Fight or flight. I heard a lot about this growing up. I was told that if in a dangerous situation, my natural instincts would kick in and I would either run (flight) or fight. I didn’t hear much though about a third option which is freeze. The reason for this is because freezing typically leaves one the most vulnerable.
Our body usually kicks in when we are presented with a dangerous situation and activates different systems in order to protect us. That’s why we usually have the fight or flight response. Sometimes, though, the brain goes into overload mode and freezes. This may be due to past trauma, a too intense fear, or hopelessness.
If freezing is our response, it could also mean that we felt that was our best option for the least damage. Some animals play dead in hopes that the predator will either not see them or lose interest. A person may freeze also in some hope that an attacker will move on. In addition, a freeze response may occur because the person felt running or fighting were not viable options.
So why am I writing about this? Earlier this year I wrote about the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. *Spoiler alert*
In one of the episodes Hannah freezes in a dangerous situation and is then raped. There has been debate on whether or not she was raped because she didn’t try harder to get away or because she didn’t fight. I have worked with clients in similar situations. Hannah’s response was the freeze response. My guess is she felt it was a hopeless situation. That didn’t mean she consented (see my previous post on consent). It was clear by watching the scene that it was rape. Not everyone is able to fight or flight. Our body’s natural response is sometimes to freeze.
Stefanie F. Pisarkiewicz, LPC
Experience and information from a counselor and mother- sharing her two cents on children and teens.