Episode 58

“Welcome to the Freeze Trauma Response. Unlike the other three responses <Fight, Flight and Fawn>, which are a call of action in the external world, Freeze happens in our bodies. Freeze is so fascinating. And as someone who really relates to this trauma response, I understand the dangers of it as well. It’s a reflexive response that’s turned inward and it’s greatly misunderstood.” 

-Jennifer Wallace, Podcast Co-Host and Neuro Somatic Psychedelic Integration Guide

Pod-Fam, this week we’re sharing our personal stories of Freeze Response along with thorough explanations of what it is and is not. In your healing journey it’s vital to expand your self-compassion and be curious as you begin to recognize the 4 F Trauma Responses in yourself. 

Do you often find yourself dissociating, leaving your body? Are your muscles tense most of the time? Do you have a hard time speaking up for yourself? Is your posture usually rounded? Have a hard time making eye contact? Does physical exhaustion take over your body sometimes? Have a tendency to procrastinate? Replay conversations and think of things you wish you would have said? 

If you’ve said yes to any of these, then you’ve most likely experienced the Freeze Trauma Response. Elisabeth wisely describes Freeze as Fight or Flight Responses on hold in this episode. During Freeze you’re preparing to protect yourself in a short amount of time and then you move into Fight or Flight.

However, if you experienced early childhood trauma or have complex trauma you may find yourself stuck in Freeze response because your body got conditioned to go into it as a form of protection. 

Encouraging words from Elisabeth,  “…like with all the other trauma responses, it’s important to remember that we are constantly changing. Our nervous system is constantly changing. Our brain is constantly changing. So even if you recognize yourself a lot in these <Freeze responses>, and it feels a little bit overwhelming and you realize that a lot of your life you’ve been cycling through these responses, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay that way forever. There are practical ways to work with your body, to discharge these emotions, to discharge the stress and to work with your nervous system to retrain yourself, to rewire yourself, to have different reactions, to not move into the same patterns over and over again.”

Highlights to listen for:

  • Elisabeth explains the 3 kinds of Freeze 
  • How to tell the difference between Freeze and chronic stress
  • Physical symptoms and signs of Freeze response
  • Differences between depression, chronic fatigue and Freeze
  • Links between procrastination, shame, inner critic and depression
  • The surprising roles posture and shame play in Freeze & how NSI tools can improve it
  • What stimulants like coffee do when you’re in a Freeze response
  • How rewiring your nervous system with NSI tools can lead you into healthy adaptive coping mechanisms
  • Elisabeth shares a real life of example how she moved through Freeze before a conflict conversation with her partner
  • How your Freeze response may affect communication in your relationships- and how to talk about it with your partner

We’re here to support your healing journey with NSI tools and the Brain-Based Wellness community. We’re so glad you’re here!

To listen to more episodes of Trauma Rewired click HERE


[00:00:00] Elisabeth: Hello. Welcome to Trauma Rewired, the podcast that teaches you about your nervous system, how trauma lives in the body and what you can do to heal. I’m your co-host, Elisabeth Kristof, founder of Neuro Somatic Intelligence Training, an ICF accredited course for healers, therapists, coaches to help bring behavior change, trauma resolution, and mindset change from the body to the brain.

[00:00:23] Jennifer: And I’m your co-host Jennifer Wallace, a Neuro Somatic Psychedelic Integration Guide, bridging the work of Neuro Somatic Intelligence into your plant medicine healing spaces. Welcome to the Freeze trauma response. Unlike the other three responses, which are a call of action in the external world, Freeze happens in our bodies. Freeze is so fascinating. And as someone who really relates to this trauma response, I understand the dangers of it as well. It’s a reflexive response that’s turned inward, it’s greatly misunderstood. And if gone unmanaged can trigger cycles of dissociation and shame. 

[00:01:00] These three trauma responses love to hang out together. You will see them reappear many times in future conversations. And as we move through this season of the podcast, We thought the four F’s was such a great place to start because these responses are foundational reflexes in your operating system. We know how vital it is for you to understand them and to be able to recognize them in yourself. I think you’ll find our stories and examples relatable, and it’s our hope that this conversation lends yourself to compassion and curiosity. 

