A lot of people pride themselves on nonviolence. On being above physically lashing out. I personally don’t. I don’t think that’s actually good for us. At least not in all circumstances. I’m more of a “second punch” type girl. I won’t throw a first punch, but I sure as heck won’t hesitate to throw the second one. This is partially because I know some people (usually people broken and never repaired in their formative years) only respect power, and you have to deal with those people from time to time, same as any other, and speak their language. But part of it is for your own health and well-being (and the latest research backs me up here).
If you are dealing with a major threat, forcing down fight/flight means that instead you get freeze/obedience. Freezing or obeying may be needed to save your life, but freeze/obedience responses also stay with you and make you ill. Later you will find yourself trying to stay distracted and numb out, struggling with dissociation and impulse control issues because you haven’t discharged the energy, and like holding in a sneeze, those explosive forces have to go somewhere. Except this thing doesn’t dissipate over the years. It’s also cumulative (think ACE’s). Often long term it goes into the immune system (causing autoimmune or other similar health conditions, one of the top killers of women, if looked at by type of disorder and not by organ affected) or somatic pain conditions in the muscles and joints, or high blood pressure and cholesterol. Or into a pattern of compulsive decision-making that results in a regret, rinse, repeat cycle. Or substance abuse. Or self-harm (this can include cutting, eating disorders, an obsession with busyness/workaholism, or an addiction to unnecessarily dramatic situations.)
So if you are a survivor – someone who has had a lot of stress stored up in your nervous system because you suffered through certain things while feeling immobilized – and you are feeling retraumatized by something right now, you must go get physical about it or you will feel shut down and you will be more likely to get sick or have a flare-up of stress-related illness.
The goal is of course to feel safe and find a healthy physical way to release the energy. If you are in a safe environment, activities done with both hands and that have a reward will seem appealing. Gardening, crocheting, cooking, yoga, kayaking, fishing, scraping away paint or grime on antique things, all often really help me. And there are plenty others. Music, painting, dance, etc.
But sometimes you don’t feel safe. Sometimes a new threat comes up that is a lot like an old threat and you need to confront the source. While being careful not to find someone else who it is easier to take your aggression out on as a surrogate – something unfortunately done way too easily and by far many people – you will feel the need to get out there and throw the second punch. Listen to that feeling. Do not try to repress it. Do not treat it like a base or shameful impulse. It could be handled in a base or shameful way, but it doesn’t have to be.
It may be an actual punch you throw. It may be a symbolic punch. What’s important is that it registers to your system as you throwing a punch. Your body will wiggle out the tension in a dance that looks like jumping or includes a fist pump.
When you get it out of your nervous system like that you won’t remember it as trauma done to you, a shame or heavyness pushing you down (often symptoms people feel with depression or anxiety). You will instead remember it as bravery done by you. And no matter the outcome, you will feel satisfied with your response.
No matter what anyone else does, you will know you gave yourself a fighting chance.