Freeze Response (Dissociative Defense)

fern

Confident
So I'm coming to understand that a large part of my behaviors are not actually my real personality but are ptsd effects.. oof ?
I'm reading about the 4 F responses to trauma (fight/flight/freeze/fawn, Pete Walker) and I am primarily freeze, which, go figure, explains a lot of the dissociation.

When I was growing up, my narcissistic, toxic parent punished me regularly for my feelings/needs no matter how carefully I expressed it. When he would berate me, he was hypercritical even of my voice and facial expressions, and would punish me for reacting (and funny enough, for not reacting as well- I suppose he wanted a rise out of me after all and I wouldnt give it to him)

I learned to make myself as flat as possible. So I ended up disassociating to just zone out and get through the onslaught without feeling degraded, because no matter what I did there was no way around being torn apart.

It's crazy how much this is part of my life so many years later. I ended up experiencing multiple abusive relationships along the way. I am distrustful of most people, which is ok. I see people as dangerous (which Walker described in the freeze / dissociative defense section of the 4 F's) and tend towards isolating. I often zone out during social events/conversations, but also just in day to day life. I have a lot of avoidance, and it is hard to focus. I have called it brain fog, or my depression, which is part of it, but a much larger part than I realized is that I developed trauma response as a child and I didnt learn other ways to live, so this is my autopilot.

I avoid being physically grounded because some part of me connects physical presence with vulnerability/exploitation. This is why riding my bike is easier to do than yoga, even though yoga has been very beneficial and healing- I avoid it like the plague.

Pete Walker writes, "freeze types seek refuge and comfort in prolonged bouts of sleep, daydreaming, wishing and right brain dominant activities like TV, computer, and video games. They master the art of changing the internal channel whenever the inner experience becomes uncomfortable. When they are especially traumatized or triggered, they may exhibit a schizoid-like detachment from ordinary reality".
The last sentence perfectly describes the most terrifying and disorienting aspect of when I get triggered - I describe it as not knowing what is real anymore- things dont feel real, which causes internal panic.

I am getting better about not going into freeze mode regarding interpersonal conflict. I am improving by communicating honestly with my partner when I can identify feeling uncomfortable about something- just doing it and addressing it, and identifying what I need.

I have noticed a while ago that it is often difficult for me to know exactly how I feel and why when something uncomfortable happens, and I understand that is because of my freeze response- when something stressful happens, I shut down and dont fully process it until later, intentionally, with a good deal of effort. I have delayed emotional reactions regarding anger/conflict.


Although I've been in therapy a few times before, somehow this was never touched and it's all new to me.

Please share your experience with freeze response / dissociative defense! What is it like for you? How do you experience it and deal with it? And also any links or references, since I am absorbing all the information on this that I can (online reading atm).

I want to move forward and develop my sense of self and meaningful connection. How does one work on this response in a healthy, proactive way??

The obvious things I can think of are physical grounding, checking in with oneself to identify feelings, journaling, honoring one's own boundaries and needs, self exploration.
 

TruthSeeker

MyPTSD Pro
I made what I called a neuroplasticity plan believing new learning, requires grounding.......and it does............and new learning rewires the brain. I believed in the power of neuroscience and trauma. I wrote the plan down on paper....how I was going to change my brain circuitry and emotions through learning new things and changing my belief system....(the negative messages). It consisted of active NEW learning in the different domains:

1. Physical (exercise)-I took water aerobics classes two days a week...(changes brain chemistry) before Covid 19, and switched to getting a kayak (good distancing exercise where I could still socialize with people on land) or just put on the headphones and paddle and get a good workout. I always feel better after kayaking.....I got a cheap kayak...nothing fancy.
2. Social (be regularly with a group of people doing something fun even though at first I said nothing and worked alone-I picked attending art class and took some private lessons before getting into a group....that was a healthy step....
3. Going new places/Traveling/Getting through airports unscathed...and untriggered....I started traveling shorter distances to do nature photography, and longer distances to see distant family members, family reunions, and to see new places. I'm safe driving in my car....I'm fine on boats.....airports...all the unknowns, flight changes, and being stuck in a seat next to someone for hours....ooooh. The more I do it...the less it bothers me.
4. Spiritual (attend Shamanic journey at the UU church monthly-was super helpful and about my speed for spiritual attendance, but it was great for inner communication and PTSD) I think this just helps with the "keeping hope" part.
5. Academic/work gave me a life purpose-I had started a part-time online academic store making and selling my own educational materials and kept working at it...
6.Art-took up clay, acrylic painting (painting my own curtains), and drawing classes over 2 years...found/developed new talents got me positive feedback from others
7.Music - held a music group once a month where a group of musicians get together and play songs and I taught an older lady to play the recorder...who lives up the street. This goes back to feeling like you have a purpose in life....and reduces the needy feeling when things really feel like you're deep in a shit hole.
8. Community-once or twice a year, prepare for a concert at an old folks home; help with a food drive, and raise money for a couple of classrooms in need. I had to work hard not to dissociate.....because crowds can trigger it. I also joined a photography club and learned something new about taking pictures....and I entered the annual photography club not expecting to win.....and I didn't.
9. Arrange my physical environment with purpose....with things that say...this is MY home....and I like this couch because.......decorate personally, artistically-I made these curtains for this room because......, and with purpose.....to make my home....really uniquely mine. Find ownership and belonging where I live-my home was never mine before and I wasn't allowed to paint, put a picture up, or fix anything if it broke.........Having my own place.... has been a real process....but getting better each year and after 3 years here....I'm starting to like my home better....it's starting to feel comfy....I'm still changing things around......this month, I added a single bed in case I had a guest......I never expected anyone would stay here after I went no contact with all family of origin.....and a good friend did after my hospitalization. Decided I needed a guest bed.....the place is a little nicer.....and I smile a little more when people come.
10. Nutrition-made sure my protein intake was 50g per day minimum to aid neurological functioning, and that I took iron and B12 for memory/ energy and brain power.
11. Self-Help-read lots of PTSD/Dissociation/CPTSD books (educate myself on my mental health issues and the emerging literature), do weekly therapy, and come here to this forum and meet other folks and consider their suggestions on living in the big world.
12. Family -I accepted kindness from people who had nothing to gain by being kind to me, and kept solid boundaries with everyone I met and made friends with. I contacted my relatives across the country.....because I had gone no contact with my family of origin. I made sure I wasn't alone, was an active contributor when I was at other people's houses on holidays....all initially stressful but better than staying home in an empty house on the holidays and it didn't allow me to wallow in old feelings or dissociate into the computer/Netflix or sleep the holiday away.
13. Figure out my beliefs and values and live by them, and meet other like-minded folks who share my similar perspectives.....some people call this being authentic....that's a therapy word....but it has been helpful in making new friends.....the values part.....I'm less forgiving than before...or maybe just more aware and cautious of not getting in any more hot messes.
14. Grounding: I had a big whiteboard calendar on the wall in my bedroom for the next 3 months in the calendar year. I put doctor's visits, car repair, all appts and all things happening on that whiteboard. Above it is a universal clock. I see the day, date, and indoor/outdoor temperature so I know how to dress and what day it is when I open my eyes. I use my notes app to make my daily schedule, chores, and reminders.
At night, I make a new list of all things I have to do starting the next morning, all chores that I need to get done, and all appts I need to get to. I set alarms for meds....reminders for things that have to get done at certain times. I'd also listen to audiobooks in the car....upbeat stuff.....and strategies for living a better life.
15. I reward myself in the evening with a fudgesickle (Yasso)....for doing my best to get to everything on the schedule, a game of cards at Cardzmania, or Netflix streaming. The TV stays off in the day. I put a check mark next to each thing I accomplish during the day....that is helpful.

What I learned out of doing this for the past 2 years was......you have to change what you are doing to get different results (that sounds like a no brainer when I type it here)......and periodically I reevaluate and readjust again to be doing new or different things. Staying home, staying extremely fearful, hiding in my place, was going nowhere and gave me nothing to talk about when I met someone new. Doing nothing lead me to serious dissociation and more doing nothing. Staying home without purpose leads to dissociation unless I have a schedule around a life purpose. Helping in the community, learning new things, and doing fun things in art where I could express my emotions differently gave me a creative outlet, and I took pride in doing and learning something new. Learning makes me curious about other new things.......which sounded interesting and I tried, leading to other new things....and new things help me stay grounded......and after a while....when I met someone new I had a more positive and productive life to talk about, I had something positive to share and connect about, and I wasn't so needy...and I had something positive to contribute to the conversation or situation at hand.......Learning new things gave me mutual interests, connections, instead of not wanting to say anything because all I knew at first was I didn't belong, I felt abandoned, and I was a no one to my family.......my dysfunctional and crazy family....and nobody loved me...and my so very dissociated purposless self.

I learned many other people are searching for the same thing....life contentment. I chose to try to find it by not doing the same thing I had before. Dunno if that makes any sense or not....but I think it's been pretty successful.
 