[00:01:33] We always try to offer tools to support you, which best starts by going to rewiretrial.com to get onsite with us live for two weeks, completely free. During these two weeks you will learn about your nervous system and get new tools to lower your stress right now, because these F’s are going to happen. 

[00:01:53] There’s no stopping your Freeze Trauma Response. What is empowering is knowing that you can manage it differently, firstly, by identifying it and then having the right tools to move you out of it. By doing that you’re preventing dissociation. You could prevent the shame that spirals with the trauma response. And then what happens when you come out of it? 

[00:02:14] It can be debilitating and you will hear some of our personal stories when this was originally released as episode 16. And we will always talk about the four F’s. So if you missed this conversation, we wanted to reshare it with you. Living in this trauma response can be dangerous for your mental and physical health. 

[00:02:33] You have a nervous system and you should know how it works and how to understand it. There are videos on site that will break all of this down for you plus give you live access. We love to answer your questions while we’re there live with you, but there’s also an incredible library of on demand recording. 

[00:02:49] When you begin working with your nervous systems and training all of these input systems, when you’re in a Freeze response, you’re going to understand that you need to employ a different breathing sequence to regulate, then you would use let’s say if you were in the Fight trauma response.

[00:03:05] Because one is up and we want to bring you down. One is down and we need to bring you up. So we’re either up-regulating or down-regulating and it matters what stimulus you’re giving to your nervous system. It’s really fun and over time you can create lasting sustainable change. Rewiretrial.com gets you started. Please enjoy this exploration of Freeze. 

[00:03:30] Elisabeth: I think Freeze is misunderstood too. It’s a big one to talk about for me. I definitely had to do a lot of regulation prior to the episode. I had to do some movement to try to get myself out of Freeze cause even just thinking about it and putting my thoughts together about Freeze I found myself moving into Freeze. It’s a very, very deeply wired response for me and it’ll be interesting to dive into it today.

[00:04:00] Jennifer: Yeah, I think this is the response that has created maybe a little bit of shame around the behaviors in that inability to move forward out of feelings of hopelessness and shutting down and just having that immobilization quality- the procrastination also, I find myself in a lot. So let’s just kind of dive in like we’ve covered in the other responses, they don’t need actual threat or catastrophic event to exist. It can all be totally perceived. And just like I was saying in the beginning that propelling inward, that creating of stillness that is almost like a mimicking of death. Until the threat is gone or the situation ends.

[00:04:48] Elisabeth: Yep. So Freezing is like Fight or Flight on hold. You’re preparing to protect yourself. So it is another reflexive protective response, just like Fight and Flight, but instead of reacting your muscles are tensing up and you’re becoming immobile, but you’re still attentive. If you’re in Freeze you still are aware of what’s going on.

[00:05:09] Think of a deer in the headlights or an animal that sees the predator, but is gonna stay really still hoping the predator will pass and not notice you. That’s a really clear example of Freeze responses. When you’re trying to just stay really still, your muscles become really tense and you hope that whatever the threat is will move on beyond you, because you’re so still.

[00:05:35] Jennifer: It’s interesting. I think you just touched on something really important. Freezing doesn’t come with limpness, Freezing comes with action in the body, in the muscles, in the physical body. The constriction, as it would be called, is actually a form of movement, even when we appear frozen we’re still having an expression of motion.

[00:06:04] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think it’s important to understand. There are really three types of responses that kind of get lumped in with Freeze and they’re each a little bit different in terms of their physiology and in some of the symptoms that present. Freeze is a very short term response to an acute threat where you become immobile because there’s a dangerous situation or perceived dangerous situation or something reminds you of a past dangerous situation. And you’re hoping that it will pass. Everything is temporarily put on hold, especially mobility and your muscles actually become really tight.

[00:06:41] So your muscle tone remains high and you’re actually preparing to then take action to or to flee. So your heart rate still stays high. Your respiration still stays fast and Freeze because it should be pretty short. And then you should move into some kind of action then there’s tonic immobility, which is another kind of temporary paralysis and muscle rigidity in response to danger or the perception of danger.

