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Trying to figure out the psychology of why I didn’t do much in emergency situation

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 238 ✭✭ Aquals


    A few days ago, my next door neighbours house went on fire. I was woken by their fire alarm and, in turn, I woke my boyfriend who phoned 999. To cut a long story short, what ended up happening was that my boyfriend rescued the occupants from an upstairs window of their house, which ultimately saved their lives. A good news story thankfully, as all survived.

    What I’m struggling with now, is guilt over my relative inaction over the course of the event. I’m annoyed that I didn’t do more to help and I’d love to hear why this happens to some people.

    When we went into our back garden initially, the occupants of the house on fire were all at an upstairs window screaming “we can’t breathe! Get us out!” My initial thought was that there was nothing we could do to rescue them as the window seemed very high up. My boyfriend immediately climbed over our garden fence. Why didn’t I? Instead, I spent the next while running through our house and out onto our road to try to find men to climb over the fence and help my boyfriend. I think I had something in my head that, as a woman, I was not going to be much use. Later, however, my boyfriend told me that there was little physical exertion involved in the rescue and that I would have been a lot of use if I had climbed over.

    In other, less serious, circumstances in the past I’ve been a very proactive person and have always considered myself to be a good, level headed person to help when needed. I’m disappointed that in this situation (probably the most serious emergency I’ve ever witnessed), I was not much use at all. I didn’t even think of phoning 999 - it was my boyfriend that did that too.

    Why did I run away from the window where the occupants needed help, instead of running towards it? I wish I’d acted differently and hope to do so if the need ever arises again!


Comments



  • All I take from your story is that your boyfriend is a "keeper" and you should keep him close at hand :)




  • haphaphap wrote: »
    All I take from your story is that your boyfriend is a "keeper" and you should keep him close at hand :)

    One action or series of actions doesn't define the person!




  • Alkers wrote: »
    One action or series of actions doesn't define the person!
    and then there are the life defining moments...




  • How did your boyfriend get them out, was there a ladder in the garden?




  • Look into the Bystander effect and fight-flight-freeze response


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  • How did your boyfriend get them out, was there a ladder in the garden?

    No, he stood on their wheelie bin and lifted them down from there.




  • Yoghurt87 wrote: »
    Look into the Bystander effect and fight-flight-freeze response

    Thanks for that. This has given me much interesting reading. It’s just really surprising to find yourself acting on a way that you don’t want to act and know isn’t helpful!




  • Aquals wrote: »
    No, he stood on their wheelie bin and lifted them down from there.

    And do you realistically think you could have done that? I don't think seeking assistance in support of your boyfriend counts as doing nothing, BTW.




  • I'd really not dwell on it.




  • Augeo wrote: »
    I'd really not dwell on it.

    I would love to not dwell on it but that seems to not be how the mind works in this kind of situation!


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  • Sardonicat wrote: »
    And do you realistically think you could have done that? I don't think seeking assistance in support of your boyfriend counts as doing nothing, BTW.

    You're right, the more I’ve talked about it, the more I realise that I’ve been downplaying my valuable contributions on the night (which seems to be another unhelpful thing that the mind does)!

    I find it all intriguing. I kind of thought that after a traumatic event, you could go back to bed, catch up on some rest and then once you’d gotten some sleep, that you could get on with things, almost as if nothing happened. Your mind and thoughts seem to have other plans though!




  • Sardonicat wrote: »
    And do you realistically think you could have done that? I don't think seeking assistance in support of your boyfriend counts as doing nothing, BTW.

    Could have held the wheelie bin as those things slide all over the place




  • Could have held the wheelie bin as those things slide all over the place

    And the wheelie bin could have collapsed under his weight. Look, I'm not criticising the guy I'm anyway. He saved three people and that's an incredible thing. But he wasn't really thinking either, was he? He went into auto pilot and acted, she shut down ( and not completely either, she tried to get help). Both well within the realms of normal human reactions to an event like this and neither deserve criticism.

    OP have you ever done first aid, CPR training or anything like that? For one thing they are invaluable to have and secoldly it can help circumvent the freeze response in an emergency.

    Don't beat yourself up over this. The main thing here is everyone us OK. Your boyfriend saved people from a fire and wasn't hurt himself. A different type of emergency could provoke a different type of response from both you.




  • Sardonicat wrote: »
    And the wheelie bin could have collapsed under his weight. Look, I'm not criticising the guy I'm anyway. He saved three people and that's an incredible thing. But he wasn't really thinking either, was he? He went into auto pilot and acted, she shut down ( and not completely either, she tried to get help). Both well within the realms of normal human reactions to an event like this and neither deserve criticism.

    OP have you ever done first aid, CPR training or anything like that? For one thing they are invaluable to have and secoldly it can help circumvent the freeze response in an emergency.

    Don't beat yourself up over this. The main thing here is everyone us OK. Your boyfriend saved people from a fire and wasn't hurt himself. A different type of emergency could provoke a different type of response from both you.

    Thank you for your very wise and helpful response.

