What’s Behind My ‘Freeze’ Response

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com

Yesterday I found myself in another EMDR session with my therapist. I wrote about the previous one in this post. I find that while we’re working with one emotion, other emotions come up, as do images, physical sensations and, yesterday, even smells. The exercise also helped me connect dots and gain insight into my emotions in a new way.

Since it was the second time we were working on this particular traumatic experience, it was pretty easy for me to dive right back in. It started with a feeling of disgust, shifted to anger, but then I was brought to a sense of fear pretty quickly and felt my body completely tense up. It’s a tension I recognize from my daily stress level and from other situations in which I’ve frozen up in the past, seemingly unable to respond.

I was reminded of last Summer, when my son had accidentally jumped in the pool without his armbands on. My sister noticed it first and said “I think he’s in trouble.” There was a brief second in which I felt that I couldn’t move, that I couldn’t get out of my seat even if every instinct told me that it was absolutely vital I dive in and get him out. Luckily my sister was quick to respond and got him out very quickly. He was completely fine. I, however, not so much.

During the session I saw images of another situation in which I froze up and was unable to act in a way in which I protected myself. I was unable to defend myself like I knew I should.

As I was experiencing this state of being absolutely frozen, I noticed certain thoughts arise. “If I stay still, things will just go back to how they were, they have to… things always just turn out okay…”. In my head was a strong sense of denial of what was happening. It was as if freezing up, not moving, would make the bad situation go away. Or perhaps I would find out that it hadn’t even existed at all.

But it did. Bad things do happen, and when you’re unable to respond in a sensible way, you are then left with feeling like you’ve completely let yourself and the people around you down. I had the sense of something bad that had happened to me, and I didn’t respond appropriately. I didn’t fight, or flee. I froze.
Shifting feelings again I find myself judging my own inability to respond. “You might even say it’s my own fault this happened, since I didn’t respond at all” my inner voice whispers.

My therapist finished the session with some TRE exercises to do at home (more about this in a later blog post) to help release some of the tension. Even now, after a day and a half, I can still feel the tension seeping through my muscles. It’s exhausting, but I’m mostly just grateful that I’m finally aware of it and able to take it on. One session at a time.

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