Freezing

Starting anything is always the hardest part. I’ve noticed over the last few years, though, that sometimes I feel stuck and immobile in a way that doesn’t seem, for want of a more nuanced term, ‘normal’. Ripping off the band-aid from inaction to action is often helpful, but some days, especially after great stress, I feel the frozen paralysis that I am now starting to understand as trauma. There have been some Larger Traumas, and compiled with many secondary traumas and unyielding stress over the last few years…. well, no wonder I felt exhausted and burnt out this summer.

In looking to healing, I have begun reading Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine.

From Chapter 8,”How Biology Becomes Pathology: Freezing”

“Trauma symptoms form in a spiraling process that begins with primitive biological mechanisms. At the core of this process is the immobility or freezing response, a defense mechanism summoned by the reptilian brain.

In response to threat, the organism can fight, flee, or freeze. These responses exist as parts of a unified defense system. When fight and flight responses are thwarted, the organism instinctively constricts as it moves toward its last option, the freezing response. As it constricts, the energy that would have been discharged by executing the fight or flight strategies is amplified and bound up in the nervous system. In this emotional and anxious state, the now-frustrated fight response erupts into rage; the frustrated flight response gives way to helplessness. The individual who has moved into the stage characterized by rage or helplessness still has the potential to move abruptly back into a frantic flight response or a raging counter attack. If the organism is able to discharge the energy by fleeing or defending itself and thus resolves the threat, trauma will not occur.

Another possible scenario is that constriction will continue until the rage, terror, and helplessness have built up to a level of activation that overwhelms the nervous system. At this point, immobility will take over and the individual will either freeze or collapse. What happens then is that the intense, frozen energy, instead of discharging, gets bound up with the overwhelming, highly activated, emotional states of terror, rage, and helplessness.

….The duration of the immobility response in animals is normally time-limited; they go in and they come out. The human immobility response does not easily resolve itself because the supercharged energy locked in the nervous system is imprisoned by the emotions of fear and terror. The result is that a vicious cycle of fear and immobility takes over, preventing the response from completing naturally. When not allowed to complete, these responses form the symptoms of trauma. Just as terror and rage figured in the onset of the freezing response, they will now contribute greatly to its maintenance–even though there is no longer any actual threat present.

…In post-traumatic anxiety, immobility is maintained primarily from within. The impulse towards intense aggression is so frightening that the traumatized person often turns it inward on themselves rather than allow it external expression. This imploded anger takes the form of anxious depression and the varied symptoms of post-traumatic stress…. trauma victims beginning to exit immobility are often trapped by their own fear of abrupt activation and their potential for violence. They remain in a vicious cycle of terror, rage, and immobility. They are primed for full out escape or raging counter-attack, but remain inhibited because of fear of violence to themselves and others.” (pages 99-103)

I don’t really have anywhere to go with this, I’m just beginning to digest the meaning of it all. But I do understand that healing involves connecting with my body. This also affirms my belief that I did not have the amount of energy I needed to work in an emotionally exhausting, intense job anymore. Slowly I am releasing energy and healing– and finding I have more energy to be present and am more focused –and peaceful–as a result.

Thawing.

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