[00:07:10] And this is when it’s not possible for you to run or to fight. So think of a child, perhaps in a traumatic situation might experience tonic immobility because they don’t have the ability to fight off their predator and they don’t have the ability to run or flee from their predator and take care of themselves.

[00:07:31] Or if you were in a traumatic situation and there wasn’t an escape route. So you’re not Freezing and then preparing to run, you are just Freezing because there’s no way out of the situation in tonic immobility. Then there’s flop or collapse immobility and this is a faint response. Or when your muscles lose all of their tension and everything kind of goes limp, you might feel really heavy and you might even lose consciousness.

[00:07:59] This is maybe the most severe response. In the whole spectrum of ways that you can respond to a traumatic event. And that might happen if you’re an animal in the wild, maybe before you’re about to get killed, the predator has actually gotten to you and you go limp and you leave your body and you might faint to avoid the pain of whatever’s about to come.

[00:08:23] And this can happen because of an actual threat or it can also continue to happen in trauma survivors in response to either re-exposure to a threat or something that reminds them of a past trauma, something that is perceived threat, you can still experience collapse and immobility or flop, even if the threat isn’t actually that dangerous if you’ve had that in your past.

[00:08:49] Jennifer: So I find it interesting. You said that Freeze will actually happen, but it happens in the moment before you take the other action, whether you Fight or you Flight. So in the instance of someone’s Freeze response not shutting off when they stay in that state versus when it’s just a temporary response for survival. What happens when someone stays there? What does that look like for people?

[00:09:22] Elisabeth: I think to really stay there, true Freeze would have to be pretty short to really stay there. You might be moving into tonic immobility, or what could happen is if you have a lot of threat over and over and over again, you go into Freeze a lot and your body becomes really conditioned into going into these responses.

[00:09:42] So true Freeze is always just in response to an acute threat and then it should pass. Then you get into other things that I think are sometimes mixed up with Freeze. When people talk about them like depression and chronic fatigue these are actually symptoms of chronic stress, too much stress over time.

[00:10:11] The physiology is a little bit different. Long term stress, like a really high stress job for a long period of time, or staying in an abusive situation where you’re in hyper vigilance for a long time. Then the system is again, just moving into that highly protective mode.

[00:10:27] Those are really more protective outputs of a nervous system that’s been under too much stress for too long, trying to get you to reduce the amount of stimulus coming in. So that could be migraines. It could be chronic fatigue, it could be depression, but they’re not a response to an acutely traumatic situation like Freeze would.

[00:10:49] Jennifer: So when you say acutely traumatic, people with cPTSD would not fall under acutely traumatic?

[00:10:55] Elisabeth: Well, they might, because they might have experienced many acutely traumatic events over and over and over again. Like continued abuse on a daily basis and then they would be Freezing in those moments, but just many, many times versus like somebody who has a high stress job. There might be one acutely traumatic incident where say your boss gets really angry at you and you feel really unsafe and it triggers you into your old trauma.

[00:11:25] But a lot of it is just this high stress level all of the time that can lead to the burnout, the depression, and the chronic fatigue.

[00:11:36] Jennifer: It’s interesting to reflect on the difference of chronic fatigue. I have felt the different types of shutdown and I have witnessed myself in Freeze in the form of communication. I will not feel like I have my voice. I will be forced to use it and the words won’t come out. I’ll be stumbling a lot. I will feel a lot of dissociation. So how does dissociation fall into the Freeze response?

[00:12:09] Elisabeth: So I think dissociation is maybe a little bit more linked to tonic immobility and collapse response. I think also it can happen during Freeze and dissociation is just that feeling of having left your body, almost like you’re watching yourself from above. I think what you were describing symptoms of Freeze. So I think, what does that look like for people, just to see if they can hear themselves in that. When you’re in Freeze response you might lose your vocal ability or your ability to articulate anything- your muscles will tense up and you might find yourself in a really rounded, protective posture.

[00:12:50] It’s a mix between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system state. So Fight and Flight are sympathetic nervous system. They’re preparing you to take action, but Freeze is a combination of both. Your body is preparing to take action, but at the same time your parasympathetic system is putting the brakes on that reaction.