Movingforward10

MyPTSD Pro
I think I'm a fawn-freeze response. (I prob need to work on the idea that this identity is me, and move more into it was/is a behaviour! But anyways...)

I think changing things about ourselves like this is so fundamental. It's being mindful about what we're doing and why. Which takes energy and thought and consciousness. It's hard work and can be exhausting (I think).

I try and set myself little tasks.
Things I now know I find difficult because of my fawn response (taking space. Talking to certain types of men etc). So I try and do the opposite. Not always successful. Don't always have the energy to gear up for it.

Disassociating is hard. Because for me it comes on quick. So trying to keep it at bay and give myself counter messages is hard. But my T says it's about working in that elusive "window of tolerance". I think.

Clearly, I'm still working through all this!

But glad you have found a way of looking at yourself and your experiences that helps. It is an eye opener.
 

mumstheword

MyPTSD Pro
I've struggled with freeze/dissociate and fawn modes a lot. I'm not so far along, perhaps, as Truthseeker. It's only been a few short years since I realized I've been dissociating, much of my life, or struggling with it, I only learnt that it's a thing through reading on this site and then reading Pete Walkers book. VERY helpful book, I might add.
I do a lot of yoga, now, to combat it. I also have a partner who grounds me and keeps me present and pulls me up when I'm dissociative. He's very observant and on the ball, like that.
I also cook a lot and find being present quite helpful for that.

I don't really go out much. Not far enough along in my recovery. It hasn't been that long out of a very long term and traumatic relationship, and so I'm still spending a lot of quiet time practising my yoga and processing stuff. I had a lot to come to terms with, and am between therapists and I do still need more therapy.

I've done quite a bit of group therapy as well as individual as I find it very helpful. The trust-fear of people issues still look very large for me.

I used to be a singer, semi-professionally, and found music a great way of combatting the dissociation that was my normal and default mode. I also joined a choir and spent the better part of 10 years singing with other's in that.

I want to do a lot more art, as I've found that very helpful and fulfilling.

But I am still struggling to come out of it.

I've found yoga the best approach, bit I've also done TRE trauma-tension release exercises, to good affect, holding smooth rocks, I like buffed crystals the best, making a commitment to my small me, that I won't abandon her, sometimes stroking my arm, fingers or tapping my feet helps keep me in my body, letting myself grieve and cry, as needed, in private, mostly, cold showering after hot showers, aromatherapy with essential oils is really quite effective and I carry both them and smooth crystals with me when I go out, journalling, peer support, I actually studied peer support and did a bunch of volunteer stuff around that, in the community, but since becoming more unwell, no more of that, being in nature and avoiding most people most of the time is where I feel most safe, and I have started improving my home surrounding with beautiful things and plants and such, which I think a good plan, as I noticed having beauty around me encourages my sensitive soul to stay present.
I haven't the time to say more at present, but am engaged in this thread as I very much relate to what you are dealing with and want to say more, but it's my partner's birthday and he is home, for once so, that's all for now.
 

shimmerz

MyPTSD Pro
I was an extreme freezer. It destroyed my very active life. I came to the realization that dissociation/freeze could be replaced with rigorous self care routines. Walks in nature. Painting the apartment. Watercolors. Cooking. For me it was about how and on what I was allowing my eyes to focus on. Anything that tended towards hypnotics was out of the question. No TV. No watching videos on youtube. No reading. Body and eyes needed to be in sync and active.
 

TruthSeeker

MyPTSD Pro
I was an extreme freezer. It destroyed my very active life. I came to the realization that dissociation/freeze could be replaced with rigorous self care routines. Walks in nature. Painting the apartment. Watercolors. Cooking. For me it was about how and on what I was allowing my eyes to focus on. Anything that tended towards hypnotics was out of the question. No TV. No watching videos on youtube. No reading. Body and eyes needed to be in sync and active.
Yeah, I never spent much time considering my response...but freeze describes it well. My backside was glued to the bed, my face in the computer, my ears turned off,( with the TV on), or I was asleep. Now, I don't turn on TV until last thing in the day. I spent many hundreds and hundreds of hours lost in TV, asleep, unproductive, and growing broader in the backside.....then one day, I realized I was 350 lbs.
 

fern

Confident
Thanks everyone for sharing. It's nice to hear your experiences.
@TruthSeeker, thanks for sharing so much detail about how you add structure and purpose in your day to day life- It's really inspiring. I aspire to get to a similar place, little by little. Happy to hear that your place feels like home to you- and all the work you've put into your life is paying off. Sometimes I forget to be an active proponent in my life, and I want to take a break and zone out. I know this comes from dissociative response, where I just go on autopilot. It's good to hear, from your experience, that with intention and effort, you can really make a life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
I'll think of it as planting seeds- try not to overwhelm myself by doing a bunch of changes at once, but I'll start some seeds and keep tending to them.