    I have actually done a lot of first aid and CPR training and, to be honest, I think that this played a considerable role in my actions. Climbing the fence from our garden into theirs looked quite tricky and also looked like it could cause me to injure myself if I tried it. A big thought going through my head at the time was that “the first rule of first aid is not to endanger your own safety.” I even shouted this at my boyfriend as he dived over into their garden!

    So, in hindsight, perhaps not putting myself in harms way was a good reaction.

    It’s comforting hearing that both of us acted well within the realms of human behaviour, it really is. A place that my brain went to briefly was that by not helping the victims directly, I was being selfish. I now know that this is a completely unreasonable label to put in myself.




  • Sounds like your neighbours are very lucky to have both of you living beside them. Do not turn this event into something to beat yourself up about. In the first couple of sentences you point out that the alarm woke you up and you then woke your boyfriend. So you reacted first to the problem, got your boyfriend to help and then went to get help for him too.

    You both did a great job, no-one was hurt and everyone lived to tell the tale. You should both feel proud of yourselves for helping them!




  • Aquals wrote: »
    Thank you for your very wise and helpful response.

    I have actually done a lot of first aid and CPR training and, to be honest, I think that this played a considerable role in my actions. Climbing the fence from our garden into theirs looked quite tricky and also looked like it could cause me to injure myself if I tried it. A big thought going through my head at the time was that “the first rule of first aid is not to endanger your own safety.” I even shouted this at my boyfriend as he dived over into their garden!

    So, in hindsight, perhaps not putting myself in harms way was a good reaction.

    It’s comforting hearing that both of us acted well within the realms of human behaviour, it really is. A place that my brain went to briefly was that by not helping the victims directly, I was being selfish. I now know that this is a completely unreasonable label to put in myself.
    It sounds to me you did exactly the right thing! If ypu knew you couldn't manage the climb you were right not to try!You wouldn't have been much cop to anyone if you'd injured yourself. As it was you did what you could and that was to get help. You'll be ruminating on it for a while. When that happens just remind yourself that everyone is OK.




  • Sardonicat wrote: »
    It sounds to me you did exactly the right thing! If ypu knew you couldn't manage the climb you were right not to try!You wouldn't have been much cop to anyone if you'd injured yourself. As it was you did what you could and that was to get help. You'll be ruminating on it for a while. When that happens just remind yourself that everyone is OK.

    Ah, thank you so much! I didn’t mean to turn this into a counselling thread - I was initially just really interested in the psychology of it - but lots of comments on here have really helped me!

    I’ll definitely be ruminating on it for a while but, as you say, everything ended well and that’s the main thing!




  • OP, it’s not that you didn’t want to do anything or were afraid to do anything, you just didn’t know what needed to be done. In businesses and organisations everywhere there are people who instinctively know the right move to make in a crisis and those who take a little longer to asses the situation, take an overview and then make a considered move. And the world is grateful for both types of people.
    If you need to look at all the factors and how all the elements come together to make a decision, you have an important place of your own in the world. The personal tension between rushing in and doing something that you think may help but worry it could make things worse is not unusual, even if your first thoughts are the correct ones. Pilots practice emergencies a million times in the simulator so they make the right ones in a real crisis, there’s no dependence upon them having to make split second decisions in those situations. If you are looking at why you responded in this situation the way you did, take a look at how you make decisions in everyday life and see if it brings any clarity.




  • fight-flight-freeze and also tend-befriend. What happens in one single panic situation says absolutely nothing about who you are in non-panic situations

    You didn't freeze, which is a physiological response that people cannot turn off, you also didn't run away, and you didn't run at the fire, you went looking for people who could help. That's a very sensible thing to do, but even if it hadn't been sensible (emotions were too high to be sensible) it's a very natural thing to do and not at all useless.
    Later, however, my boyfriend told me that there was little physical exertion involved in the rescue and that I would have been a lot of use if I had climbed over.

    That was not a very helpful thing for him to say. If something had happened (I won't give examples!) you going and getting other people might have saved his life in a way that you on your own never could have.

    We had a very similar incident (on an emotional level I mean) with a break in where the burglars were downstairs. The thing to do would have been to hide in the bedroom and call the guards. But I went into "get help" mode, which I guess is like "befriend" (certainly got to know the neighbours!) and my boyfriend went down and fought them and could have been killed, while I screamed out the window and all the neighbours came running. I know he's the one whose instincts would have him jumping over the wall if there was a fire, and in some cases that will be the right thing to do, but in another case it might not be, so don't be hard on yourself. We're all different for a reason, it's like a team.




  • I suspect if you had been alone at the time, you would have immediately taken action yourself.
    What happened may be a result of your role in the relationship with your boyfriend.
    You passed it on to him to deal with in that moment.
    If it had been you and your Dad or even your Mum there, a similar thing may have happened.
    I am saying that because something similar (in a much minor situation) happened to me. Someone fell over onto the ground and I did nothing, but my husband stepped in to help them up.
    In that situation, sad to say I am unconsciously giving the power to my husband. In that moment I am seeing him as the 'parent' or 'protector' role and I revert to a more passive role.
    We could speculate that in times gone by when we were all animals on the plains - that when danger strikes, each member of the herd has their role and it's safest to immediately assume those roles.
    Your boyfriend took up the action 'fighting' role. You took up the running around looking for people role.


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