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Freeze Response

Part I:  Description

What is the Freeze Response?

The freeze response is a primal survival mechanism and part of our body's automatic stress response system. Facing extreme threat or overwhelming fear, it temporarily immobilizes the individual as a defense strategy.

How the Freeze Response Works

  1. Threat overload: The brain's amygdala senses extreme danger, triggering a cascade of physiological changes.

  2. Immobility: Unlike fight or flight, the freeze response shuts down non-essential bodily functions. Movement may cease as the body attempts to become less noticeable to a predator.

  3. Other Changes: This can include:

    • Dissociation: A sense of detachment from the situation or one's own body.

    • Shallow breathing: Further aids in minimizing detection.

    • Drop in heart rate and blood pressure: In some cases, can lead to fainting.

Freeze Response can Apply Beyond Physical Threats

While evolved to protect us from predators, the freeze response can be triggered by any situation our brain perceives as inescapable or unbearably overwhelming. This can include traumatic events, interpersonal conflict, or even performance pressure.

Signs of the Freeze Response

  • Physical: Muscle tension, stillness, feeling unable to move or speak.

  • Emotional: Feeling numb, detached, helpless.

  • Cognitive: Difficulty forming thoughts or plans, sense of unreality.

Part II:  Common Questions

1. Is the freeze response the same as dissociation?

  • Answer: They're closely linked. Dissociation is a mental "disconnection" often occurring during the freeze response, allowing the person to emotionally distance themselves from overwhelming experiences.

2. Why do some people freeze while others fight or flee?

  • Answer: Several factors are at play:

    • Nature of the threat: Freeze is more likely with inescapable threats where fighting back seems futile.

    • Past experiences: Especially with trauma history, the freeze response may become the brain's default if it was previously "successful" in the person's perception.

    • Individual biology: There's some evidence that genetics can play a role in predisposition towards different stress responses.

3. Is the freeze response a sign of weakness?

  • Answer: No It's an involuntary, evolutionary mechanism for survival. Unfortunately, this misconception can add shame for those whose natural response is to freeze.

4. What are common signs to look for that someone might be experiencing the freeze response?

  • Answer:

    • Stillness and rigidity: Far beyond normal nervousness

    • "Blanking out": Difficulty speaking, forming coherent thoughts, even if they want to.

    • Emotional disconnect: A flat expression or distant, unfocused gaze.

    • Shallow breathing or holding their breath.

5. How can I help someone who is in a freeze response?

  • Answer:

    • Prioritize safety: If possible, help remove them from the immediate threat.

    • Don't pressure them to talk: It can be overwhelming. Let them know you are there for support.

    • Grounding techniques: Encourage slow, deep breaths, or focus their attention on simple senses (feeling their feet on the ground, etc.).

    • If it's trauma-related, professional therapy is essential for healing.

Part III:  Additional Resources

Books about Freeze Response

  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.: A seminal work explaining how the body stores trauma, including detailed explorations of the freeze response.

  • Getting Past Your Past by Francine Shapiro: While focusing on EMDR trauma therapy, this book offers valuable insights into the freeze response and ways to process overwhelming experiences.

  • Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Peter Levine: Explores somatic (body-focused) approaches to working with the freeze response and restoring a sense of safety.

Websites and Articles about Freeze Response

  • Healthline: Understanding and Coping with the Freeze Response: Clear overview, focusing on the freeze response as part of the broader stress response system.

  • The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy by Dana Smith on NICABM: Explains the neuroscience behind the freeze response and its implications for therapy.

  • CPTSD Foundation: ( Offers information on Complex PTSD, where the freeze response often becomes a deeply ingrained pattern.

Resources for Helping Others about Freeze Response

  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) ( Provides resources on supporting survivors of sexual violence, often including information on trauma responses like freezing.

Online Tools about Freeze Response

  • Grounding Technique Exercises: Search online for guided scripts or simple techniques to help someone in the freeze response reconnect with their body and present moment.

Part IV:  Disclaimer

These results were highly selected, curated, and edited by The Nexus Inititiative. To make this amount of complimentary content available at a cost-effective level for our site visitors and clients, we have to rely on, and use, resources like Google Gemini and other similar services.

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