The freeze trauma response is one of the four main reactions to traumatic events, alongside fawning, fight and flight responses. It is a natural and automatic response that some individuals may experience when confronted with a threat, including survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The freeze response is characterized by a state of immobilization, where the individual feels paralyzed or unable to move or take action.
In the context of sexual and gender-based violence, the freeze response can be an adaptive survival mechanism. When faced with a traumatic event, freezing may reduce the chances of further harm, as it can make the survivor appear passive or compliant to the perpetrator. It can also serve as a way to disconnect from the overwhelming and distressing experience.
However, it’s important to note that the freeze response can be accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Survivors may question their reactions and blame themselves for not fighting back or attempting to escape. These self-judgments are often unjustified, as the freeze response is a physiological reaction that is beyond conscious control.
Recovery and healing for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence often involve addressing the freeze response along with other aspects of the trauma. Trauma-focused therapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), can help survivors process their experiences, manage distressing symptoms, and develop coping strategies.
Supportive environments, empathy, and understanding are crucial in helping survivors heal. It’s essential to create spaces where survivors feel safe, validated, and not judged for their responses to trauma. Professional help from therapists, counsellors, or support groups can play a significant role in supporting survivors through their healing journey.
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How to manage the Freeze Trauma Response
Overcoming the freeze trauma response can be a challenging process, but there are strategies and techniques that can help individuals navigate and heal from this trauma response. Here are some suggestions:
1. Understand the Freeze Response:
Educate yourself about the freeze trauma response and how it manifests in your own body and mind. Understanding that freezing is a natural survival instinct can help you approach it with compassion and patience.
2. Create a Safe Environment:
Establish a safe and supportive environment for yourself. Surround yourself with people who are understanding and empathetic, and who can provide a sense of safety. This can be friends, family members, or mental health professionals.
3. Practice Self-Care:
Engage in activities that promote self-care and relaxation. This could include mindfulness exercises, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, journaling, taking warm baths, or engaging in hobbies that bring you joy and relaxation.
4. Gradual Exposure to Triggers:
In a controlled and supportive environment, gradually expose yourself to triggers that may cause a freeze response. Start with small, manageable situations and slowly increase exposure as you feel more comfortable and confident. This can help desensitize your body and mind to triggering stimuli over time.
5. Seek Professional Help:
Consider working with a therapist or counsellor who specializes in trauma therapy. They can provide guidance, support, and evidence-based techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) to help process and heal from freeze trauma responses.
6. Build Resilience:
Engage in activities that help build resilience and strengthen your overall well-being. This could include regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfilment.
7. Develop Coping Strategies:
Work with a therapist to develop personalised coping strategies that help you regulate your emotions and manage stress. These strategies could include grounding techniques, self-soothing exercises, or creating a safety plan for when freeze responses occur.
8. Practice Self-Compassion:
Be patient and kind to yourself throughout the healing process. Recognise that overcoming trauma takes time and that setbacks may occur. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can.
9. Support Groups:
Consider joining a support group for trauma survivors. Connecting with others who have experienced similar trauma responses can provide a sense of validation, support, and community.
Remember, it is essential to seek professional help if you are struggling with the freeze trauma response or any other trauma-related challenges.