Our Brains Are So Cool!
(A bit of my story. Trigger warning.)
“In the arousal response … the brain will focus on the threat, tuning out any nonessential input from the body and the outside world.”
This assault or threat response explanation by trauma expert Bruce Perry was spot on for me, and I thought I’d share a little bit of this experience — now that I’m more healed — because I’ve always found it really fascinating (though a bit disconcerting).
Maybe you never knew exactly what your brain is capable of. It’s pretty cool!
When the sexual predator grabbed me, I had only a split second of cognitive thought to process what was about to happen. Then by the time I was on the ground, my brain already had pumped me with adrenaline to prepare for fight (just one of several possible and practical automatic survival responses), and the primitive part of my brain took over as I resisted and fought. The space in front of me became a fuzzy, white blank slate — kind of like static — with only sporadic images emerging. I don’t remember any smells. I don’t remember feeling any physical sensations during it. I don’t remember any sounds except the sounds I was making and a threat he made to me.
Though I was on a bookstore floor, the bookshelves were gone, the floor was gone, the ceiling was gone, even his upper body was gone. I could see only a couple of things related to direct threat, including a weapon.
This loss of most of my senses, and especially much of my visual ability was frustrating to me for a long time during the first years of my recovery. My brain still has not filled in the blanks, but I’ve largely made peace with it.
The detective who worked my case called this experience “tunnel vision” and spoke of a colleague or friend who was threatened by someone with a gun and could only see the gun.
The brain is very efficient and smart. It can analyze in a split second whether it’s more practical to fight, flee (flight), freeze or fawn. My brain had me focus on only what I needed to see and hear to survive.
Art by Dianne Hammer
Follow me on Instagram @diannehammer_writer and Facebook @DianneHammerWriter.