[00:13:13] So you have kind of this mixed reaction. Your heart rate can be speeding up, but your muscles are immobilized and that’s a lot of energy held inside the body. Just like you said, it gets turned inward because our heart rate speeds up, our blood leaves our organs, but we don’t move. We contract and we hold everything in.

[00:13:32] So you might also feel like you can’t use your voice. Sometimes we lose our vocal abilities. You can feel like you’re really tired, your mind goes blank. Maybe even thinking of something else other than the situation at hand, like you’re having an argument with somebody and you’re thinking about something completely different as a distraction. And you can feel stuck inside your body as well, just stuck, frozen, unable to move. I was thinking, when you said that of the different times you’ve experienced Freeze as opposed to chronic fatigue- I was thinking of an example of that. There was the one time you and I were walking on the Green Belt and we had kind of a traumatic experience where we were around some men that we felt threatened by that didn’t feel safe.

[00:14:21] And all of a sudden you were really tired. You couldn’t walk back. You were really heavy. I believe that is acute Freeze, maybe even moving into collapse a little. But then the chronic fatigue that comes after a period of overworking where we’ve just run ourselves into the ground- we’ve been in perfectionism, we’ve been going, going, going and can’t make ourselves slow down because it doesn’t feel safe.

[00:14:47] Our body’s been under stress for a long time. I believe that is just a protective output of the nervous system saying ‘too much stress for too long’. That’s not actually coming from a Freeze response.

[00:15:00] Jennifer: To finish that story about when we were on the Green Belt, the next thing that happened was Flight.

[00:15:05] Elisabeth Mm-hmm

[00:15:06] Jennifer: I was ready to go to sleep right there. Then all of a sudden it was like running out of the Green Belt. I mean, we just couldn’t move fast enough. I was really surprised at the complete shift of energy.

[00:15:22] Elisabeth: Which is exactly the definition of Freeze. You become immobilized for a little bit until you’re until you know what to do to take action, or you have an escape route, and then you move into the next protective response. Many times we experience many trauma responses just cycling through them. (laughter)

[00:15:42] Freeze was, for most of my life, a very familiar stress response for me. I think it is important to say here that a lot of times Freeze is a very deeply wired response for children that suffered from either constant anxiety or fear due to trauma and continued abuse where they weren’t able to take action and protect themselves.

[00:16:11] So most people where Freeze is your go-to stress response that often has to do with prolonged abuse during childhood, during your developmental years where obviously as a small child, you’re not able to do the other responses and protect yourself. So that becomes the most adaptive stress response.

[00:16:33] And you learn to go to that first and more frequently during your developmental years. And then as an adult, even though now you can maybe escape or fight or flee, you’ve learned that for a long period of time during your development.

[00:16:49] Jennifer: And I think people might be able to associate: how do they feel right before they have to make a phone call that they’re dreading to make or go to the mailbox. And they don’t wanna open that pile of mail, the bills that are piling up or doing something that you don’t want to do. Knowing that you have to take the action, then how do you show up in the next action?

[00:17:14] Elisabeth: Yep.

[00:17:14] Jennifer: Do you, on that phone call that you’re dreading to make, show up argumentative? Can you not stay on the phone? What happens in the next moment so that you can start to differentiate through the sensations in the body, whether this is a chronic fatigue response to prolonged stress or is this about that crossroads of we’ve put everything on stop and pause- we’ve hit the brakes, but we are propelling forward in one way or another.

[00:17:44] Elisabeth: Yep. And then something emotionally reactive is gonna be happening from that (laughter) versus if you’ve just been under chronic stress for a  might not be the case. I find for myself too a lot of times Freeze comes up for me in relationship, in any kind of conflict in relationship. And I will be not able to speak. I can’t make eye contact. I move into a rounded posture. I have a strong desire actually to curl into a fetal position on the floor. I don’t do that very often, but I’m not gonna say that it never happens. What used to happen frequently for me after that initial Freeze response is I would actually move into collapse. Collapse is parasympathetic. You lose that sympathetic part and you’re just in a parasympathetic system. I would be so exhausted I would just kind of pass out in the middle of the hallway. I would have to lean against the wall to keep from falling over. 

