2.7: Depression and the Collapse Response Pt 1 - When Collapse Can Safe a Life.. the Impala Survives
Updated: Oct 20
There are 5 threat responses that the Survival Brain brings into play when we are in immediate physical danger.
We have all heard of Fight or Flight...
Some of us remember that rabbits tend to Freeze...
Some even recall that when wolves are fighting to determine who is Alpha, at some point, one will Submit thus declaring the other to be Alpha...
And there is one more: Collapse...
The video below shows exactly what the collapse response was designed for...
(BTW: In the video "Tonic Immobility" refers to the temporary stiffened paralysis that can come with Freeze... and "Collapsed Immobility" refers to Collapse.)
Just before what we see in this video... In all likelihood the leopard had separated this impala from its herd. It chased the impala which, of course, went into the flight response. The leopard kept gaining on the impala, and when the impala sensed that the leopard was almost upon it...
Its survival brain then flipped into the collapse response... and the impala's rate of respiration and heartbeat were drastically reduced.
Neither breathing nor pulse could be detected by an outside observer, in this case, a leopard. All voluntary control of muscles disappeared, as did all muscle tone. In mid-stride it became, in essence, a "bag of skin and bones". It tumbled to the ground, landing as unresponsively as a dead body.
The leopard was set on a trajectory to takedown a live impala midflight - and even as its claws made contact with the impala it had the unexpected sensation of hitting deadweight.. unresisting limpness..
The leopard actually landed slightly beyond the impala. It had to circle around and come back to its body which showed no signs of life - no signs visible to the eye, no signs evident through touch.
-- The video shows the leopard embracing the impala in a takedown pose, yet with no evident wounds on the impala. The leopard is holding the impala’s neck in its jaws, waiting to actually kill the impala should it show signs of life. Constrained by the limits of its deepest instincts the leopard cannot complete the hunt if the impala is already dead.
When the leopard is distracted for a moment by a hyena, it turns its head and releases the Impala’s neck. You can see the impala’s head flop down as if dead already.
In a few minutes the leopard gets up and wanders away. It is a predator not a scavenger. It leaves the impala is for vultures and hyenas to eat.
But... minutes after the leopard leaves the impala can be seen to breathe. Its sides visibly rising and falling with each breath. A few minutes later the impala has rolled upright and is struggling to get back up on its legs. It does get up and, with gradually increasing energy and coordination, it moves off away from both the leopard and the hyena.
-- If the video had followed the impala for a few minutes longer, it is more than likely we would have seen the impala looking around for its herd, moving toward it, and reconnecting with the life and safety of the herd.
The Collapse response is wonderful when it gets to complete its full cycle. It brought the impala into a deathlike state that actually preserved its life. This response is so designed as to maintain that state long enough to fool the leopard... but not so long as to become food for scavengers. The collapses response fully dissipates as any survival hormones are gradually flushed out of the system. There is no residual “trauma” standing in the way of naturally searching for and reconnecting with its herd and continuing to fully live its life.
Humans experience aspects of the collapse response in various situations of immediate physical danger. – A friend of mine was zooming down a hill on her mountain bike ready to finish with a magnificent bike-jump off the a dock that extended into a lake. Just before reaching the dock, something went wrong. She instantly saw this was going to turn into a 100-foot long wipeout… getting tangled in her bike and with her body ground against board after board on the dock. But instead of her anticipated experience, she experienced gliding under the dock and looking up at it as her body scraped and tumbled along above. – Victims of childhood abuse often report, while being abused, a sense of looking down from the ceiling, distantly aware of something happening to their body. – Sometimes during an automobile accident or in combat, when real bodily harm is about to happen, there is little to no sense of pain… The pain only arises after the event, during the attempt to heal.
In general...after any possible attempts to protect the body, avoid the accident, or fend off the abuser have been exhausted... the Survival Brain may flip us into the Collapse Response. The body is temporarily abandoned to go through whatever it must. Often bodies fare better during such accidents/threats/ traumas when they go limp. Stiffening up during a car accident rarely helps. Abusers may be less likely to fully engage in their abuse if the victim seems almost dead or profoundly absent. Personal consciousness returns to the body when the threat is gone and healing and recovery have a chance.
Collapse can truly be helpful… when facing immediate physical danger.
But what is the Survival Brain flips us into Collapse when we are not facing immediate physical danger? See our next post...