We hear about fight or flight all the time, but freeze is the red-headed step-child of trauma. All three, fight, flight and freeze, are all normal neuro-biological responses to fear, but, if we don’t know this, we can feel guilty, angry, or like we “let it happen” when our body freezes in the face of trauma.
First, let’s address the fantasy that we have a choice whether our body goes into fight, flight, or freeze because that’s not a thing. When we’re in danger, our brain kicks into high gear and takes over to protect our life. We do not get a choice; in a split second our brain makes the choice for us.
Think about those nature shows where lions are hunting gazelle-snacks. No gazelle is going to get its back up and whoop some lion’s butt, so he’s left with two choices: flight or freeze - and both are legit survival methods. The eye sees what is moving (“I’m up, they see me, I’m down”) so a lion may not notice the stock-still gazelle frozen right next to him. Folks who design military training know this and go to great measures to train the freeze out of Soldiers by practicing the same movements over and again so that the brain jumps into habit under fire.
But no one trains us how to get raped, or how to hold a buddy while they die, or how to respond when we see someone get hurt. There is no fighting back, there is no running away; we freeze.
The self-blame that comes with freeze can be overwhelming. We can have a fantasy that, “if I didn’t freeze, everything would have been different,” or “if I didn’t freeze, I could have fought back.”
I say this with love: it’s possible that you’re wrong.
Freeze is not a choice; your brain took over and kept you alive.
What is your experience with freezing? We value your feedback and ideas! Reach out on our Community Facebook Page!
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