Distraction is useful when I'm feeling triggered but I easily can just spend a whole day reading, watching videos, on my phone, etc. And then I dont care for myself or do anything.
I spent all day yesterday on my phone reading about cptsd and just kept reading and reading. All day on my phone and I didnt even shower or wash the dishes or brush my teeth.
I gotta cut off my screen time and do things that are more physically engaging so I dont go too far in my head.

@mumstheword, I'm glad yoga has been so important in your healing. I know it's good but I avoid it because I have this resistance to the stillness and vulnerability of just being present in my body. Same with meditation.
Riding my bike has been good for grounding and connecting with my body.
 

TruthSeeker

MyPTSD Pro
Thanks everyone for sharing. It's nice to hear your experiences.
@TruthSeeker, thanks for sharing so much detail about how you add structure and purpose in your day to day life- It's really inspiring. I aspire to get to a similar place, little by little. Happy to hear that your place feels like home to you- and all the work you've put into your life is paying off. Sometimes I forget to be an active proponent in my life, and I want to take a break and zone out. I know this comes from dissociative response, where I just go on autopilot. It's good to hear, from your experience, that with intention and effort, you can really make a life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
I'll think of it as planting seeds- try not to overwhelm myself by doing a bunch of changes at once, but I'll start some seeds and keep tending to them.
@fern It didn't happen all at once but the neuroplasticity plan was created in the same day.....it was a project and I even researched ways to make neural connections. I actually taught special education for 30 years and had a leg up on neuroplasticity and brain based strategies that I implemented in the classroom...and well with teaching, planning is an integral part of the job. I don't do well without one, unfortunately. I'm fortunate I have the planning skills.
But I'll tell you, my first therapist howled-as in laughing at me when I showed her my plan to get to a better place-saying no other client had ever brought her a plan. Now I want you to know, I thought it made sense and I put my all into making it, because I believed that was the road to recovery.....doing something different. That was the same therapist who said she never planned and as therapy progressed...she had issues........I eventually fired her for multiple ethical reasons...but her respect wasn't there.
But the written plan made it into my daily plan.....and over time, things got easier and more natural and I was able to look back at my "original plan" and revise it. It was anything but natural to always be doing something at home......before I'd go to work, come home, grab food, and go to bed and eat there and become nothing in my household....becoming nothing was essential to feeling safe...........it was safer in bed with the door closed.....I had less chance of being emotionally abused r..........So, my face was in the computer, the TV was blaring, and if I was angry or hurting, I was staring at the walls and sometimes talking to them........ oblivious, or when it was awful, I'd just go to sleep really early.
When I moved, and unloaded the dysfunctional family, and there was no one criticizing me or expecting me to fail, and there was no anticipated daily drama..........my life.....my choices....my responsibility.....totally 100%. My stress factor at this point was much lower....and I could consider doing things differently.......different wasn't exactly a safe feeling, but what I had been doing wasn't how I wanted to perceive myself for the rest of my life......disconnected and distant. Life got better when I made active changes......and added the element of fun/creativity and a more active life. Even now, the days I don't get up and my productivity level is low.....I feel crappier.......the days I don't learn.; don't create; don't cook or clean or socialize...are my worst days now. (those things were stressors in my old life with the dysfunctionals)....Now, if I want to watch TV, that doesn't happen until everything else is done to an acceptable level.....because I can get so lost in TV so rapidly.....and then time stops......when I climb in the TV.....and binge.
Dissociation is a time killer for sure....and when I look back at my life, my bed was/still is my comfort zone and safe place, the door closed was a safety feature, socializing was an unusual event as there were no kids around where I lived and adults were sparse so it was normally quiet and peaceful. I wasted so much time living in bed throughout my life. All creative endeavors (art, sewing, music, crocheting, etc.) were done in the bedroom.....I believe my mind is wired to feel safer in bed, under covers, in their warmth............and each day, it is so very hard to ply myself away from that one room.......but when I'm successful, I smile more and feel more contentment and gain more confidence.....than when I remain in bed, give into what is easy, and lose track of time. I'm in the forth quarter of life....time to wake up and get active.
 
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