Many people have heard of the fight or flight response, but fewer have heard of the freeze response. And for many people, that just seems like a fancy word for doing nothing – but the freeze response is much, much more than inaction. It’s your brain’s most desperate attempt to survive in the face of an overwhelming or overpowering danger.
Many victims of sexual assault and harassment freeze in the moment, or they comply, smile, or appease their abuser – then later they beat themselves up for it. In this video I explain why that freeze response serves an ancient survival function, and also some potential options for how to turn off the freeze reaction and respond in more intentional or helpful ways when one’s life is not at stake.
Understanding the freeze response and how to beat it can be essential skills for learning how to overcome PTSD and other anxiety disorders and practice self-compassion after sexual assault.
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Therapy in a Nutshell, LLC, and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.
I’m Emma McAdam. I’m a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I have worked in various settings of change and growth since 2004. My experience includes juvenile corrections, adventure therapy programs, wilderness therapy programs, an eating disorder treatment center, a residential treatment center, and I currently work in an outpatient therapy clinic.
In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
And deeper than all of that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ orients my personal worldview and sense of security, peace, hope, and love https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/comeuntochrist/believe
If you are in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or your local emergency services.
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“Tonic immobility during sexual assault – a common reaction predicting posttraumatic stress disorder and severe depression.” Anna Möller, Hans Peter Söndergaard, and Lotti Helström. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica; Published Online: June 7, 2017 (DOI: 10.1111/aogs.13174).
Youtube clips: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLW6UJ9E0wM