We previously talked about the fight and flight trauma response in the previous weeks. Today we will talk about the freeze response.
The freeze response is more common for those that experience a large amount of fear in response to certain stressors. As children, the ability to protect or defend oneself is limited and mostly reliant upon the caregiver. Therefore, if one felt routinely unsafe or unprotected by their parent or guardian, they could have a tendency toward this response as adults. When a child isn’t able to fight or run from perceived danger, it incites a panic response, making one numb or immobile in the face of the stressor.
The freeze response involves a different physiological process than fight or flight. While the person who is “frozen” is extremely alert, they are also unable to move or take action against the danger. Freezing causes:
drop in heart rate, rather than an increase
Trauma as a child can be one of the most common causes of panic and fear. When a child is subjected to emotional or physical abuse by someone or something it cannot defend itself from, they are left feeling helpless, unable to tap into the biological systems designed to assist them in either fighting or fleeing.
Those who froze as a response often as children may develop a tendency towards disassociation, anxiety or panic disorders, and even post-traumatic stress disorder. As a response to triggering events that resemble childhood trauma, disassociation can be one of the most harmful ways one freezes.
Disassociation is where we check out of ourselves in order to avoid the stressor, and a person who struggles with it might regularly feel disconnected from their surroundings, zoned out and unable to respond, or even feeling detached from reality.
Many of the things that happen are an instinctive or biological response; for example, an increase of adrenaline when one is preparing to engage in the fight response. However, the best way to deal with an unwanted response in these situations is to engage in therapy which can help to call attention to and process the negative experiences that cause them.
Ultimately the best way to avoid a negative response is to heal the underlying trauma that necessitates it. This will help remove or lessen the trigger, helping to respond in a more stable and safe way to perceived threats.
Everyone recovers from frightening or stressful events at a different pace. If the effects of a stressful event do not improve on their own, it may help to speak with a therapist. Chronic activation of the stress response has a negative effect on the body and can contribute to chronic pain, digestive conditions, hormone imbalances, and difficulty conceiving. So, it is beneficial for mental and physical health to address frequent stress.
There are specific therapies that can help people who have experienced trauma or who have PTSD, as well as treatments for those with anxiety or high stress levels.