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What Does Violence Feel Like? How Do People Who Experience It Describe the Event?

What Does Violence Feel Like? How Do People Who Experience It Describe the Event?


Violence, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, leaves a profound impact on its victims. The experience of violence is deeply personal, often altering one's sense of safety, trust, and self-worth. To truly understand the multifaceted nature of violence, it is crucial to listen to the voices of those who have lived through it. Their descriptions provide a window into the visceral reality of these traumatic events, shedding light on the emotional and psychological scars that persist long after the physical wounds have healed.


What Does Violence Feel Like? How Do People Who Experience It Describe the Event?
What Does Violence Feel Like? How Do People Who Experience It Describe the Event?

The Force Coming At You Is Greater Than You Anticipated

This phenomenon stems from the sudden and unpredictable nature of violence, which often catches individuals off guard, magnifying the perceived intensity of the threat. Even with preparation and awareness, the sheer velocity and aggression of an attack can overwhelm the senses, leading to a heightened state of shock and fear. This underscores the importance of rigorous training and mental readiness, as only through comprehensive preparation can one hope to effectively manage and mitigate the impact of such unexpected force.


Violence is inherently messy and unpredictable, defying any expectations or plans that one might have. It unfolds in a chaotic and uncontrolled manner, often catching individuals off guard and overwhelming them with its sheer intensity. The physical aftermath can include injuries, blood, and disarray, but the emotional and psychological impact is equally turbulent. In violent situations, there is no clear script to follow, and the actions of those involved are driven by raw emotion, fear, and desperation. This unpredictability makes it difficult to prepare for or manage, leaving victims and bystanders alike grappling with the immediate and long-term consequences.


The Initial Shock: "It Felt Like a Bad Dream"

Many victims describe the onset of violence as surreal, almost like a bad dream. Julia Fatum, an EMT who was brutally attacked by a patient, recounted her experience with vivid clarity. "Everything went black in my mind. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. It felt like a bad dream,” she said. This sense of disbelief is common, as the brain struggles to process the immediate threat to one's safety.


Physical Sensations: "You Stop Feeling Things Physically"

During a violent encounter, the body often enters a state of shock, dulling physical sensations as a survival mechanism. Fatum noted, “You stop feeling things physically and you just go into your mind.” This detachment from physical pain allows the victim to focus on survival, though it often results in a delayed awareness of injuries.


Time Slows Down

Violence is often described as a surreal experience where time seems to slow down. Victims frequently recount feeling detached from reality, as if watching the event unfold from outside their own bodies. This altered perception, known as "time dilation," is a common response to high-stress situations, triggered by the brain's heightened state of alertness.


Every moment becomes intensely vivid, yet strangely elongated, with details standing out in sharp relief. This dream-like quality of violence not only intensifies the immediate fear and confusion but also contributes to the lasting psychological impact, as the memory of the event is etched deeply into the mind.


Emotional Turmoil: "I Thought I Was Going to Die"

The fear of death is a pervasive theme in the narratives of violence survivors. The imminent threat to life triggers an overwhelming rush of emotions, ranging from sheer terror to a desperate will to survive. Fatum’s harrowing account includes the haunting thought, “I thought I was going to die.” This fear is not only paralyzing in the moment but can also lead to long-term psychological trauma, including anxiety and PTSD.


The Aftermath: "It’s Just, Like, ‘Wow’"

In the aftermath of violence, survivors often grapple with a complex mix of relief, disbelief, and introspection. The realization of having survived a life-threatening situation can be both empowering and bewildering. Fatum expressed this with a simple, yet profound statement: “It’s just, like, ‘Wow’.” This encapsulates the surreal blend of shock and gratitude that many survivors feel.



Long-Term Impact

The effects of violence extend far beyond the immediate event. Survivors frequently deal with lingering psychological effects, such as PTSD and nightmares. Fatum shared her ongoing struggles with these issues, highlighting how the trauma continues to affect daily life. The constant replay of the traumatic event in the form of nightmares and flashbacks can severely disrupt a survivor’s sense of normalcy and well-being.



Describing the Indescribable

The challenge of articulating the experience of violence lies in its deeply personal and often indescribable nature. Each survivor's account adds a unique dimension to our understanding of violence, underscoring the importance of empathetic listening and support. By sharing their stories, survivors not only seek healing for themselves but also raise awareness about the pervasive impact of violence.


Conclusion: The Importance of Understanding and Support

Understanding the lived experiences of violence survivors is crucial for providing effective support and fostering a compassionate society. These personal narratives illuminate the profound and lasting effects of violence, highlighting the need for comprehensive care that addresses both physical and psychological healing. By listening to and validating the experiences of survivors, we can better support their journey toward recovery and work collectively to prevent violence in all its forms.


Violence Prevention and Conflict Management Resources

The Center for Violence Prevention and Self-Defense Training: Empowering Communities Through Evidence-Based Programs

The Center for Violence Prevention and Self-Defense Training (CVPSD) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing evidence-based training in violence prevention and self-defense. With a focus on unbiased program development, CVPSD offers customized programs to individuals and organizations, equipping them with the tools to enhance personal safety and contribute to violence prevention in their communities. The Center reaches individuals and communities through partnerships with schools and other nonprofits, community groups, as well as classes for the public.


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