[00:18:52] Now that I have worked with my nervous system I do feel like it is progress for me that, even though I still Freeze sometimes, now I more often go into a more active type of response like a Flight response or a Fight response. And even though those are still responses, there’s something about them that is at least I have a little bit of agency and a little bit of action and an ability to express whatever’s going on to release that stress through movement or through using my voice or through an anger practice. Whereas once I was in collapse, it’s very difficult to get out of that until it’s just passed.

[00:19:32] Jennifer: Wow. And so what would you do to get out of it?

[00:19:35] Elisabeth: Work with your nervous system prior to being in that moment so that you can be healthier and more resilient, you can handle more stress and start to rewire the triggers, working in a minimum effective dose.

[00:19:49] So these are the things that trigger me: a confrontational conversation. So I’m gonna have a slightly confrontational conversation and I’m gonna regulate myself before it and I’m gonna regulate myself after it so that I’m continuing to reeducate myself, neurologically, that it is safe to use my voice, to have conflict, to say something that somebody might not like, but I’m gonna do it in little bits.

[00:20:13] Then hopefully when I get into that conversation with my partner that feels so threatening it won’t trigger me so deeply that I move into that collapse response. But once you’re in collapse, I don’t think you have the bandwidth, the cognitive ability, to stop that in the moment and regulate yourself out of it. You just kind of have to rest until it passes. And hopefully it won’t be more than 30 minutes.

[00:20:41] Jennifer: I read something interesting talking about that moving inward, that cathodic posture, that the posture of bracing feels safer than the posture of opening and release.

[00:20:51] Elisabeth: Oh, absolutely. That’s a very protective posture. If you think about it- startle reflex is also to protect ourselves, right? So the shoulder, again, this is a reflex- it’s a reflex of posture. We’re not cognitively deciding to do this, but the shoulders elevate the spine rounds forward. Maybe your hands come up in front of your face. And the fetal position is a very protective posture. In fact, I was reading that Freeze was originally called crouching and that was when an animal curls up and is really still and tries not to get noticed. So that is the posture that’s associated with it.

[00:21:36] So some of what we do to work out of this response is trying to create change from the body up to the brain is training out of that posture and doing drills to make a new posture more possible so that we’re moving through the world differently because sometimes we just carry ourselves like that a little bit all the time.

[00:21:56] So the more I can move out of that posture with thoracic mobilization and different exercises that help my brain stem change my posture then the less I’m giving a signal from my body up to my brain that I’m under threat.

[00:22:13] Jennifer: So when I think about listening to you talk about the posture of Freeze and then I recall that conversation that we had with Matt and Melanie recently about how your nervous system affects your posture in the way that you move in the world. Someone who has a strong posture who feels really rooted and grounded, who walks with an open heart already- that openness to receive in the world- might notice their Freeze response in body posture a little bit more clearly than somebody who already has a cathodic posture or a posture that isn’t as open to the world.

[00:23:02] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. And I think our posture can have a big impact on the emotions and the level of safety that we’re feeling. There is a signal coming from our body up to our brain and it’s a loop. The signal from our body up to our brain is, ‘Hey, I’m a little bit under threat because this posture is telling me that there’s something to be protecting myself against.’

[00:23:28] Then the brain interprets that and then it makes the posture worse. And so it’s kind of a feedback loop. So we have to find ways to interrupt the loop. It’s important to remember too, that our posture is not cognitive. Our posture comes from our brain stem so working with the nervous system directly, you can start to change the posture. Then that will start to get you out of being more held in this response all of the time as you move through the world.

[00:23:58] Jennifer: So for someone who was experiencing early childhood trauma that was repetitive and the Freeze response got elicited, but then didn’t have the opportunity to play out the Fight or the Flight that Freeze response can never quite metabolized or turned off completely.

[00:24:22] Elisabeth: That’s right. Yeah, there’s a lot of energetic charge held in the body especially if you don’t shake or move or discharge the energy afterwards. Even strong forceful exhales can be helpful in that. But yes. And that’s why people who experience this a lot have a lot of muscle tension, maybe pain.

