The Flinch Response


I have been pondering for some time now how to actually begin this story. When I didn’t know how, I decided to just start.

My name is Susan Byrne.

I am a successful and independent woman. I am a Professional woman who has worked for many years in the health industry. People often ask me why I specialise in women and children’s health. I do because I believe that this is where my passion lies. I assist others in empowering their holistic health.

I am a Mother, a Naturopath, a Nurse, a Friend, a Daughter, a Sister. I am resilient.

To put a name to this condition that I suffer from is a breakthrough in itself.

As I have begun to discuss it more openly, I have found that I know many people especially women that also suffer from this condition.

This condition I believe is permanent. We can cover it up and pretend that we no longer suffer from it, but peel back the layers and it is still there. It’s like a virus of the spirit. We may not be experiencing breakouts but it is there, lurking, just waiting for the right environment.

I call this condition “The Flinch Response”.

It comes from years of physical abuse and even after the abuse has stopped (usually by leaving the perpetrator) the Flinch Response remains.

I have witnessed the same response in animals that have been abused. It is not only a human condition.

My Flinch Response began many years ago.

In my first marriage I was assaulted physically and emotionally often and regularly.

I fell in love at 17 years old with a man that was working in the same hospital as myself.

The first time he hit me I guess I was around about 18 years old. I was so shocked as I had come from a non-violent family, that I could not figure out what I had done to deserve this abuse.

My abuser was so very remorseful that I immediately forgave him, as he promised “it will never happen again”. I loved him so much.  My first love.

I was a young Nurse with rose coloured glasses. I would turn up for a shift with split lips, black eyes, swollen nose, and even 2 fractured fingers. Chipped teeth, whiplash and bruises that were covered by clothes.

I remember seeing stars when he would punch my head and thinking that it was like a cartoon character with the stars floating around, although I could see no humour in this. You actually do see stars!

The excuses to my work colleagues, friends and relatives were feeble but back in the 70’s and 80’s nobody really understood or cared about domestic violence. Victims were basically ignored or accused of causing it. Abusers were supported by their mates and families. It was a tough time.

A male family member whom I was very close to at the time knew what was going on but asked me what I was doing to make my abuser need to hit me!

You could run but you could not hide, your abuser was always lurking. Two personalities in one. The one that loved you completely, cared for you, kissed you and made love to you. The one you loved!

And then this monster that struck you from out of nowhere. The fear was intense. To stay or leave. He promised to stop. Surely he would.

In the end I found the courage to leave him. We had been holidaying in Queensland and he beat me so badly that I could hardly walk. Usually they were body shots.

After I left him he called me one day to work out a few financial issues re the separation.

I arrived at our home to find his Mother there with him. He begged me to come back. Asked me if he was to tell me how many other women that he had slept with would I come back. I listened to him first, just to keep the peace and then told him that there would be no re-conciliation this time. (I had left him twice before).

I saw his eyes change and I had no time to escape. He bashed me violently. He dragged me (again) around the house by my hair and then held me up against the wall by my throat.  He told me at this point, as he spat his words into my face that he was going to kill me. I believe that he was.

His Mother who had been happily listening in the kitchen then came in and said “that’s enough now Jonny”. With that he turned around and with one punch knocked her to the ground. I scratched his face and in that pause I escaped.

I was totally unrecognisable. I had to wear a Philadelphia collar for 6 weeks for severe whiplash, 2 black eyes, split and swollen lips and broken teeth.

And now, to this day, if someone especially males raise their hand quickly to reach for something, I flinch and or cover up. If someone, especially a male, raises their voice in an angry tone or slams a door or punches something or maybe as simple as looks threatening to me, I immediately have a Flinch Response.

My gut tightens, my adrenalin races crazily through my veins, my heart lurches and becomes a drum in my chest, my mouth dries and my eyes flare. But the most distressing of the responses I feel is the shaking internally. I feel as if every fibre, every cell of my body is trembling. It is a vibration that can take hours or even days to settle. It is exhausting.

I knew back then and unfortunately it is often still the case today that domestic violence has a stigma about it which can make it even harder to face when you are the one affected.

To put it plainly, anyone and everyone can be affected by this crime. It does not affect any specific socio-economic group. It does not affect a ‘certain type of person’. Some women are not just attracted to ‘bad boys’. It does not affect just people who have come from abusive families and/or backgrounds. It is pandemic.

Women are afraid to come forward for fear of ridicule and ostracisation.

In my practice I see evidence of it on a daily basis and unfortunately pride or fear of financial instability is often the only thing keeping women in this situation.

It does not have to be physical to be abuse. Emotional abuse is equally as demeaning.

Just a word of advice to my sisters’ out there. If your abuser has struck you once, statistics say that it will happen again. He/she may be sorry, but WILL more than likely strike again. This message is especially to the young women out there who respond with “but I love him”. Don’t keep forgiving. The next strike may be the last one, but not in the way you were hoping.

Don’t be too afraid, scared, and proud or any other excuse you can think of to come forward. This may save your life. I was lucky, there were many occasions when my life was in genuine danger. Statistics have proven that not all people remain lucky indefinitely.

The Flinch Response should never be seen as a sign of weakness. This is in fact a strength. I may have the Flinch Response but it only heightens my awareness of my fellow human beings and their body language. I intuitively can see a situation before it evolves. It has blessed me with a 6th sense. It was a part of my journey.

I am not alone in this and this is why I share this today.

We must put it out there that after the bruises, fractures and tears subside, we have still been affected for life.

I can’t not respond. This is me now

I am a family violence survivor and my scars are many, but the Flinch Response is possibly the most obvious.

Violence is NEVER ok.

Susan Byrne.


One thought on “The Flinch Response

  1. What a powerful survival story and one that every woman should read. Thank you for sharing your journey and caring enough to help other women who are going through the same pain.


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