It is Okay to
by Sallie Culbreth and Anne Quinn
Fear is a
healthy response to a dangerous situation. It can serve you well because it
alerts you to danger and helps you to protect yourself or others. People who
have experienced sexual trauma and abuse know fear all too well, and that's
not irrational. That fear isn't based on fantasy, but is anchored firmly to
reality - the reality that there are monsters among us and experiences that
do serious harm.
We live in
a dangerous world. That fact is not lost on survivors. That's why so many of
us are hyper-vigilant - meaning we're always on-guard, always living in
self-protective ways, and always on high alert. Again, this way of living
isn't based on imagination - it is based on very real experiences.
problem with fear - just like all the other issues that survivors struggle
with - is that it tends to take on a life of its own and moves well beyond a
reasonable response to actual threat. Fear often takes up residence in your
every thought and soon - if it isn't examined - can dictate your every move.
challenge is to discern whether fear is rational or irrational, whether it
is based on a real threat or not, and whether fear is triggered by something
that reminds you of the past. These are the tasks that survivors face in
order to manage both reality and triggers.
some questions to ask yourself when you experience fear:
Is there a real threat?
If so, what is that threat? (Be specific in your answers to these
questions. Give the threat a precise label that you can clearly identify.)
Is this a perceived
threat? Is something causing me to feel threatened, but I haven't been able
to clearly identify it yet? If so, what do I suspect is causing me to feel
threatened and fearful? (Again, be specific - the more thought you give to
these questions, the better you can navigate through what is happening.)
Does this feel
threatening because it reminds me of the past when I was in danger and
afraid? If so, am I reacting to the past - being triggered by the past - or
am I responding to the present?
If this is a real threat,
what can I do to be safe? What resources do I have? Who can I call for help?
Where can I go? What actions can I take?
If I are being triggered
but am not actually in danger, what can I do to manage my fear and panic?
(Can you do some deep breathing? Can you reach out to someone for support?
Can you speak to the trigger and to yourself and say something like, "This
reminds me of the past, but it is not the past. I will stay present and
respond to this moment in this moment, rather than the way I might if I were
truly in danger.")
is a powerful force that can help you or hurt you. Fear evokes a fight,
flight, or freeze response, and all of these are meant to help protect you.
When these responses are because of a real and present threat, they help
you. When these responses are because you are triggered by something that
reminds you of a past threat, that's when you can find yourself trapped in
strategy of asking yourself these questions helps you to live and respond to
the here-and-now. Fear from the past - although it is a force to contend
with - can be managed by self-comforting techniques such as deep breathing,
finding a supportive group of people, and reminding yourself that you are
safe. Fear is not a bad thing. It is what it is and your challenge is to do
what you need to do to feel safe. Just make sure that you recognize the
difference between fear from a present situation and fear that is triggered
from the past. That distinction goes a long way in helping you to reclaim
STAARR - Sexual Trauma and
Abuse Recovery Resources, Inc.