So, you know that you go into freeze, shutdown, disconnection, dissociation, collapse or seizure as a result of Trauma. But how can you un-learn that powerful survival response which, let's face it, helped you survive?
I will be sharing 5 methods to prevent the freeze response getting more ingrained in our nervous system, giving us a greater chance of healing and staying well. The freeze response is life-saving when it's needed, but when the threat is over and the freeze response continues, it comes at a cost.
Trauma response antidote #1 NOTICE SENSATIONS
As our brain gets overwhelmed, we move into the freeze response and start to become disconnected from our body. This protects us psychologically. Whatever happens to the body, we are separated, as if we did not experience it. This can cause us to develop distinct 'parts' of our personality or to regularly dissociate and disconnect from our physical experience. This is a protective response that dulls not only negative emotions and sensations but all emotions and sensations.
We may feel like we are a robot, that we have no feelings or that we are numb.
It can take a while but we can learn to become embodied, to experience ourselves in physical form. It can help to practice this at times when you're feeling ok so you can build the skill to use when things are more challenging. Going to a Trauma Informed Yoga class can be the perfect place to begin to rebuild this connection and capacity.
Trauma response antidote #2 RECONNECT
When a Trauma response is triggered, the more primitive part of the nervous system dominates. This is geared towards shutting down, protection and survival. Because it is a passive defensive response we may feel helpless or hopeless. If we can reconnect with another being - real or imaginary, it can help switch on the newer branch of our nervous system which activates the Social Engagement System. This will lift us out of freeze and into our strength, leaving us feeling that we are capable and strong.
You could ask a trusted friend or partner in advance to hold your hand, give you a hug or speak gently to you when this happens. This will help you to thaw out. Stroking an animal can have the same effect, as can giving yourself a hug or imagining a supportive person. After all, your brain doesn't know the difference between an imaginary hug and a real one.
Trauma response antidote #3 USE RHYTHM
The part of our brain the processes and stores Trauma does not have language centres. This makes it hard to express ourselves when the freeze response is activated.
If we can't talk or think clearly it is likely to do with certain regions of our brain shutting down whilst the survival oriented parts stay 'online'. These parts also play a role in coordination, movement, balance and breathing.
We can use the language of rhythm to soothe this part of the brain. Once soothed, it sends a signal that the threat is over and the freeze response is reduced in favour of social connection, speech and the capacity to think.
Trauma response antidote #4 ORIENT TO HERE AND NOW
When a Trauma response is activated, we are responding to something happening now that matches something that happened in the past. Our brain has made a link in order to keep us safe. We might not even know what that link is. It may not be logical. It may not be obvious.
To re-set our brain after Trauma, we can deliberately put our attention on what is happening here and now. Because training our brain to notice that we are here and now brings it out of there and then (ie the Trauma). Our brain can update to a more accurate appraisal of the current situation and the freeze response can stand down.
Trauma response antidote #5 MOVE
You are experiencing the immobilization response. To re-set our brain after Trauma we can recognize it’s now safe and mobilize i.e. move, it doesn't matter how, just move.