[00:24:43] Then also, like I was saying before, on a subconscious reflexive level, learn to go to this response more. And after a traumatic event, especially if it’s complex PTSD and it happened frequently, you can develop an exaggerated stress response. This is involving a recurrent pattern of reactions related to the initial event so now you’re an adult, you’re in a different life, but you have a very exaggerated stress response to triggers. You might move into this Freeze or even collapse, flop response, pretty quickly even though that’s not really necessary in the current situation, but our brains are predictive and they function on pattern recognition and survival is their primary goal all of the time. So if we have learned that this is important for our survival, if these are the patterns that we have learned, especially during our development, it’s the way that our brain predicts, then you might find yourself moving into this state quite frequently as an adult.

[00:25:50] Jennifer: I relate to that. And then using caffeine to be the substance that propels me out into action.

[00:25:58] Elisabeth: Yeah. I was thinking about that too. About how much I used to really crave stimulants and still do, I still love coffee, but you know, stronger stimulants in my youth. (laughing) And I thought, man, I bet there was a large part of me that was needing that activation of my sympathetic nervous system. And that’s why it felt so good to have things that kicked that in because I was too much in my parasympathetic. I was too shut down all of the time or shutting down over and over again.

[00:26:34] Jennifer: Yeah. I talked a little bit about procrastination in the beginning of this. Well, now I have such a different view of the way that I live through the world. And I can catch myself talking about that hard phone call or paying a bill or something that just seems like really overwhelming. I’ll do a drill. I’ve gotta remind myself that I’m safe and I can handle this phone call. I’m safe and I can handle this bill, but procrastination can come with a lot of negative thought loops around  shame and just not ever being able to do it- it’s just like the avoidance of something.

[00:27:29] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think that part of procrastination can be the Freeze response. And I think part of it too is protective in another way. When your system remembers, knows- has that deep inherent wisdom that something is going to be really stressful, that something is gonna push you into threat response.

[00:27:50] It starts to try to create distractions and ways of avoiding it, because it doesn’t want all of that stress coming into the system. It doesn’t want that stress response. And so if we have that exaggerated stress response and something like having a conversation can really push us into a very high threat state then our brains and our nervous systems and our bodies may try to find ways of keeping us from doing that.

[00:28:20] Jennifer: I think learning about these, and I’m sure I say this on every one of these conversations, but I just think it’s so important for people to understand about those sensations that they feel in the body. The sensations are what helps us connect to what feels unconscious in our body.

[00:28:42] Elisabeth: Yeah, that’s right. I was thinking, I have a client who really struggles with procrastination and really, really wants to overcome it. And so we spend a lot of time working on it, but she’s also a perfectionist and her internal critic is really loud and she puts so much pressure on herself for all of the things that she wants to do.

[00:29:06] I have to think to myself- ‘no wonder her body and her brain create trouble when she needs to do these tasks’. She finds herself playing games on her phone as a distraction and a numbing mechanism, a self soothing mechanism. And it’s like, no wonder, because the amount of stress, the amount of pressure is so intense for each one of those tasks that the subconscious part of ourselves that is trying to protect us and keep us alive, will do things to keep us from experiencing that.

[00:29:41] Jennifer: It happens to me. I’ll be here doing something and next thing I know I’m repotting a plant or I’m outside in my garden. I’m playing in the water. I’m doing something like cuddling with Grace. I’m just getting distracted really easily and in things that are pleasurable.

[00:30:01] Elisabeth: Although, I also hear that. And those are actually really like beautiful, good things for your nervous system. So maybe your nervous system is just like, ‘Hey, go do this, go cuddle with your animal. Feel some love cause I’m experiencing too much stress right now’. It’s your body actually being really adaptive and you’ve developed some really healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that comes from that.

[00:30:22] Then of course we do want to decrease how much stress that causes us again, by that process of rewiring, of continuing to teach our body that it’s safe to do these things. And then to keep creating that felt sense of safety in the body around doing these things. The safer we feel inside of our own body, the less likely we are to move into these intense responses.

[00:30:47] Jennifer: And especially when a response like Freeze could come with like the confusion of the sense of self. So the more you can create that safety in your body, the less you are to detach from one’s self.

[00:31:03] Elisabeth: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a really, really good point because dissociation and self abandonment are so linked to this. And like you were talking about in the beginning, so much shame associated with this response with immobilization and collapse and shut down and not being able to react.

