise body and for my voice now.”
Our feelings determine how long we tap, but even this simple round will create space, shift perspective, and release hormones that support our return to wellness. Voicelessness is something physiological; it is a survival response to terror. Finding our voices after an attack in which we were voicelessness empowers us to connect with others who may otherwise isolate themselves out of shame and self blame. Let us work together to end this isolation. Let us work together to stand strong, face the worst, and move through the terror of sexual assault to a place of self love, positive connections, and lives in which we thrive.
Until next week
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Advanced Practitioner, email@example.com, 802-533-9277.
Jane is a Life Coach specializing in neutralizing trauma and cultural constructs to support positive life choices and activism at every age.