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Freeze / Episode 4 Show Notes

UPDATE: My understanding of "freeze" and "shutdown" has shifted since recording this episode. After I spoke with Dr Stephen Porges, he explained that these are two distinct things. I recommend reading this blog post about the difference and also listening to this episode as well.



FREEZE

(Parasympathetic, early vertebrates)


BIOLOGY OF FREEZE

A state we enter when we can’t run away or fight or size differential is too great

  • Freeze, collapse, dissociate, immobilize, “playing dead,”

  • Massive drop in blood pressure and heart rate

  • Reduced blood flow to the brain = dissociation

  • Apnea - temporary cessation of breathing

  • Sleep apnea is a serious reduction in breathing

  • Inhibiting movement means less need for food due to decreased metabolism

  • Pain threshold is raised

  • System is located below the heart and diaphragm

ANIMALS IN FREEZE

Odd posture, emitting foul-smelling odor from anal glands, stick out their tongue

  • Disgusts the predator because dead prey are a cue of danger. Maybe evolved to avoid a corpse which could carry bacteria or something

  • Sacrificing neighbors by playing dead - Predator will chase and ignore a corpse

  • Also "freeze" by carrying young by neck or laying a trap to catch prey

  • Animals come out of this state in a short manner of time, will look for cues of safety

HUMANS IN FREEZE

When we can’t use socialization to avoid danger, we can’t run or fight

  • A state we go into as a last resort

  • Physically overpowered: sexual abuse, physical abuse, kidnapped, hostage

  • Emotional abuse as well

  • Can’t avoid, can’t fight back, eventually give up, numb to the situation

DAILY EXPERIENCE OF FREEZE

  • Numb, Hopeless, Abandoned / Lonely, Foggy, Tired

  • Cold due to poor blood circulation, Pressure on chest

  • Avoiding eye contact: hiding vs looking for danger in sympathetic

  • Shame & Self-blame

  • Lowered executive functioning

  • Disoriented

COMING OUT OF FREEZE

Humans do not have an efficient pathway to get out of freeze

  • Wild animals literally shake off the sympathetic energy and return to their herd

Getting out of this state requires a gentle return of energy

  • Through small actions like walking

  • Safe & Social cues like eye contact and smiles

  • Calm, quiet

Moving into flight/fight can trigger a sense of Danger, bringing the individual back into Freeze



NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE


CRISIS TEXT LINE

TED video on the freeze response in wild animals

Peter Levine on Shame

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