[00:31:22] I think something people will relate to too is a lot of times when you have Freeze response, you might find yourself being the kind of person who is in a situation and then afterwards you can’t stop replaying what I should have done, what I should have said in this conversation, if only I had said this or spoken up here or done this- a lot of times that’s a sign that you were in Freeze response.

[00:31:44] So then later there’s all this shame. There’s this internal critic about what you should have done. There’s a shame around procrastination even at a really physiological level. I think people often see Freeze as the weakest response. It’s the prey response. It’s not the predator, it’s not the prey that’s gonna escape, but it’s like the weak animal that can’t do anything but shut down.

[00:32:11] I think that’s a really unfair thing to do to ourselves because at the end of the day, it’s what our body found to be most adaptive, to keep us safe. That’s it. It doesn’t mean anything bad or shameful about us. It doesn’t mean that we’re weak. It means that was the best strategy that your nervous system body had. That was what worked to keep you alive.

[00:32:43] Jennifer: Okay. First of all, I wanna speak to the replaying of the conversations that you just talked about- I relate to that so much. When I left the situation or a conversation or if it was confrontational or anything that I was hyper vigilant about, I would just lay at night and just replay and replay what I should have said.

[00:33:08] How do I think that person interpreted what I was saying? And just never feeling like… It was like speaking your voice. Couldn’t do it. Wasn’t valid. Did I even say what I wanted to say? And then it would be an over explanation- Oh, you know, when we were talking the other day’ or Hey, a lot of apologies. A lot of apologies.

[00:33:37] Elisabeth: Yeah. Then moving into a little bit of Fawn there. A lot of times for me it was that I didn’t say anything at all. I just couldn’t. I would be planning to have this conversation and confrontation was just life threatening to me. And I just couldn’t do it. Even the other day, I needed to have a conversation with my partner and there was gonna be a little bit of conflict.

[00:34:03] It wasn’t gonna be like conflict. We weren’t gonna be yelling at each other, but I was gonna say something that he might not like. And he might say something that I might not like and we were gonna have to talk about it. I was in the other room standing on the side of the door and I couldn’t make myself open the door and go walk in the room to have the conversation.

[00:34:20] It took me like five minutes. I was just Frozen on the other side of the door. Finally I took some forceful exhales- I shook my body, I swung my arms around and gave myself some sensory stimulus and did a little voluntary movement. And then I was able to walk out into the other room, but I Froze.

[00:34:41] Jennifer: Yeah. It’s so basic of a response, isn’t it? I do feel like people feel like this is the weaker trauma response because it is associated to that numbness, laziness. I think we’ve cleared this up earlier, but I think depression often gets linked in with Freeze, but depression is not Freeze. 

[00:35:06] Elisabeth: No, no, they’re not the same, neurologically they’re not the same. They do often get overlapped, but Freeze can feel similar to depression in the body. You know that feeling of heaviness, of exhaustion, of numbness or not feeling present- all these things kind of feel the same as depression. But depression tends to occur during or after more long term stresses like chronic illness or long term challenging relationships or long term workplace burnout, and may be preceded by periods of anxiety or anger. It’s not an acute stress response and there’s a different neurological pathway, a different neurological reaction going on inside of the body.

[00:36:05] Jennifer: I just wanted to reiterate that one more time. I think it’s just so fascinating.

[00:36:13] Elisabeth: Yeah, I think it’s really important to do. I think especially collapse response, flop, you feel lifeless, you feel numb, you have very little energy. That is also what depression feels like. It’s really mostly a difference between acute and chronic.

[00:36:42] One thing that I think is important to touch on a little bit too is how linked certain emotions are to some of these responses. When we talked about Fight, obviously we talked about anger and when we talked about Flight, we talked about anxiety and fear.

[00:37:00] I think with Freeze and Flop there’s often a lot of shame and the big overriding emotion, at least for me in my experience, is a feeling of shame. And in looking at some studies, shame is a deeply parasympathetic state. It’s a shutdown state. And so it is associated with that state of flop or collapse and immobility.

