The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Your Passive Response to Assault: A Lack of Resistance Does Not Indicate Cowardice or Enjoyment

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

In this post, we are speaking to those who have been physically or sexually assaulted and are now struggling to process the fact that they cooperated with their attackers.

Maybe you were raped. Maybe you were molested. Maybe you were physically beaten, tortured, or in some other way degraded. Whatever happened to you, if you responded submissively to those who assaulted you and made an effort to cooperate instead of resist, it is quite natural to look back on your behavior and feel that you made the wrong choice. After all, the world celebrates the strong and it has nothing nice to say about the weak. If you simply went along with your abusers, does that mean you are a spineless coward? If you didn’t even attempt to prevent someone from sexually assaulting you, does that mean that part of you was enjoying the experience? Certainly not.

God loves variety. In fact, He’s rather obsessed with it. He can’t just make one of something, He has to make a bunch of that same thing and each one has to be a bit different than the rest. Look around at the humans in this world and what do you see? Endless variety. From the color of their eyes, to the shape of their nose, and the music of their laugh, every human is a unique combination of traits. But the variations aren’t limited to our external features. We vary on the inside as well. Certainly we have common needs and common desires, but we each express them in different ways. We all have a need for companionship, but some of us look for it in large groups, while others of us prefer a one-on-one conversation. We all love, but some of us express it through acts of service, while others give gifts, and others say words. When life is going well, we enjoy it all differently. When trouble comes, we react differently. Some of us flee, some of us fight, and some of us submit. Is there one right way to respond to threats? No, but we often act as if there is. The fighters often get praised for their courage while those who choose a more passive response get called all sorts of nasty names. And yet is this fair? No, because each group is responding to their situation in a way that seems logical to them.

When fighters feel threatened, their automatic instinct is to throw everything they’ve got into resisting. The soldier flings a punch at his captor and makes a wild dash to grab the man’s gun away. Or the son who has just been struck by his father immediately strikes back. The logic of fighters is this: give it your best shot and maybe you’ll get lucky and manage to turn the tables on your opponent. This strategy is sure to expose any bluffing on the part of the attacker. The girl who violently resists her rapist and screams at the top of her lungs just might scare him off and save herself. The advantage of fighters is that they don’t think long enough to let a low chance of success intimidate them. They will attempt the daring jail break or take on the bully who is twice their size. The weakness of fighters is that, well, they don’t think. In many situations, their aggressive response only escalates things and causes more injury to occur. They take a lot of unwise risks because they act without making a reasonable assessment of their resources, and then they count on adrenaline to make up for whatever’s lacking.

Now passives take a very different approach than fighters. When passives are threatened, their automatic instinct is to freeze, cower, and cooperate. They don’t attempt any form of resistance. This is the boy who just stands there frozen while his coach molests him. This the girl who freezes beneath her rapist and doesn’t even try to cry for help. While passives often get written off as cowards, they are actually employing a very sound logic. They have weighed their internal resources against the apparent resources of their opponents and decided that they are at a serious disadvantage. Their actions don’t indicate a lack of courage, but rather a strategic attempt at self-preservation.

While fighters think only of right now, passives are rapidly assessing the possible ramifications of their actions and choosing a strategy that seems to promise the least damage in the long term. The girl who cooperates with her rapist accepts that injury is inevitable, then decides that the best way to try and minimize the scope of that injury is to avoid further agitating her attacker. Passives are not cowards, they are wisely trying to conserve resources by avoiding battles they know they cannot win. Certainly, their conservativeness can be overdone and they can underestimate their own abilities. They are also much easier to intimidate because they do not want to risk testing a bluff. But cowardice has nothing to do with it. Both fighters and passives are going for the same goal of self-preservation, they are just taking two different approaches. One is a wild risk taker, the other is cautious and calculated. Both win some, and both lose some, because there is no single strategy that can work in all cases. But as a passive, the important point for you to realize is that you most certainly are not flawed or lacking for not attempting to fight a battle which you didn’t think you could win. God has hardwired a certain pattern of logic into each of us which we automatically revert to in times of crisis. We don’t all have the same logic patterns, but we can certainly identify a valid stream of wisdom within each one.

There is no value in going a million rounds with “What if I had done it differently?” The point is that you didn’t, and if you were to live it over again, you would probably do exactly as you did before. The passive style is nothing to be ashamed of. It is really quite smart when you stop to examine the logic behind it. Where would we be without conservative thinkers? What would happen if every person was a wild risk taker who never stopped to think about long term consequences? Surely we would all tear each other to pieces in a matter of days.

God doesn’t want all fighters and He doesn’t want all passives. He wants some of each. God enjoys creating differences and then stirring those differences together so that a beautiful harmony results. Male and female. Loud and soft. Bold and shy. Extroverted and introverted. Leaders and followers. When humans get together, each individual enhances the group precisely because they are not quite the same as anyone else. Variety is good. Your strength compensates for someone else’s weakness and vice versa. But if no one had any weaknesses, we wouldn’t be able to form such close bonds with each other. No one wants to marry a clone of themselves. It’s a relief to find someone who is more gracious or patient than you are. It’s a joy to bail someone else out when their compassion is in short supply and you are walking around with plenty to share. Don’t accept the theory that your basic temperament is intrinsically flawed. When other people try to read a bunch of nasty things into your passive response to threats—by saying you’re a coward or that you wanted to be abused—you need to realize that their lack of identity is skewing their picture of you. Certainly it’s a real thing to get stuck in a mental place where we seek out injury, but to paint all passives with this brush is absurd. Fighters can be just as masochistic as anyone else, and their seemingly courageous behavior is far more fear driven than it looks.

As a general rule, no human wants to be hurt. When we find ourselves trapped in a situation where physical injury is likely, we all rush to try and protect ourselves. Fighters launch a violent attack hoping to escape their situation. Passives cooperate as a means of damage control. Both strategies have merit, and neither deserves to be criticized, especially when these things are quite instinctive. The fact that you didn’t risk life and limb trying to violently defend yourself doesn’t mean you have no self-respect, nor is it a sign that you have no courage. It can be brave to fight, but it can also be immensely brave to quietly endure some terrifying experience for the sake of trying to ensure your own survival. Instead of trying to find fault with yourself, ask God to help you see the beauty in His design of you. He certainly sees it, and He likes you as you are.

FURTHER READING:
Overcoming Survivor Guilt
Dealing with Trauma: Protecting Yourself from Bad Counselors
Recovering from Abuse: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

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