The Freeze Trauma Response

The freeze response is an INVOLUNTARY physiological change in your body and mind when you feel threatened. 

In a split second, we have established that we can’t run (flight) or defend ourselves (fight), so we freeze. Freezing allows us NOT to feel the horror of what is happening to us. In its extreme, you might dissociate. 

In this situation, some of the hormones you secrete act as analgesics (numbing agents), so you feel less pain. The freeze response is adaptive when experiencing something horrific that we can’t escape from, and we numb out and go vacant.

Children who grow up with domestic violence will often experience this freeze response as they are effectively trapped in a situation that is not safe and they can’t escape from. They can’t run or fight back, so they freeze. This response is a frequent feature of complex PTSD.

Sometimes a nervous system can have many traumatic experiences that have not been discharged and integrated into the psyche and can cause various symptoms, such as phobias, OCD, and generalised anxiety.

What was adaptive as a child may be maladaptive as an adult. When you hear a voice that sounds like a perpetrator, you may freeze instinctively and not be able to respond. This is normal because your ‘trauma brain’ has switched on. Another common problem for those who experience the freeze response is that we might blame ourselves – “why didn’t I run away, why didn’t I scream?” Remember, freeze is a trauma response. It is not a conscious decision to not shout or run. Remember to be gentle with yourself as you explore your trauma responses and seek professional help if you feel these responses are interfering with your life.

Big hugs to all of you,

Love, Jen

The Freeze Trauma Response

Immobility and numbness
Shutdown or feeling stuck in a part of the body
Feeling frozen, cannot move
Holding breath/restricted breathing
Deer in headlights
Heavy limbs
Eyes are still
Hyper aware of body
Sense of dread