When my children were young, there was an incident involving a dog attack. They had run ahead of me and stopped at the next street corner (daily game we played). An adult rottweiler came from behind a nearby bush and started to attack them. I meant to intercede, to yell, to block its advance. Instead, I felt the yell come out as a snarl, my fingers curled, I know I bared my teeth – instead of blocking the dog, I flanked and literally attacked it. (This bothered me afterwards – I felt I should have gotten in front of it. Since then, I have seen many videos where mother animals perform the same maneuver.) The dog fled. I ushered the kids home and sat quietly, waiting for my “self” to return. It was at least a half hour or more before I could really speak again. When I recall the instance, I still feel my “hackles” rise. My question: does “the animal with us all” exist? Is there any literature on this to which you could refer me? I’m sorry to bother anyone with this; I haven’t been able to find anything on my own, and it is an experience I’ll never forget. It really felt as if an animal had surfaced within me.
You might be describing an adrenaline rush. It could explain your behavior. There are stories of people who were able to lift cars or do things that they otherwise could not physically do, or would not normally do, because of adrenaline. There is much research about the psychological impact of adrenaline. Here are some links where you can learn more about it:
• Adrenaline Rushes: Can They Help Us Deal With A Real Crisis?
• Yes, You Really Can Lift The Car Off A Trapped Child
• When Fear Makes Us Superhuman
When we feel threatened, we either go into a fight-or-flight mode. In 1914, Walter Cannon was the first to give a detailed explanation of the fight-flight reaction. He described it as an “emergency reaction that prepares an animal for running or fighting.” More current research has indicated that some people freeze or faint during these episodes. The stress hormone cortisol might explain why you were unable to relax even after the stressful experience had ended. Essentially, what happened to you could be explained by instinct and hormones.
I would recommend researching fight-or-flight reactions, human instinct, cortisol, and the psychological effects of adrenaline. It could help you understand what happened to you when you rescued your children from an attacking dog. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle