Our bodies come equipped with natural and effective defensive strategies including fight, flight, and freeze. When fight or flight are not options (as often occurs in childhood when our life depends on a parent that represents threat) then a state of freeze sets in. It may bring a numbness or dissociation from emotions, sensations, memories, or separation from the present moment. It may include a subtle transition from bodily-based living to head-based survival.
In environments of repeated or ongoing threat and submission, the freeze response can become habitual — a form of hibernation — preserving that cherished core sense of of Self for some unknown future time when safety is found or permission to live is finally granted by some imagined authority. One challenge at this point includes decreased tolerance for sensory information from the body, knowing that movement (both literal and metaphorical) brings with it a return to fight/flight.
The numbness of the freeze state as it lingers and contains over years and decades:
From an integrative perspective (Hakomi Therapy, Internal Family Systems), this is the felt experience of separation from parts self: fragmentation. One part develops to contain and preserve the part of self that seems imminently valuable. This is a natural process of preservation initiated in a time of trauma. There is an occasional sense of conflict between the part of self that wants to come out — to be seen and known — and the part you brilliantly developed to contain and protect that core. The entire experience is sometimes graciously/grievously veiled by the comforting diversion of dissocation (losing connection, ‘spacing out’, disappearing from the moment).
“I want to be me, but it’s not safe. I will wait. Stay small. Do not draw attention.”