• Psychological, Physiological and Social Effects

    During an attack, the body can respond in a number of ways to being threatened with bodily harm. For example, the parts of the brain that control higher thought processes begin to shut down and relinquish control to more primitive and survival-oriented brain centers.

    Every life-threatening encounter is different and each person will respond to an attack in different ways. There is no way to determine ahead of time how a person will react even if this person has been in a similar situation in the past.

    When confronted with an attack, you may initially delay responding because of denial – you just can not believe you are being assaulted. Also, many people have an internal resistance to inflicting deadly force in a face-to-face encounter. This inherent reluctance can be overcome through fear as well as through conditioning and visualization training.

    There are five possible responses to a life-threatening encounter:

    • Freeze – The victim of the attack may be so overwhelmed or surprised by being threatened, the victim may become incapable of any action
    • Submit – Simply giving into the attacker
    • Posture – Combat without combat. Words, sounds, gestures and body language are weapons used to dominate, intimidate and subdue another. Depending on circumstances, the attacker and the victim, one may try to out-bluster the other until one backs down or flees.
    • Flight – Retreat or running away from the situation
    • Fight – The use of reasonable force to prevent an attacker from harming you
    No matter what your level of training or how capable you believe yourself to be in handling stressful situations, you will experience, to a greater or lesser degree, a number of involuntary physiological changes during a serious defensive situation.

    General Bodily Responses to Imminent Danger
    In most cases, there will be an amount of time between when a threat is perceived and when the actual assault or attack begins. This may occur when you first notice a mugger stalking you on the street. During this period you will experience a number of bodily responses to imminent danger. Your heart rate and respiration will increase (to provide more blood and oxygen to the brain), your pupils will dilate (to take in more light to see the threat better), and your muscles will be tighter in anticipation of sudden movement.

    Adrenaline Rush
    One of the ways your body prepares for flight or fight is through the release of a hormone called adrenaline. This powerful chemical heightens the senses and increases strength, heart rate and respiration and can also cause trembling of the muscles. Trembling of the muscles can make it more difficult to stand or sit or hold a gun steady. This trembling can sometimes be mistaken by the victim and the attacker as fear but in reality it is a physical reaction to excess adrenaline in the body. Note that while adrenaline can help you more readily perceive a threat, it can also predispose you to overreact to any sudden stimulus.

    Loss of Fine Motor Skills
    Stress, regardless of its source, results in the loss of fine motor skills. This is often experienced in daily life. For example, it is much harder to unlock your front door when you are rushing to get to a ringing phone. In sports, it is not uncommon for athletes to perform better in practice than under the stress of a live game. During an attack, you will most likely lose the ability to load a cartridge into the magazine or cylinder of your firearm or to open your car door with your key. This is why defensive handgun courses will utilize techniques and recommend firearms that involve gross motor skills. This is also why well-designed defensive handguns are simple to operate and feature controls that are easily and naturally actuated by large muscle movements.

    Perceptual Changes During a Threatening Encounter
    Survivors of violent attacks as well as those who have experienced other extremely stressful situations, commonly report that during the attack or stressful event, their perceptions of visual and auditory stimuli as well as the passage of time were altered. These alterations, tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and time dilation are involuntary and may have evolved as a survival mechanism to better focus all of ones attention on the immediate source of danger.

    Tunnel Vision
    Your body will become completely focused on the immediate threat. Seeing or knowing what is going on around you is not likely. It is important to avoid tunnel vision so that other threats can be recognized and dealt with appropriately. Through training, you can learn ways to break tunnel vision. Lowering your firearm slightly and forcing yourself to survey the immediate area will help.

    Auditory Exclusion
    Auditory exclusion is a sense of having a loss of hearing. This is a situation where hearing becomes difficult which is why police officers are trained to yell their commands. When confronting an assailant, yell your commands to break their auditory exclusion. Yelling also helps to intimidate.

    Time Dilation
    Time dilation refers to the perception that time has slowed down and you may possibly see your actions and those of your assailant in slow motion. This is why when a potential threat is first perceived, you should wait longer than you initially think is necessary before you relax your guard or emerge from hiding.

    Temporary Loss of Memory
    Highly stressful events can sometimes cause a mental overload that result in temporary loss of memory. Most often this is manifested simply in confusion over the details of an incident; occasionally however, a person may lose all remembrances of the event. The passage of time often restores the accuracy and completeness of the memory.

    Because of this phenomenon, comments you make immediately after you have been involved in a life-threatening incident may not be accurate. Thus, if you are involved in a defensive shooting, you should generally tell responding law enforcement officers only that you were unlawfully attacked by a violent adversary and you had to use force to defend your life. Avoid making any other statements until you have consulted an attorney.

    Aftermath of a Defensive Encounter
    Prevailing after a violent encounter may make you experience many emotions. These emotions often occur in the order listed below, but are not universal; some people may not experience any of them and some may experience all of them.

    • Elation – Typically an immediate feeling of having survived and prevailed in a life-threatening encounter. In today’s social and political atmosphere, attack survivors may feel that they should downplay or ignore this emotion. Elation is the result of a release of endorphins and other sensory and mood enhancing chemicals into the bloodstream. There is nothing wrong with a momentary or lasting feeling of elation
    • Revulsion – The victorious victim may encounter nausea, vomit or even fainting from the emotional shock of seeing the result of the confrontation. The absence of revulsion does not mean you are a bad or cold person. Your own life experiences may have contributed to a higher tolerance for the unpleasant consequences of a shooting
    • Remorse – Many survivors experience remorse at the thought of having to take a human life. It is simply a feeling of sadness or sorrow
    • Self-doubt – Self-doubt occurs when the victim questions the moral and legal aspects of the shooting and questions whether or not it was necessary
    • Acceptance – Usually the last emotional state. The victim comes to terms with the action taken in order to protect his or her own life in an act of self-defense
    • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms include flashbacks, recurring nightmares and an inability to function normally such as maintain a job or keep a marriage together. While PTSD is possible for people who experience extreme situations, it is also very rare.
    Social Aftermath
    After a self-defense shooting, there is a risk that you will become a social outcast. Depending on circumstances, you may be treated differently by co-workers, your neighbors might stop talking to you, your children may be treated differently by teachers and classmates and your spouse may end up divorcing you. In some extreme cases, it is possible that you and your family will need to change jobs, schools and the city in which you reside in order to have a normal life.

    After a self-defense shooting, it is sometimes necessary to seek professional help to ease the emotional strain experienced by the family and individuals directly involved.