Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trauma Induces The Freeze Response

Dr Drew - CNN / HLN
Trauma Induces Freeze Response
Recently on CNN, Dr. Drew was interviewing Tom Arnold and Dr. Allan Schore (a Neuroscientist) about the Sandusky child abuse and molestation story.  In the following video clip of the show, some very important points were made.

Often many survivors ask the continual question of why didn't I speak out and tell someone about the abuse or why didn't I scream.  Outside of the fact, that survivors are viewing the situation through an adult mind, there is a more relevant reason.  When we are faced with traumatic situations as children, our minds are not able to handle these things and trauma induces a freeze response.

Your Mind And Body Check Out
We all know that when you are confronted with a fearful situation that there is the flight or fight response.  However, as a child when you are overpowered by an adult, the fight response is most likely not the one you will gravitate towards.  After all, how can a little child have the strength to stand up to someone much bigger then they are?  In the eyes of a child, an adult is the same as a giant.  The alternative is to flee, but that does not mean you are running from the situation.  Often it means that you endure the situation, but your mind and body check out because there is no way to run away from the person doing these things to you.

When you are phsyically in that situation but your mind and body check out, the trauma induces the freeze response.  It is a way of coping and surviving the situation that is beyond your control.  It is a way of enduring that which is unimaginable and too difficult to comprehend.  The freeze response is a protection mechanism of our bodies when there are no other alternatives.

Example Of Freeze Response
Take for example if you were walking on the plains of the African desert and a tiger attacked you.  Imagine this several hundred pound animal on top of you mauling and biting and ripping you to shreds.  I doubt that your first thought or action would be to scream or go seek help especially if you were many miles from the nearest person.  Most likely, your first thought would be in trying to protect yourself even if these events seemed hopeless.  If you were completely overpowered, you might just succumb to the tiger and play possum, so hopefully the tiger would think there was something wrong with you and leave you alone.  You would be trying to survive the incident in any way that you could to protect yourself.

A part of you though would be completely frozen in that moment of attack and terror.  It would be locked within you repeating the event over and over until it was discharged or until it found a way out.  Immediately after the situation, your wounds might be attended to and you might go through much of your life being thankful you are still alive.  However, the trauma would still be impacting your body and mind.

Freeze Response Impact On The Body
It would be as if you were reliving the trauma every day of your life and even later in life, the freeze response may still be impacting your body.  The impact of the freeze response could be back pain, difficulty walking, knee issues, or a whole host of emotional, psychological and mental issues.  The freeze response can and does affect survivors of trauma in varying degrees and in different ways.  Until we discharge that trauma from our body, it is alive and well within us.

Healing Mechanisms Of The Body
The freeze response is there as a protection mechanism during the trauma but there is no reason we have to stay frozen in our life.  I will not sit here and tell you it is easy to recover from these things because I was taken to the point of paralysis as a result of what I went through.  However, I will tell you that healing is possible and that you can recover from trauma.  It takes hard work, courage and and openness to discharge and free yourself from the freezing caused by the trauma.  Healing does not come about from staying outside of your body, but by physically tapping into the healing mechanisms of the body. 

Related Blog Posts:
1)  Oprah And Male Survivors Of Child Sex Abuse (Oct 28, 2010)
2)  Embrace The Pain (Jan 28. 2011)
3)  Recovery From A Conversion Disorder (Jul 11, 2011)

1)  Effects Of Sex Abuse Victims Speak Out Video (Dr Drew, CNN)
2)  Hope And Possibility Through Trauma (Book by Don Shetterly)
3)  Waking The Tiger (Book By Peter Levine)

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