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Trauma Response: Freeze?

The freeze response is one of the four primary trauma responses, along with fight, flight, and fawn. It is an automatic response that occurs when an individual experiences a threat, such as a physical assault, sexual assault, or life-threatening event. The freeze response is characterized by a sense of immobilization, numbness, and dissociation, as the body and mind attempt to shut down in order to cope with the overwhelming experience of trauma.

The freeze response is a common response to trauma, yet it is often overlooked or misunderstood. In a study by Sliwinski and colleagues (2018), it was found that up to 50% of individuals who experienced trauma reported a freeze response. However, because the freeze response is characterized by a lack of movement and visible signs of distress, it is often misinterpreted as a lack of response or a lack of care for one's own safety.

The freeze response is a biological and evolutionary response that has been observed in many different species, including humans. When faced with a threat, the body's sympathetic nervous system activates the "fight or flight" response, which triggers a surge of adrenaline and prepares the body to either fight or flee. However, when the threat is too overwhelming, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, triggering the freeze response.

During the freeze response, the body and mind attempt to dissociate from the traumatic experience in order to protect the individual from the overwhelming emotions and sensations. This can lead to a sense of disconnection, detachment, and numbness, as the individual may feel as if they are outside of their body or watching the trauma happen to someone else.

One of the challenges of the freeze response is that it can be difficult to identify and treat. Because individuals experiencing the freeze response may not display visible signs of distress, they may not receive the support and care that they need in the aftermath of trauma. Additionally, the freeze response can be associated with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame, as individuals may feel as if they "should" have done something to protect themselves.

In order to address the freeze response and support individuals who have experienced trauma, it is important to create a safe and supportive environment where individuals can feel comfortable sharing their experiences. This can involve providing education and information about trauma and the different trauma responses, as well as offering resources and support for healing and recovery.

Therapies such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing (SE) have been shown to be effective in treating the freeze response and other trauma-related symptoms. EMDR is a form of therapy that uses eye movements to help individuals process traumatic memories, while SE focuses on the physical sensations and emotions associated with trauma in order to release the body's natural healing process.

In conclusion, the freeze response is a common and often overlooked trauma response that can have significant impacts on an individual's well-being and recovery. By understanding the freeze response and providing support and resources for healing and recovery, we can help individuals to move beyond the trauma and reclaim their lives.

trauma response


Sliwinski, J., Custer, B., McCarron, R. M., & Spitzmueller, C. (2018). Understanding the freeze response to trauma: A review of the literature. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19(2), 195-207.

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