Fight, Flight ... or Freeze Response?
Let’s talk about the Freeze Response. When we’re experiencing a perceived threat, it’s common knowledge that our fight or flight response can be triggered.
The third response, which is to freeze, is seen as less common, and associated with people who’ve experienced trauma of some degree of severity. This is certainly true, and I also think that more of us end up in the freeze response than is recognised.
If you’re someone who sometimes finds yourself not expressing your views, not expressing yourself in a free and open manner; then you’re probably freezing at some level.
If you can’t imagine yourself in a public speaking role, then you may well have an active freeze response in your repertoire.
If you let other people ‘get away’ with treating you badly, then at some level you have a freeze response issue.
So ... what's happening here?
A Freeze Response will be as unique to an individual as all our emotional responses are.
When people freeze, others around them often don’t even notice. This is a good indicator of a ‘successful’ Freeze Response.
Imagine the deer in the woods. The slightest rustle or the faintest whiff of something unknown and therefore a possible threat, will cause them to freeze. Their markings will help them to blend into their environment.
Even the essential body functions of life become imperceptibly still. The breathing, the heart beat … every muscle is toned to remain absolutely still. Their life may depend on it.
And human beings have the exact same mechanisms, except perhaps for our markings, which let us down!
Habits of Breathing
Here’s a quick observational exercise: next time you’re out and about, try paying conscious attention to your breathing. Most of us will notice that our breathing responds to stress, perceived threat and challenges all the time. We hold our breath without even noticing! It’s extraordinary how frequently we stop breathing, or we constrict our breathing, or we change the rate of breathing significantly.
There are many techniques that concentrate on the breath, connecting to both its depth and its regularity, because bad breathing habits are so common!
Of course, our bodies are designed to go on breathing one way or another, without us having to think about it. However, from the view point of EFT, there are patterns of breathing that have been programmed into us at a sub-conscious level, according to the amount of stress and trauma we have been subjected to.
The less safe we feel in the world, the more erratic our breathing will be.
And so it follows that the more erratic our breathing is, the less able we are to function under stress or when we are experiencing fear.
When we experience fear, our physiological response concentrates on one thing: the continuation of essential functions. Keeping the heart beating is primary. Fear causes adrenalin to rush through the system, so that if we need to run, our body can function more efficiently and our senses are sharpened.
So why the freeze response?
When animals are caught by predators, they often freeze. When human beings freeze up in certain situations, it could well be because they feel caught, and they sense that no escape is possible.
Past traumatic episodes in someone’s experience will have created powerful sub-conscious beliefs that there are levels of threat that will cause imminent danger to life. The last hope is to freeze up. This could be because the end is coming, or because it’s possible that the predator will lose interest.
And so making ourselves invisible makes sense.
When the Freeze Response takes place, the fight response has been disabled, often by endless programming, and the flee response is deemed worthless, also as a result of past experiences.
The freeze response can be seen as giving up, surrender, relinquishing power, feeling all is lost.
And so we just give up.
The freeze response is designed to be unnoticeable. However many people there are around.
The cloak of invisibility
No-one notices that we’ve stopped speaking.
Nobody notices if we stop moving. Sometimes, the freeze response is so ingrained, we barely notice it ourselves.
To us it just feels normal.
Just someone who never stands out in the crowd.
Someone that often goes unnoticed.
This is not because we’re ‘doing anything wrong’ or behaving foolishly.
This is simply because of the strategies we’ve devised to keep us safe.
photo by Devon Rockola ~ Pexels
And guess what, these strategies (and the beliefs that lie behind them), succeed brilliantly. We stay out of the way, play small, stick to the shadows, avoid getting noticed …. etc. etc. There are probably a million strategies and more that emanate from this basic freeze response.
The problems start when the boss wants us to give a talk about the next project.
Or when someone expresses their views robustly and we say nothing, even though we disagree strongly, and we want to say so, but the words won’t come out.
Or when someone treats us badly and we do nothing. And we feel like we deserved it … or provoked it …
Or when someone says something unpleasant to us and we don’t respond. We just internalise it.
Or when someone starts flirting with us and we wish they’d stop. (Even when we think they’re quite nice!) And then they stop and we kick ourselves.
Or when we realise that there are experiences in this life that we would love to have, but we hold ourselves back from anything new.
Like the nervous deer, we don’t ever step into the sunlit field.
How can EFT help? Take it one step at a time ...
Tapping our way through the Freeze Response needs some time and patience.
Above all, be kind and tender towards yourself. Particularly if you’re having a try at clearing this response on your own, without the help of an EFT practitioner.
