To quote Rory Miller, different people glitch on different things. And very few people have the innate self-awareness to know where their hesitations are. Most of muddle through with misplaced confidence until something unexpected brings us up short.
Years ago, right around the time I learned to shoot, a man driving his pickup truck hit my van from behind while I was pulling into my driveway. It was a hard hit, and it crunched the front end of his rig pretty badly, so my first thought was that he might be hurt. I quickly climbed out of the van and started walking toward his truck when he boiled up out of his driver’s seat, fighting mad. Red face, hands clenching and unclenching, shouting nasty things through spittle-flecked lips. The works.
I was so taken by surprise that I just stood there with my mouth flapping open and shut. I didn’t get back into my van. I didn’t run to the house. I didn’t move toward him and I didn’t move away from him. I wasn’t consciously frightened, but I didn’t move. I just stood there, staring.
That’s a freeze.
Fortunately, what I lack in brains and quick reflexes, I make up for in good friends. My teenaged babysitter, who’d been in the van along with me and two of my children, took one quick look at what was happening. Then she snatched both babies out of their carseats, tucked them under her arms, and scurried into the house where she locked the door behind her and called 911. Yup – she abandoned me. No hesitation at all. It was the right thing to do and I’ve loved her for it ever since.
My husband and his buddy were working in the garage behind the house. Husband didn’t hear the commotion (he was in the attic) but buddy did, and came running. He got in the guy’s space and talked him down from ready-to-fight, through an ugly but quiet rage and (eventually) all the way down to sullen annoyance.
Me? While all this was happening, I just kept imitating a large mouthed bass. It took a long time before I realized I should move. Heck, it took a long time before I even realized I should shut my mouth!
It wouldn’t happen that way today. I know it would not, because I found what caused that freeze and I have dealt with it. I might freeze on something else, but not on that one. That glitch was the big target, the easy one, the gimme that every person gets to face when they come to self defense skills late in life: the sudden realization that yes, on a normal sunshine-bright day on an ordinary street in the midst of your ordinary life, violence can happen … to you. It takes a few moments to process an epiphany like that, and not everyone gets that time. I did, mostly because the threat was almost entirely an empty show and because friends were around to keep it from going nuclear.
Here are some things I could have done in advance to make a freeze like that less likely. Note that none of these things absolutely guarantees that I wouldn’t freeze. But dealing with some things in advance do make a freeze less likely. These are things I could have done before it happened:
- I could have thought about the important question: “Can violence happen — to me?”
- I could have paid more attention to how many news stories involve people being angry or highly adrenalized after a car accident, and anticipated that the other driver might be angry.
- I could have visualized a specific action in response to that general type of situation. For example, I could have pictured myself climbing back into my vehicle and locking the door if anyone ever threatened me while I was standing near my car. That way, my mind would have had a road map for what to do when the unexpected happened.
Because I hadn’t ever done any of those things, that type of freeze was more likely to happen to me. And it did.
But there are other places, other reasons, and other ways to freeze.