The freeze response involves a state of physiological and psychological immobilization, where the person may feel unable to move, speak, or take action. This response is often considered a form of dissociation, where the individual disconnects from their immediate surroundings or emotions as a way of coping with overwhelming stress or danger.
In codependency, the Freeze response can promote the use of codependent habits like conflict avoidance, people-pleasing, and lack of boundaries because the person does not want to freeze or navigate that level of hypoarousal and collapse, as it is very painful.
So, how do you know you’re in a freeze response:
Physically, your body will feel frozen or paralyzed. Breathing will become shallow, heart rate will reduce, you may experience a rise in tension, especially in the shoulders, jaw, and neck.
Emotionally, you may experience a sense of emotional numbness or emotional detachment from the situation, dissociation, cognitive confusion where decisions and thinking are difficult, and a sense of helplessness about the situation
You may experience time distortion, memory gaps, or intrusive thoughts, along with a verbal communication dropping, avoidance of eye contact, and a withdraw from social contact.
How do we respond to and care for the freeze response in the body?
1) Acknowledge that you’re frozen and that this response is ok. “I give my body permission to be as frozen as it needs to be”. This helps it feel safer and assists in the body moving from frozen to thawing
2) Establish if you’re physically safe by assessing your physical environment.
3) If you’re safe, begin gentle movement, like a walk in the yard, allowing your awareness to recognize what is around you
4) Orient a little to your body by recognizing where your feet, arms, head, torso are
5) Pause and acknowledge what you’re aware of. Make sure to name what shows up, as that helps the brain and body reconnect.
6) Begin a daily practice of regulation (use the Daily Regulation Practice here: https://drp.freetheself.com)
7) Reach out to therapists and start the process of restoring safety and connection to your life
To learn more about this response, listen to the YouTube or Podcast version of this article: