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Toxic relationships are like being chased by a tiger

In prehistoric times, when a caveman realised he had been spotted by a sabre-toothed tiger, his primitive brain flooded his body with cortisol so he could fight or escape the beast. “Freezing” (or becoming immobile) is also a response to extreme threat. When a modern brain reacts in a similar way to a traumatic event, it can result in post-traumatic stress.

Australian law defines “family violence” as violent, threatening or other behaviour by a person that coerces or controls a family member or causes the family member to be fearful. Examples of such behavior include repeated derogatory taunts, unreasonably denying financial autonomy and preventing the family member from connecting with their friends, family or culture.

Blue Knot Foundation have identified from relevant research that an episode of family violence can activate the primitive brain’s fight, flight or freeze response. Repeated episodes of family violence may cause the brain’s threat response to be repeatedly activated. In other words, the family member will suffer trauma over and over again. This is increasingly known as “complex trauma”.

Unfortunately, threats do not need to be physical to be traumatic. Our brains will also process verbal and emotional abuse (like derogatory taunts) as a threat. If you are in a toxic relationship characterised by family violence, whether physical, verbal or emotional, your brain thinks you are being chased by a tiger every day. As you can imagine, this is likely to affect your well-being and a wide spectrum of functioning.

If you feel like this might be you, you’re not alone.

Solo Legal understands the impact of family violence and can assist those exposed to it.

Blue Knot Foundation is the Australian National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma



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