Freeze… Stuck!

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Podcasts, Who Is "me"...?
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i’m walking alone on a mountain trail at dusk, returning to my car a little later than i’d planned. i’ve always known it’s bear and cougar country, but i’ve never had a bad experience with a wild animal, so i’m not concerned.

Suddenly, i hear a loud snap of a twig behind me. my heart rate increases; eyesight and hearing become more aware; my head whips around towards the sound, and my muscles tighten as blood flow to them increases. Without conscious thought, i instantly assess the possible threat and choose to flee or fight.

i may have picked up a stone or limb as a weapon or begun to run before I even think. Reading this you may have noticed increased heart and respiration rate, a tingling of the skin, increased perspiration, and a sense of alertness. Your imagination just now may have offered images of escape routes or ways you could fight off the imagined attack.

Highly stressful or life-threatening experiences arouse vast amounts of survival energy and emotion the well-known fight-or-flight response, which i shared about in previous posts. Merely thinking about such a situation activates these responses. When it takes control, my body responds far more rapidly than normally to assess the danger and to fight or flight.

Think for a moment about an animal in the wild, a rabbit for example. It may be calmly eating one moment at the edge of a meadow, and running for it’s life from a wolf the next. It would seem to be a pretty traumatic situation. A hungry animal determined to catch, kill, and eat you, not much unlike how I feel when circumstances come and try to kill steal and destroy me. Yet… if the rabbit escapes, within minutes it will be back to normal life, not traumatized.

But there is a difference between such responses in people and animals. Even though animals in the wild routinely experience life-threatening situations, after the danger has passed, they quickly return to normal, whereas humans sometimes are stuck with trauma or what is identified as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  In other words, they are stuck in some combination of the nervous system’s fight, flight or freeze response.

Freeze: to become hard or stiffened.

Freeze is like having both the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal pressed to the floor at the same time. i may think that i got over the experience, but if I was unable to avoid the danger and didn’t have support to shake off the strong charge of sensations and emotions afterward, that vast amount of survival energy may become stuck in my nervous systems. Weeks, months, or years later, often without even a conscious connection to the traumatic experience, many different kinds of symptoms appear. i may have lost resiliency, my natural ability to flow easily between the many moods and energy states that are required to live a full life.

Tomorrow i’ll share a story in the Bible that describes the freeze response.

A closing thought. i should live with my circumstances as i do with fire: not too close, or i get burned, but nor too far off, and i freeze.

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