VIOLENCE: Will You Panic When You Least Expect It?

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by Sandra D. Lane

Violence is everywhere we look. We see it on television. We see it at the theater. We read it in books, magazines, articles, and social media posts. We view it in online videos, and we regard it in photographs and art. The video game market is flooded with games that “contain violence,” and so are the news headlines.

Some of us receive it, and some of us may even dish it out. But violence isn’t actually perceived the way most of us might expect it to be because we aren’t totally immersed in the event without availability to allour senses.

Until then, violence cannot impact us completely, which therefore taints our perception of its true nature.

How can this be accurate?

I know; I get it. Pretty much all of us have experienced violence in some form or another. And this is where I have to give a hard pass to dedicated farmers, ranchers, homesteaders, law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, military, and similar professions because they deal with the entire spectrum of violence ‘in real-time and in real life.’

But the rest of us, not so much.

What does a homesteader have in common with a police officer? They both run the gamut of life to death regularly. There is violence in both the first breath and the last; the newborn chick and newborn baby, the severed artery of the buck’s throat, and that of the lone pedestrian. However, the majority of human beings aren’t involved in any of this, and only experience one or two facets of violence at any given time.

I witnessed this over the weekend.

It was late, late Friday night, when all the storms were moving east, dumping snow on the north and building up power for tornadoes in the south, that I first heard the thuds and thumps. The wind was howling and blowing in all different directions, and the rain was driving first one way then the other, so it was the perfect time for a scary night.

In the beginning, I thought the loud thumping was my garbage container being blown down the street, but after checking, it clearly wasn’t that.  Securing the back door, I went to the front and, upon opening it, heard screams. Needless to say, I instantly became more alert, and the hair stood up on my arms and neck. And I felt shaken to the core.

We don’t live in a high crime area, and while I’ve had to call the police non-emergency line for things like vehicles pumping out loud bass, actually dialing 911 is almost a non-thing. This particular night would be different. As the dispatcher voiced those words we all hear in one form or another when someone dials 911 in movies or on television, I continuously heard high pitched screams, although they were slightly muffled, along with those damnable thuds and thumps, and my own words couldn’t wait to get out.

I had already panicked.

The 911 dispatcher heard it in my voice before I could even get my address out. I heard it in my voice, and as I struggled to calm myself down as the screaming continued, not only were my thoughts racing about what was being done to someone somewhere, but I was also trying to understand why I had panicked in the first place.

And, worse, and against all logic, I wanted to bolt out the door and find whoever was screaming and get them to safety instead of painstakingly telling someone else what was going on. Thankfully I was able to focus on the dispatcher’s voice and answer her questions. What was I hearing? Could I see it? Where was it coming from? Next door? Next street over?

It was at this point I remembered a neighborhood rumor; that our next-door neighbor beat his girlfriends. I had never seen it happen, but I did know from experience that he was far from being a kind man. But, I had never seen him hurt a human being like some of the older people in the neighborhood had.

So now, as the thumping continued, my blood began to run cold. Was that a body being flung around? Were the screams coming from his girlfriend?

And then all the raucous stopped.

As I stood on my front steps, the wind whipping around, the telltale smell of rain in the air, both the dispatcher and I seemed to hold our breath – listening. Then, the front door of that neighbor’s house slammed, and someone got into their SUV. And they clearly saw me, phone to my ear, before they backed out and drove off. Their house was now quiet.

The police were on their way.

I quickly moved back inside, knowing I was too late for anything. Someone involved had already seen me, and whoever had been screaming was now silent. Things didn’t seem good for either of us.

I told the dispatcher what I’d seen and that, after closing and locking the front door, I needed to get my husband (who has been sick) out of bed. I was visibly shaking at this point, and my heart was racing.

The police were already on their way, but I questioned if I’d just stood idly by while a person was beaten, perhaps to death? My imagination ran wild, I was flooded with guilt and helplessness, and so sunk into my computer chair, dispatch still talking in my ear, while my husband headed out the back door to hopefully see where the SUV went.

What causes some people to panic?

I, like many, have been beaten repeatedly as a child, sexually assaulted, debased and emotionally abused, and even brainwashed (if it’s even called that). So I had experienced violence before.

Why did I panic so quickly? I wasn’t in any danger at that moment; I wasn’t the one screaming or being hurt. So what caused me to become emotional all of a sudden? Others that have experienced violence, whether giving or taking it, know there is a certain detachment involved in surviving these types of violence. And in raising my kids, I used corporal punishment from time to time if it absolutely had to come to that.

Again though, there was a certain amount of detachment involved. I’d also seen people die naturally in real life, been to funerals, given birth – life and death were no stranger to me. And if all the violent video games I’d played and intense, sometimes horrific, movies and tv shows I’d watched amounted to anything, I should be desensitized – even if only a little.

