Sunday, June 23, 2013

Post Violence - Surviving the Aftermath - Part I

It happened.  Even with all your awareness training and attempts to avoid it, it actually happened.  You were involved in a violent encounter.  Now what?

Real violence, unlike in the movies, is ugly and disturbing.  It's unpredictable and unsettling.  It's shocking to most people.  It is typically outside of the realm of normal human experience for the vast majority of what I'll call 'normal' people. Normal meaning decent people, not predators and not those accustomed to violence by way of profession.

There are a number probably outcomes:

1.  You 'lost'.  In truth, if you survived, you've won, but for the purposes of this discussion, we'll call it losing.  You either did nothing and took the beating (quite common), or you tried to defend yourself and it didn't work.

2.  It was a tie.  You took some lumps but so did he/she.  You may be injured but you defended yourself and it ended before your attacker's intended conclusion.

3.  You won.  You fought back and it worked.  The other person gave up, ran away or was injured to a point where they could not or did not want to continue.

Let's take a closer look at each scenario and the impact it may have on you, as a peaceful warrior.

1.  You lost.

For many, when real violence occurs, they freeze up.  The mind simply cannot resolve the issue of what is happening.  For normal people, many times they simply cannot believe it is really happening.  It causes this freeze-up effect.  The body doesn't respond because the mind can't make sense of what is going on.  So you just stand there, hoping to weather the storm.  If this is you, don't beat yourself up over it.  It's very common in peaceful folks to have this response. What you do with this learning experience, what you can take from it will be key as you move on with your life.

If you didn't freeze-up, you fought back but it didn't work.  Also quite common. The controlled safe environment of the dojo is very different than facing someone who is really trying to hurt you on the street.  You may have practiced this technique or that one, hundreds, or thousands of times, but it didn't work.  You may have become too focused on trying to perform one technique to the exclusion of all else.  You may have reverted to a more primal style of fighting back, or you might have started fighting and then turtled to protect yourself until it was over.

You may be injured.  
Your confidence will be destroyed.
You may cry, lash out or be afraid to go outside.
You may become hyper-vigilant and experience a degree of paranoia.
You may think your training was useless.
You may stop practicing martial arts.
You may arm yourself.
You may train everyday.

You will go through a roller-coaster ride of emotions.  The physical injuries are far easier to heal from than the mental scars, which will linger.  

First off, realize that some, most, all, or very few of the above reactions may occur.  Every person is different and will have different reactions to real violence. Whatever reactions you are having, they are perfectly natural.  You are not a coward, you are not overreacting.  Don't try to fight it.  Let them run their course.

You may require professional counselling depending on the severity of the encounter and your reactions to it.  Remember, seeking help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.  If you are re-living the experience over and over again, not sleeping, or self medicating just to get by, you may need to speak with a professional.

In Part II, I'll further discuss the potential impact that an experience like this can have on your day to day experiences and on your future training.  After that, I'll discuss the similarities and differences between losing or winning a violent encounter.

Stay tuned and be safe.


  1. My work, particularly with reference to injury science, can put structure to your discussion. Injury science divides an injury/harm event temporally: pre, during, and post. You are discussing the post injury/harm event phase. Now we are discussing control or recovery rather than prevention. Prevention in the pre-event and event phases failed.

    With regards to freezing, we can inform better with reference to tonic immobility. An evolved, unconscious response when fight and flight have failed, or are perceived to have failed. Understanding this evolved phenomenon has been found to reduce the incidents or intensity of post traumatic stress.

    It's exciting your discussing these issues and that my work can inform on them.

  2. Thanks for the comments, John.

    I feel these issues are often overlooked in the world of martial arts and should be part of ongoing training.