[00:37:25] Shame posture is very similar to a Freeze posture. You’re very rounded in your spine. You have a very difficult time making eye contact or looking up with your eyes. You have loosening of your facial muscles. So again, that kind of collapsed posture of the muscles loosening. So I think because they’re so similar and there’s so much of the shame emotion involved with Freeze and collapse that compounds it because it adds to that feeling of shame around being Frozen. The posture is even the same and so it’s a really difficult one of the trauma responses, because it usually comes from a lot of abuse during our childhood. So it’s loaded. It’s a really heavy one to work through.

[00:38:26] Jennifer: I was just gonna say heavy because shame is a really heavy emotion to be with. And when you’ve got heaviness in the body and you add a heavy emotion to it like shame it’s more density. It’s like being in quick sand and trying to move through your day or show up either how you’re supposed to show up or want to show up or whatever that looks like in your life. It’s hard when you don’t understand why you’re moving through the world like this, you can’t create compassion for yourself when you are heavily burdened with shame. And that’s one thing we do so much is compassion. It’s something  you have to work towards.

[00:39:20] Elisabeth: That’s right. Yeah. It’s really hard. I think that’s why it’s so important to understand this response, to remember that it’s protective and reflexive so that when it does happen hopefully we can move more toward that place of compassion because you’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to start to heal it and to start to be curious about your behavior without having some self-compassion.

[00:39:44] I think it’s important, especially for people with complex trauma, to be able to talk about this with the people that they’re in relationship with whether it’s friends or family or partnership, because I’ve also found for myself- and in working with clients too- that often this response can be really triggering to whoever you’re with, because it seems like you’re really detaching from them. All of a sudden you’re really not present. You won’t look at them. You might even turn away from them. You’ll round into yourself. It seems like you’re not paying attention to them or not even there. And for a lot of people that then really triggers feelings in them of not being seen or not being heard, of being abandoned. You can really get stuck in a trauma cycle unless they understand that this is a reflexive response for you, and they’re gonna have to give you a little bit of time to move through it before you can be connected and present again. It can end up causing a lot of problems in relationships.

[00:40:47] Jennifer Mm-hmm, open communication. If you’re in a trauma response that doesn’t allow you to use your voice and then what if that triggers the other person’s Fight and then they are yelling at you and you’re shutting down and then you just go deeper into that.

[00:41:09] Elisabeth: Mm-hmm. Yeah and communicate then they react to that. It just spirals. That is really my experience with my past relationships, many of them, is that I am a Freezer, especially in relationships, and it would often trigger a Fight response in my partner, which would then push me into that collapse/flop response. They would be like, ‘how can you fall asleep while we’re in the middle of this serious discussion, this argument’, this whatever? And I’m like, I seriously cannot stay awake, but it would make people really angry. So I think before you get into that situation is the time to discuss with your partner that this is what this is. And if this happens I am having a trauma reaction and I’m not gonna be able to communicate and be present until I move through that. It’s not gonna happen. I can’t override it. And so we’re gonna have to take a pause and it’s not personal.

[00:42:17] So I think, like with all the other trauma responses, it’s important to remember that we are constantly changing. Our nervous system is constantly changing. Our brain is constantly changing. Even if you recognize yourself a lot in these, and it feels a little bit overwhelming and you realize that a lot of your life you’ve been cycling through these responses that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay that way forever. There are practical ways to work with your body, to discharge these emotions, to discharge the stress and to work with your nervous system to retrain yourself, to rewire yourself, to have different reactions, to not move into the same patterns over and over again. Even just having the knowledge of what’s going on can help you develop compassion and curiosity about what’s happening and to move through these responses with less shame, less guiltless pain.

[00:43:10] So I just wanna make sure that everyone knows that just because you experience these responses it won’t always be like this. You have some agency in creating that change in your body and in your nervous system. And it’s always just trying to protect you

[00:43:30] Jennifer: Thank you all so much. If you found yourself in this conversation and you want to jump on site with us, it’s rewiretrial.com. We would love that. We are here to answer your questions and, if you like the work, and you find it supportive and you’re ready for one-on-one coaching, we have a six month rewire container that’s a high level of accountability and can be as transformational as you make it. We would love to support you in that container. The link is also in the show notes. Jump on site, come learn with us and develop that intimate connection to your body and your nervous system. So much love to you all. Thank you.