We have all heard about the human tendency to go into "Fight or Flight" mode during a stressful experience. But what if you froze rather than fighting back, fighting for your life, or screaming for help? What if you just froze? Or further, if you let your mind judge yourself and look at it in a negative context, "didn't fight hard enough" or "let it happen." If you tend to look at it this way, you may hold a lot of shame, guilt and self-blame for what you experienced and how you handled it. But the truth is, the decisions to fight, flight, or freeze are in our subconscious, an instinctual reaction that when adrenaline is rushing we have little to no control over.
Lets start right away with replacing such harsh self judgement with words of kindness. We have a tendency to be critical of ourselves, often finding it easier to blame ourselves than others. But regardless of what you experienced, it was not your fault. If someone hurt you in any way, emotionally, physically, spiritually, it is NOT YOUR FAULT. I know you may not believe this right now but let's talk more about it so that it may make more sense.
Peter Levine, PhD a well-known expert in the trauma treatment world defines trauma in a clear, concise manner. He has written powerful books including Waking the Tiger and Healing Trauma. Levine defines trauma as being caused by " a life experience that is outside the range of usual human experience." The idea of "outside the range of human experience" is often described as something that causes serious threat of harm to you or those around you. What I love about Peter Levine's work is that he expounds upon this definition, being more inclusive of what occurrences can lead to a trauma reaction. He notes that other experiences such as: "surgery, accidents, falls, illness, and anything that the body unconsciously perceives as threatening" can also lead to trauma.
Levine further explains this with an example in nature, describing how an impala will instinctively freeze when being attacked by a cheetah in the wild. He further notes that if it were to survive the attack, it may then shake as a natural reaction to release the trauma from it's body and resume it's regular life. This points to the idea that we can use our bodies to release feelings and memories that are built up inside of us. It highlights the opportunity for human strength to repair us.
But in order to be able to acknowledge and work with this strength you must first understand why it makes sense that you froze. Levine states, "Nature has developed the immobility response for two good reasons... One it serves as a last-ditch survival strategy...Secondly, in freezing, the impala (and human) enter an altered state in which no pain is experienced." Some may describe this as checking out or dissociation.
So rather than blame yourself or place judgement on how you reacted, when your nervous system took over and did what it felt instinctively was necessary for survival, what if you work towards accepting that freezing may have been your reaction, and may even be why you have survived.
What can you do to be kinder to yourself today and let go of judgement?
- Write a list of your strengths
- Give yourself a break
- Treat yourself as you would respond to a friend that you care deeply about
- Find compassion for your experience
- Find someone safe to talk to about this if you want to process it further *a therapist, trusted friend, etc.
- Above all else, recognize that freezing is a natural, instinctual reaction. So rather than questioning your reaction, recognize your resiliency and focus on your strengths.