What's this involuntary response?
May 24, 2023 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm 42. Starting 5 or 6 years ago, I noticed a strange phenomenon. When I see violence I have a physiological reaction. This definitely didn't use to happen. I feel what I can best describe as an involuntary light, fluttering feeling in my... well, my glutes, or adductors? In the back of my legs, around my butt. I don't know what this is, but for whatever reason my brain associates it with "feeling faint" - but is that what it is? What's going on?

At least on a conscious level, I've never really had a huge psychological problem with witnessing (fictional) violence. I've watched (and continue to watch) plenty of violent content. John Wick, ho!

However, I've noticed this thing. The first time I can remember noticing it, I was watching a clip from one of the Jackass movies on YouTube, and something awful happened. I think a guy got absolutely leveled by a bull or something like that, and to my surprise I had a physical reaction - I felt this fluttering feeling in the back of my legs. That's the best way I can describe it - a light, disconcerting, fluttering.

This is now just a thing that happens. Violence, blood, punching, hitting, falling hard - when I watch it, my body... reacts. I don't know what it is, and I haven't had much luck Googling it, but reflexively, like I said above the fold, I associate it with growing faint, like a trope of somebody who faints when they see blood. I'm not sure why I make this association - I don't feel faint, I don't think, but I feel something.

Like I said, this is involuntary - I don't feel like I have an intense emotional reaction to what I'm seeing, my body has just started reacting like this. Does anybody else have this? Does anybody know what it is? I know, I know, I should mention it to a doctor, but it's more of an idle curiosity at this point.
posted by kbanas to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think this is probably the same thing I asked about a few months ago (though I experience it as a twingey pain, not a flutter). Here's an earlier question about probably the same thing too. The overwhelming conclusion in both cases was "idk, brains be doing stuff." (It never would have occurred to me to mention it to a doctor!) For what it's worth, I didn't mention this in my question but while I don't think it came on especially suddenly, it has become more frequent with age. (I said in the question that I didn't think it had happened in response to a movie, but it just happened today in response to a novel, so maybe you can become more sensitive over time.)
posted by babelfish at 10:43 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Holy shit! These questions didn't come up when I searched. I think because, well, I have a hard time with the search criteria. Thank you for sharing!
posted by kbanas at 10:48 AM on May 24

Response by poster: Someone in one of those threads described it as a shivery twinge. That may be closer to the thing.
posted by kbanas at 10:50 AM on May 24

Do listen to that podcast linked in previous answers! Goes into a lot of detail haha
posted by LKWorking at 10:53 AM on May 24

This sounds like the phenomenon user FaintofButt is referencing..
posted by dianeF at 10:53 AM on May 24 [7 favorites]

My first thought is, could this be a version of vasovagal syncope -- it can come with tingling and can stop short of fainting.
posted by virve at 11:30 AM on May 24 [2 favorites]

Shocking violent images and near misses (like near traffic accidents) give me a twangy tingling electric jolt in my forearms that jumps sharply from elbow to wrist and then fades over about 15 minutes.

I interpret it as adrenaline giving my prehistoric monkey arms a shot of extra juice to grab a branch and swing away from danger or reach out and save myself from falling. Maybe adrenaline is getting your horsey bum and thigh muscles ready to sprint away?
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:38 AM on May 24 [3 favorites]

Yes. I get that same feeling when I go into hospitals or when I'm around illness.
posted by erpava at 12:04 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

I've had this pretty much all my life. It's a weird fluttery / shivery feeling in a specific part of my body, and I can get it even from seeing someone with a light cut if I look at it too closely or feel too much empathy about it (like if it's on my husband or kid).
posted by Mchelly at 12:10 PM on May 24

It might be that you have a bit of a change in how your body handles blood pressure or adrenaline - doesn't seem unlikely due to age and hormones that your whole chemistry might be a little different now than when you were younger. I personally find that some things that didn't use to faze me or affect me much beyond initial impressions now can be much more prominent - I chalk it partially up to perimenopause and changing body chemistry. I know that my blood pressure is still good but my body might know even better than I do that if I want to outrun that cheetah, I'm gonna need to start going sooner rather than later.
posted by amanda at 12:58 PM on May 24

I get this feeling when I slam a head of lettuce in the counter to dislodge the stem part.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:03 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

Sounds very much like the adrenal system kicking in. For some people this happens every time they see fictional violence, for others it doesn't seem to happen at all.

The adrenal response can be Flight, Freeze, or Fight. The weak feeling you describe sounds like a Freeze.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:06 PM on May 24

Sounds to me like cortisol, sometimes called a stress hormone, is kicking in at the sight of the violence, getting you ready for fight or flight. My therapist has said this release of cortisol is what can cause a panic attack, too, because all these hormones are coursing through our body and need to go somewhere. I would try using your muscles (jump up and down or, if you're watching a movie, contract your fists and large muscle groups and then release, contract and release, and so on), to help dissipate the cortisol and get back to feeling more normal.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:08 PM on May 24 [1 favorite]

On a side note, from your wording choices it sounds like you think or worry that you might be weird or that it is unhealthy to feel a negative physical response to witnessing violence. I know a number of people who may not feel the exact same physical response but do similarly have some physics response (cutoffs for realistic versus cartoon violence, types of violent acts, etc. may vary; feeling faint at the sight of blood would be in this category, I’d say). As the other comments above indicate, it’s not all that uncommon; I would also argue, it case this was a detail that was troubling you, that it sounds pretty darn healthy and well-adjusted to me.
posted by eviemath at 4:31 AM on May 25

Losing control of your bladder and sphincter happens in situations of extreme fear, so I've always thought that feeling ("fluttering...around my butt") was an involuntary tightening of the sphincter and pelvic muscles to avert that possibility.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:04 PM on May 25

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