Freezing in Trauma and PTSD

The Freeze Response is one of the hallmarks of trauma and PTSD.

This response evolved as a means of survival in a predatory world. The following video demonstrates the survival benefits of the freeze response in nature.

In a traumatic event, the brain signals the body to flee. This is the first response that takes the least amount of energy and offers the greatest chance of survival. But if that isn’t possible, the brain tells the body to defend itself and fight, which requires more energy than fleeing. If neither flight nor fight are successful and the danger still looms, the brain arrests all movement in the body with the freeze in which the body stiffens and/or collapses. In the video, the deer is frozen and appears dead.

The freeze bestows several benefits in nature. Many predators won’t touch dead prey. Some predators will leave the prey and return later, which gives the prey a chance to escape. Chemicals that suppress pain are also released into the body that allows animals to ignore its injuries and run away if the opportunity presents itself.

We humans have the same responses hardwired into our nervous systems too. But we have left the eat-and-be-eaten life of the animal kingdom far behind us, and these responses no longer help us survive trauma and PTSD–except, perhaps, in combat.

Like animals, we also have the innate capability to discharge the effects of the freeze. But man’s neocortex suppresses the body’s natural ability to discharge and tries to handle the trauma by trying to think it away or “handle” it. This doesn’t work, and the freeze continues to express itself long after the trauma is over, expressing itself in many ways such as fatigue, dissociation, paralyzing fear, listlessness, or a constant tightening of the muscles.

The good news is that this ability can be recovered and the freeze and its effects released. Somatic Experiencing and Brainspotting are perhaps the best therapies for this. We, too, can get up again and escape the jaws of trauma and PTSD.

To find out more about how to release the effects of the freeze, contact me.

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2 Responses to Freezing in Trauma and PTSD

  1. Diane Naletich says:

    As the founder of Help A Vet Now, I highly recommend Larry’s work in this field. It’s critical now that we support our Vets who are suffering, especially to prevent homelessness.

  2. L. Kessler says:

    There are many reasons to avoid seeking help that people with trauma and/or PTSD will use. Meanwhile, their lives and the lives of their families crumble. You can push away help with a variety of good reasons and justifications, or you can seek help and end the suffering. What happens if you don’t get help? You’ll go on as you are and get worse. But what could happen if you did seek help?

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