The Freeze Response

The freeze response

The freeze response can trigger a survivor of both complex and childhood trauma to avoid, isolate and hide from perceived danger and human contact. As opposed to the flight response that I previously covered, an individual who gravitates towards freeze responses will feel like their starter button is constantly switched off (Walker, 2014).

The freeze response usually occurs due to the deep-rooted belief that people equal danger and unsafety and so peace is found through Solitude and isolation. An individual with a heightened freeze response may prefer the online world as opposed to real life relationships and so may obsessively play video games or spend their time online with the majority of their relationships being based there.

The freeze response can originate in childhood developmental trauma or interpersonal trauma; when an individual is made the scapegoat or where the individual had to rely on dissociation in order to deal with the intensity of abuse. Dissociation allows a trauma survivor to disconnect from feeling abandoned and can serve to protect individuals from the risk of interaction and conflict.

The freeze response can result in survivors of trauma sleeping excessively, watching TV, playing video games, daydreaming or browsing online. This can look like a lack of attention or as ADD in childhood.

During an emotional or physical trigger, survivors who divert to the freeze response may also experience a huge rush of adrenaline just as flight and fight responses do, but the reaction of a Survivor will be very different in each case.

The freeze response results in survivors of trauma numbing out any perceived threat by dissociation from the present and in doing so serves as a protective factor. Being physically, mentally or emotionally immobilized by a response allows survivors to not feel the enormity of what is happening around and so the body will secrete it's functions to be analgesic in order for the experience to carry less intensity.

During childhood, if parental protection is limited in ability, either through parental rejection, distasteful glances by the parent or constant Disapproval: this can make a child feel unwanted, unloved and abandoned and revert to the freeze response.

Manifesting as phobias and OCD, the freeze response can seem subtle as the issues of obsessive-compulsions take forfront.

This response is majoritively unconscious and individual survivors of trauma who have never fully let go of their original fear will begin to see this manifest in their day-to-day current lives and so the original action of self paralysis undoubtedly continues to repeat.

The freeze response which manifests in childhood was an adaptive and safe coping mechanism at the time, however dissociation in adulthood is not only maladaptive to an individual's life but it can also be life-threatening.

Professor Van der Kolk (1989) predicted that the level of dissociation experienced during a traumatic event is the predictor of an individual suffering trauma in the future. Freezing is the most common reaction portrayed by children facing abuse and neglect and it is common for a child to unknowingly dissociate during these events. As an adult, this response remains favoured, even if the stimulus for retraumatization is not specific to previous traumatic events.

In order to recover from reliance of the freeze response, it is suggested to utilise therapy interventions in order to process issues that an individual had no means to during the period of abuse. Using a multi model trauma informed approach gains the greatest results, however adding sensorimotor processing and somatic experiencing will further aid in releasing the built up tension due to unresolved trauma (Seltzer, 2015)

The freeze response kicks in when there is no hope - as opposed to fight and flight responses which are based on hope. When experiencing a freeze response an individual may feel "stuck" in some part of their body, feeling cold or numb, stiff muscles or joints, withholding their breath as well as dissociation.

Recovery from over reliance on the freeze response involves three key challenges: approaching and maintaining therapy, dealing with personal motivation and acceptance (Walker, 2014). It is common for a freeze type to use opioids in order to dull uncomfortable feelings of fear. This aside, the trauma survivor requires an intimate relationship with a trauma informed therapist in order to work through relational healing. Walker (2014) suggests that for those who are not at this stage of recovery, using a pet can be beneficial in a trauma survivors recovery journey.

I have added some additional info into unit 7 in our Facebook group to help those with a heightened freeze response to navigate and ease their reactions.