Wherever there is trauma or abuse, I would highly recommend asking for help from a professional therapist. (Link for more about Trauma and EFT at end of post).
It can take a while to change the habits of a life time …. and The Freeze Response is not going to give up on you easily.
The Freeze Response believes absolutely that it’s keeping you safe.
So it follows that it will do everything in its power to stay with you, and guard you.
This perhaps is a good place to begin negotiations with these old patterns: by acknowledging and accepting this part of you that’s trying to keep you safe.
Even though you’ve recognised that they’re holding you back, and that they’re stopping you from leading the fulfilling and happy life you know you want now: accept yourself, all of yourself, just the way you are. (There are links to other relevant posts at the end of this post).
Accepting this part of yourself is crucial, because the likelihood is that you will be very good at beating yourself up about it. A part of you will be telling you that you deserve it, that you provoked the bad behaviour coming your way, or that you should be able to fight back etc. etc. etc. …
So, unusually, very unusually, we’re going to move quite quickly into the positive aspects during Round of Tapping.
The Set-Up Statement
SOH: Even though I freeze up in certain situations, and I can’t change this pattern, I deeply and completely love, honour and forgive myself.
SOH: Even though I freeze up and I can’t stop this happening, I deeply and completely love and accept myself. And I forgive myself.
SOH: Even though I give myself such a hard time for not standing up for myself, I choose to deeply and completely love and honour and forgive myself. Because I know deep down, that this strategy is trying to keep me safe. And it is working really hard to keep me safe. I love and appreciate that part of me. Deeply, and completely.
The Reminder Phrases
EB: This freezing up.This involuntary Freezing Up.
SoE: This freezing up.
UE: I’m sick of it, even though I know it’s trying to keep me safe.
UN: IIt’s keeping me safe from all the bad stuff out there. And I am grateful for that.
CH: This freezing up. It keeps me out of harm’s way.
CB: This freezing up keeps me safe.
UA: This freezing up is the only way I know to stay safe.
TOH: This freezing up. I accept this part of me.
EB: All this freezing up. While I acknowledge that this is trying to keep me safe, I know that there are healthier and happier ways to keep me safe too.
SoE: This freezing up.
UE: I would like to create new ways for myself for keeping safe.
UN: This freezing up.
CH: I choose to find new ways of keeping myself safe.
CB: I choose to release these old patterns, that are no longer serving me.
UA: All these old patterns of freezing up.
TOH: I’m ready and willing to let them go.
EB: These patterns go back along way. Probably all the way back to my childhood. They are familiar. Like old friends.
SOE: I appreciate everything they’ve done for me.
UE: Kept me safe for so long now.
UN: And now I’m choosing to move forward.
CH: I’m choosing to explore new, and healthier patterns and choices.
CB: I’m choosing to be free of all these limiting beliefs.
UA: All this freezing up.
ToH: I’m choosing to be free, in body, mind and spirit.
Take a deep breath, and let it go. You’ve taken the first step on the path.
Thanks for following that through.
Dr. Paul Scheele makes clear, we can’t break old habits, but we can create new ones that take their place.
As you begin to loosen the ties that these negative beliefs have on you, you’re likely to feel some fear. A real and present fear. This is because the beliefs will be screaming at you from deep inside your subconscious : ‘Nooo!!! Don’t let us go. It’s not safe……”
Stay with it. Be patient and kind to yourself.
A little story … there is someone in my life who induces the freeze response in me. And for several years I have been figuring out how to stop it happening. And more than that, how to find my voice. And the number of times I’ve failed, and then gone away and berated myself for it are countless. But I didn’t give up. And one day, I said something back. And the person concerned did nothing. I had rendered them speechless. Instantly.
‘What took you so long …?’ I asked myself. ‘Good question.’ I said. ‘Sheer Terror.’ I replied. ‘Ah. I see,’ I whispered to myself.
It’s true. Don’t underestimate the sheer terror that lies behind the Freeze Response.
Just Tap on it.
Even though I feel all this Fear … and it’s real … I deeply and completely love and accept myself. …..
All this fear. It paralyses me.
All this fear. It freezes me up.
Be guided by your own inner compass. It will lead you to where you would like to be.
Keep Tapping ... and some ...
Follow the links below for more guidance.
Try the Peace Procedure. Read up about episodes. When you’re ready Tap on those specific episodes in your past when you felt the Big Freeze. The earlier the better. You don’t have to relive them vividly, just bring them briefly to mind. Your subconscious knows what to do.
Be proud of yourself for having got this far. Healing emotional damage doesn’t have to be hard, but sometimes it’s not easy either…..
However, finding emotional well being is a gift: to yourself and to others.
Thank you for doing that.