Sunday, 26 April 2015

Freeze state that follows fight flight survival mechanism - Trauma education I

Thank you for signing up to my newsletter! As I am starting with my series on trauma education I am resending my first article of the series. If you missed the introduction “What is trauma” you can find it on my blog on my web site.

Most people have heard about fight and flight: It’s a survival mechanism that kicks into place when we are in danger and chatting and smiling don’t work anymore. The new situation requires us to do something different: We now need to be assertive and set a clear boundary , when it’s more severe push someone away (fight impulse) or we need to turn around, walk or run away (flight impulse).
It is normal having to use fight/or flight in life and it is clever that our bodies are set up for it. Without it people could walk all over us and things would get messy very soon.

 It is just as healthy that we have access to the freeze state. It’s our oldest survival mechanism controlled by a nerve called dorsal vegal. It helps us in smaller doses to go to sleep, in big doses it helps us to survive when even  fight/flight isn’t enough anymore. We then go numb, dissociate and submit into immobility - we take refuge in the freeze state. In this state nothing hurts too much emotionally nor physically. Nature intended it this way to help us for when we have an accident or when we are being attacked.

While on this survival mode systems like digestion are shut down to conserve energy.  Staying in this state too long means our digestion suffers (irritable bowel syndrome) and since we feel less pain we also shut down from pleasurable experiences. We are meant to stay in this state for short times only -  we are not reptilians who can comfortably stay frozen for hours and even days.
The thing is – and here it gets problematic – that some of us when we were young were faced by situations where fight/flight would have been necessary. But a baby can’t set a boundary or pack its bags and walk away. The only way it can escape is by physically contracting  and then by going into a freeze state straight away.

The freeze state works so well, that as babies we then become used to frequently going into the freeze state. As adults later on we therefore go into a freeze state when fight or flight would be much more appropriate. Life that way becomes difficult and complicated very quickly and can look like one big exhausting survival instead of a joyful living.

The good news is, that therapies like Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, MATES and Brain spotting can help reinstate fight/flight and support a person to become unstuck from a freeze. By following sensations and slowing things down the body can carefully be coaxed back to homeostasis. Having fight flight online again and being able to transition to relaxed social engagement translates into a much more healthy way of being. Fun, joy, relaxing and nurturing can now be a much more regular part of your life with a healthier nervous system supporting you.

If you like these posts, please share them. Information on trauma is something that needs to go viral. Everything I have written is copy righted and I am requesting to give me credit for information passed on and copied. Thanks.
Should you have missed my post “What is trauma?” , just check out my Facebook page “Barbara Schmidt Counselling Somatic” or have a look under the blog section on my web site If you want more info on this subject, check out Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory.

Next week I will write about “Reptilian, mammal and rational brain “speak” different languages”

Have a great day,

Counselling Somatic
Barbara Schmidt Mental Health Social Worker,  EMDR,  Somatic Experiencing Practitioner

Barbara Schmidt
Mental Health Social Worker
EMDR, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner
144 Stirling Terrace, Albany &
3/55 Strickland Street, Denmark

m: 0458 234 410

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