So why wasn’t I?

The level at which we are immersed in the violence itself determines our response and how much it affects us.

Our senses, especially the main five, work to complete the perception we have of the world around us on a basic level, and actually trigger our emotions. If what we witness, though, if what we experience, is absent various senses, then we don’t fully experience it.

For example, if we watch an action movie where someone gets shot then run over by a car, we might wince, we might even momentarily turn away, but I can guarantee it will never affect us as it would if we saw it happen in real life.

By viewing the event in a fictional way, we’re using our sense of sight and sound, but not of touch – we don’t feel the night air or the environment, the heat from the car or the pain from the bullet – or of smell – because we don’t breathe in the car exhaust, the air outside, none of it – like we would if it were real and we were there. And when it comes to the sense of smell, that is arguably the most important sense we have.

“Our sense of smell plays a major, sometimes unconscious, role in how we perceive and interact with others, select a mate, and helps us decide what we like to eat. And when it comes to handling traumatic experiences, smell can be a trigger in activating PTSD.” source

What difference does that make?

Complete desensitization rarely occurs.

While we may think we’re being hardened by what we’ve seen, done, or experienced, if all our senses haven’t been utilized, then we haven’t.

In a normal, thriving, recovering world, that’s a good thing, and it’s what we strive for. In a catastrophe, emergency, or SHTF world, it can render us helpless.

Here’s why.

The Fight-or-Flight Syndrome

When our bodies experience an emergency or disaster event, regardless of the proportions, it becomes stressed. And when it becomes stressed, it enters survival mode, or what’s officially called the “Fight-or-Flight Syndrome.”

“When you feel threatened, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which rouse the body for emergency action. Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and your senses become sharper. These physical changes increase your strength and stamina, speed up your reaction time, and enhance your focus—preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger at hand.” source

That sounds like a good thing, right? It can be. But it can also go overboard.

The Ultimate Hijacking

As early humans, we were exposed to a constant threat of kill or be killed. It is thought by scientists that because of that constant threat, human brains were either created or evolved with the fight-or-flight mode.

When the body is in survival (Fight-or-Flight) mode, two small parts of our brain, called the amygdala(which plays a crucial role in processing our emotions), sends out a signal to the hippocampus (a part of the limbic system that connects our emotions and forms/stores our memories) to release stress chemicals known as cortisol, which then goes to the brain and causes the processes of the pre-frontal cortex to slow down. This phenomenon has a name all its own, called an “Amygdala Hijack.”  The pre-frontal cortex is the decision-making center of the brain, but it is now being controlled by the amygdala – who has all the emotions.

It’s in this state that we either become a blubbering, sniffling, quivering mess of frozen fear, or we attack with such force and fury that we leave nothing standing in our tracks. And, biologically, it’s the way we’re supposed to react – if we’re in a primitive world.

It is, after all, a survival mode.

How do we prevent this hijacking from occurring?

Panicking was a natural and biological response, and my emotions got the best of me.

And, regardless of what I’d seen, heard, or experienced in my life, I was never completely immersed in the event regarding my senses. Somewhere subconsciously, I knew that most of what I was seeing/hearing was fake.

What I experienced that wasn’t fake, like someone dying, my kid’s arm breaking, breaking my leg, a woman being hit, a stabbing – none of those involved all my senses, meaning that I wasn’t entirely ‘vested’ in the event.

But the takeaway from this whole experience, for me anyway, was that no matter what I’d been through in my life – none of it mattered.

Even though we are biologically created, or have evolved, to be reactive instead of thoughtful or critical in our thinking during a violent event or crisis, that’s no excuse. We have to train ourselves to be better, to be mentally stronger, to think clearer, and to leave as much emotion as we can out of our decision-making process.

This can be very difficult for some, depending on the violent act.

All my logic goes out the window when it pertains to a hurt animal or a baby, and I know I should be the last person to make a decision in cases like that. (And apparently, I lose control of my temper when it comes to domestic violence.) So you have to know yourself well and be totally honest with what you know sets you off and what you think doesn’t.

Then you have to train yourself.

How in the world do you train for violence?

There is an abundance of lists on how to act and what to do in a crisis or SHTF scenario, but, even though many events could contain violence, it’s not an absolute certainty they will. The problem with this is usually the onset of violence is not known until it’s already there, which means you have to act on your feet.

Let’s look at an ordinary event like a dinner date. You need details, right? You need to know where, when, how to get there, what time, who’s going to be there, what you should wear. But the very first thing you need to know is the kind of event.

It’s a dinner date. After that, it all falls into place as you logically ask questions, make arrangements, and do what needs to be done to make it a success.

