The Medusa Complex
Trauma, no matter what kind of traumatic experience it is, effects us at a cellular level. Whether it involves death, illness, war, divorce, physical assault, sexual abuse, miscarriage, car accident, or chronic stress, trauma imprints body, mind, and soul. Every person experiences trauma uniquely, some people bury the sensations, some block out the memory all together, and some are able to grieve the event then and there. Whatever the case, we react from our core, our gut, and our instinct for survival.
Consider a young woman who is awoken in her sleep by an intruder and is sexually assaulted. She is unable to move, fight, and speak because her body feels as though it has frozen. The next morning she goes about her day as if nothing happened, dismissing the violation altogether. Two months later, she is abruptly slammed with imagery from the trauma. She begans to be depressed and has shooting pains throughout her body. She has experienced what Dr. Peter Levine calls, “The Medusa Complex,” where one will “literally freeze in the face of fear, resulting in the creation of traumatic symptoms.”
She froze in order too survive the situation, depersonalizing the experience until she was safe out of harm’s way. It wasn’t until her mind and body was ready to grieve that she began to feel the event. “During physical assault and violent attacks, Alan Fogel explains, “the brain goes on autopilot, invoking some of our basic bio-behavioral responses.”
Her fear paralysis was primitive, reptilian, and innate in the face of a dangerous situation.
This she was me. I was that girl seven years ago stuck in a desperate situation. It has taken me a long time to not blame myself for what happened that night. I still struggle depending on the day. I couldn’t understand why in the face of such a violent situation I couldn’t make myself move or speak at all. I had become Medusa, frozen in my fear. I know now, as many young woman and men have known in sexual abuse, that your anatomy responds out what it needs for survival. It has been hard to not hold onto the Medusa Complex long after the trauma; the hardness and fear the experience created threatened to rule my life.
For trauma survivors, the body remembers, sometimes so intensely you could think it was happening all over again. The process of relinquishing this Medusa Complex is just that, a process. We must learn to bless our bodies response for survival, and our heart’s boldness in declaring its own truth about an experience. [TWEET THIS]