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.
During our Team Talk one day, I was talking with some of the clinicians in my office and somebody brought up how often they have clients cry and then say they're sorry. I mentioned this frequently happens to me as well. Everyone then said this is a common occurrence.
We then discussed how much we want people to know that it's okay to cry in the office. We always reassure people that it's a safe space for them but they still seem embarrassed. I'm sure this has to do with the fact that our society tends to look down on crying. But we need it. In this article https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/is-crying-good-for-you Serusha Govender discussses some of the benefits.
From my perspective as a clinician, crying shows that you're most likely getting in touch with your deeper feelings. You are allowing yourself to be vulnerable. To heal, sometimes pain has to happen. We have to release it.
Know that every age, every gender, and every type of person has cried in my office. And this was a good thing.
We keep a large supply of tissues in our offices so feel free to release all the tears you need.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!