What about a different event, like a hurricane? Even though the magnitude of the event has changed, you still need to know the same things, right? When, where, about what time… Ok, maybe not exactly what to wear, but you get my meaning.

Violence is the same, only faster.

When an act of violence occurs, the ‘kind’ of event you’re experiencing is already known, and the ‘when?’ part has already happened. So has the ‘where?’, ‘how?’, and ‘time?’. For the most part, it’s like you’re already dealing with the hurricane’s landfall, you just probably didn’t see it coming and so you weren’t prepared.

And that’s how you plan for violence.

I remember when I was about 12 years old, I had gotten used to my step-mother walking down the hallway at night after bedtime and listening at my door. I knew from experience that if I made any noise she could hear, she would come in and either hit me, yell at me (especially when my dad was gone), or find some way to hurt me. So I wouldn’t move a muscle. In my young mind, she could even hear my breathing, so I would slow my breathing as much as I could or put my face in the pillow. If she didn’t hear me, she would walk on by.

That’s a small example but, hopefully, it gets my point across. The only way to mentally train for violence is to prepare for it.

There’s no way to prepare for every possibility.

However, there are some basic things we can do that will better our outcomes.

1. The very first thing to do to lessen all violence is to have a plan in place in case a violent attack or event happens directly to you.

Know who you can call, program their numbers and make a list of them, and put them around the house. Try to find a neighbor you can at least call on for muscle or firepower if needed. If you live alone, let someone you trust know it. Put timers on your lights for night time, or leave a television on a channel that plays lots of commercials (commercials cause flashing against the walls and curtains, making it appear someone is moving around.) Keep a weapon you are comfortable using, even if it’s a bat. And if you have a friend with a dog, especially a few big dogs, see if you can make some good recordings of the dogs barking.

The next several steps are likely to happen in quick succession.

2. Acceptance.

Denial is usually the very first hurdle for everything bad, and violence can be very, very bad. Our thoughts generally gravitate towards some reason more desirable, or at least more manageable, and sometimes that denial leads people to ignore violence completely. So, right out of the gate, we have to accept that something violent has occurred. If you don’t accept that it’s happened, you can’t deal with it. (See Daisy’s article on this topic.)

3. Breathe deeply and slowly.

So many times, we find ourselves breathing fast, or maybe even holding our breath, which makes our hearts race, and we find ourselves more out of breath, then confused, and some even faint. Breathe, and breathe deep and slow. This will get oxygen to your brain where you need it most right now.

4. Think.

Above all else, allow yourself a moment to think. To recall plans you might have made for just such an event, the name and whereabouts of a person you can get in touch with for help, to methodically get your phone or a weapon to protect yourself.

Warning: It’s at this time that doubt and denial might creep back in. Trust your gut – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

5. Make sure you, yourself, are safe if at all possible.

Lock up, move to a place where you aren’t seen, cover yourself, etc.

6. Dial 911.

In the United States, it’s 911 for emergency services, in the United Kingdom and many British territories it’s 999, and in the United Kingdom and many British territories, it’s 112. Whatever your emergency number is, dial it.

Be prepared to give your address and name clearly, and any other information they ask for. Don’t rush, even though it may feel as if you’re being made to go slow – they have to type some information in so be patient.

7. Stay alert.

As you’re thinking and dialing emergency services, try to make note of various details you might need to share. What was the person wearing, how tall were they, what did you hear, how long ago, what color and type vehicle were they driving, which way did they go, etc.

8. Continue to breathe.

Most likely the worst is over, or soon will be. Try your best to keep emotion out of everything.

Prepping plays a huge role in mitigating violence.

It won’t always prevent it, but it can make you more prepared to deal with it, and hopefully have a lesser effect on the lives it touches. Here are some important numbers you can write down or print out and save.

The end of a nightmare.

I had certainly panicked, albeit not completely.

I apologized to the dispatcher who sweetly told me I wasn’t the worst call she’d had that night.  I bet she says that to all the panicky callers. But the night ended on a good note, and things weren’t as bad as I’d feared.

It seemed that this time it was the girlfriend’s fault and she’d had just a little too much to drink. She wasn’t beat up (although, from the sound of it, the floor sure was!)

And I learned to keep myself from running out the door to rescue somebody that I think is in trouble. And although she may have seen me, (she was the one driving the vehicle that night), she was so intoxicated I don’t think she can be certain who or what she really saw. In any case, I remain prepared – and hopefully less emotional.

How have you learned from the violence you’ve experienced?

Have you ever experienced violence? What was your weakest area in dealing with it? What would you do differently?

About Sandra

Sandra is a wife of 38 years, a mother of 3 awesome grown children, a published artist, photographer, fellow prepper, and animal advocate. She is a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, an avid gun owner, a woman of faith, and values honesty and loyalty above all else.

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