Posted by: Marie | April 23, 2010

(298) Uncomfortable stimuli

Post #298
[Private journal entry written on Monday, January 4, 2010]

I’ve put together some more thoughts in preparation for Thursday’s session. I can see that I have three options for responding to uncomfortable situations:

1) Passively resist by being frozen and paralyzed – to the point I can’t move or speak

I learned very early that this response puts me in danger. When I respond this way, I stop seeing and hearing what is happening around me – which keeps me from being aware of fists and hands and belts and verbal assaults that are flying towards me – and which keeps me from being ready to duck or run – or fight back against sexual assault.

I learned very early that, if I dared be slow in doing what my dad told me to do, I could expect violence. If I fought back, his violence escalated.

The more realistic solution was to be compliant so there would be no reason to flinch or duck. I learned very early that it was much safer to show no defiance or fear, only compliance.

2) Go numb and respond in a way that convinces the other party I’m comfortable with and enthusiastic about complying

This is the way I have operated most of my life, pretty much on a daily basis. I learned at a very young age that, not only must I comply, but I must also appear enthusiastic about complying. The price for showing any lack of enthusiasm was very high.

With my dad, any sign of resistance towards the household rules and religious/moral dogma would result in severe punishment.

With men, a lack of compliance/enthusiasm in sexual relations would result in a withdrawal of their attention, acceptance and approval – something I desperately craved, something for which I willingly traded my body, starting at the tender age of four.

It has always been easier to just smile and go along with the program. I have gotten so good at it that sometimes, as long as I stay numb, I can convince myself I’m doing exactly what I want to do – that the trade-off is worth it.

3) Speak out and move my body in a way that stops the uncomfortable situation

I have responded in this way a number of times in my life – people who know me well call me a spitfire and a fighter. Yet, I can only recall of handful of times I have responded in this way – usually when I was fighting for my physical safety and life.

The only other times have been in my professional world. For whatever reason, I have consistently felt strong and competent in my professional life – it is the one area of my life I believe my presence has made a difference – the one area where the world sees me as valuable.

However, when my professional world fell apart eight years ago, I lost my sense of strength and ability as a professional – and, I lost the sense that I have the strength and ability to respond to uncomfortable situations by speaking out and moving my body.

I feel very powerless right now, in all areas of my life. I fear I don’t have the reserves needed to fight the battles that might arise in the wake of my responding in this way – it is much safer, and more comfortable, to just smile and comply with whatever comes along.

I understand I need to learn to respond by speaking out and moving my body in a way that protects me. I need to learn how to establish and enforce my boundaries. I just don’t yet know how.


  1. I completely relate to this post – all three of those describe me as well. Thank you for sharing this.


    • You are most welcome, Bee –

      It is good to know the experience is similar for others!

      – Marie

  2. Did you experiment with trying out these different ways of responding?

    Looking forward to hearing how the session went.

  3. Hey, Evan –

    I think spelling it out like this made me more aware of when I was in which state . . .

    My preference is to use the last way all of the time, and adjust how strongly I speak and act out based upon the need to do so.

    However, the issue for me is that I don’t know how to not do the first two when I get triggered — my response to the triggering is overwhelming.

    (As I have been progressing in therapy in the months since this was written, my ability to respond more often with the last response is starting to improve as the triggers are losing their power . . . )

    – Marie

  4. I react just the opposite. Instead of not reacting at all, I overreact. Even if it is just an unexpected pat on the shoulder, I’ll immediately go into defense mode, feel the adrenaline, scream, and get my body ready to fight. In that moment, if the threat is real or imagined, all my brain can think is that it’s happening again, it’s happening again! And that is the scariest thought of all. Even if I’m just biking or walking down my street, at the recreation center or in my street’s walking/biking trail, I am always on high alert, looking out for danger so I can be prepared. Truthfully, I even tense if family or friends are hugging me. Only when I have lost complete power over the situation is when I go numb, become disconnected and turn compliant. At that point, my brain knows there is no getting out, and just to survive the situation with as little wounds as possible.

    • Hi, xstarlightembers –

      It sounds like you have some pretty strong body memories . . . and those bodily reactions are much stronger than logic, I’m learning.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience . . . I guess we are all unique and at the same time very similar in many ways.

      I wish you the best in your healing journey . . .

      – Marie

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