I am going to go purely hypothetical, anecdotal, and experiential on this one. I grant that there may be studies out there with some different elements involved or maybe entirely different than what I´m about to discuss. However, I have looked at these ideas quite substantially through the years to see if they stack-up and show consistency and congruence. This will be a quick write as I´m low on time (roughly half-an-hour) but was asked to write this by a few people over the past few weeks. I´ll try to be brief and not go too in-depth with content and simply state the “what” instead of the “why” and what can be done of specific breakdown, which we´ve already addressed in previous articles.
So, why do we sometimes in conflict, high-risk, or violent situations, freeze while other times we do not and act according to evolution, training, or experience? (Remember those “perceptual filters” we so often talk about – https://blog.mandirigmafma.com/index.php/2019/08/02/perceptual-filters/ ) There are multiple dynamics in-place that can cause this:
- Your state. Fight with significant other, no sleep the night previous, fight with the boss at work, etc. If we are distracted or with split-attention, emotionally charged, or cognitively affected, I believe it can definitely prevent action and cause hesitation. It can always cause you to be caught off-guard or with a deer-in-the-headlights position. In turn, action or acknowledgement are stunted and a response of inaction can be created.
- Nature & nurture. I´ve seen it time and again where someone who´s pacifist, religious, passive-aggressive, or indecisive by nature is caught in a position counter to their personal ideology. If counter-violence, aggression, force, value-of-self are counter to the mission-statement with which one lives their life, there is most often a resistance to the action needed to circumvent the stress pushed upon them. Being brough up in an environment with those things listed above can also result in the same – taught that “violence is never the answer”, “turning the other cheek”, “good always defeats evil” and the like can cause that same mission-statement dichotomy.
- Cause. I have experienced this one first-hand and, though purely hypothetical, I have found it has been true with me throughout my adult life. If I feel I am in the wrong, a direct cause of the potential violence, have exacerbated it in any way – I sometimes have trouble acting and following-through. Not at all that I´m averse to violence but especially in cases where the “opponent” is weaker, openly scared, submissive, physiologically compromised from fear, I can be stuck in pause-mode where a non-fear freeze causes me to withhold pursuit of aggression. Few want to be the bully, the monger, the conflict-contributor – including myself – when they´re clearly in the wrong and out-of-line. I have also experienced that freeze, with “live” and active opponents who then engage and have occasionally resorted to negotiation, mitigation, or prevention – without sacrificing awareness or dropping guard. However, inevitably, both examples are an inner resistance to continue the conflict due to your role as at least partial instigator. If the attempt is made to defuse and the aggression continues, the switch is immediately switched-on again and I can change on a dime to the necessity and force that the situation may need. If the threat is half-hearted, minimized, or low-risk, often not as my “switch” acknowledges this and puts on the brakes. With my 25-30 years in the industry, I do have a finely-honed switch for high-threat situations and it´s automatic at this point, but I also realize that is not at all universal or true for everybody. The reverse, I´ve found, is also true, if cause is just and aligns with mission-statement, action and decisiveness often follow.
- Stranger-danger myth. The view that we are so often fed in the industry about our biggest dangers coming from outside our trust-circle is and has contributed to a very bad aspect of the freeze response. Believing that most threats come from outside our circle of family, friends, spouses & significant others, acquaintances, peers, and satellites has gradually worn-away the reality of how violence occurs. From my experience, the far greater danger has come from within that very dynamic – not from outside it. While the “stranger-danger” is not a myth and can absolutely become reality, it is generally a far lesser threat than from “inside.” How often do we hear of family, friends, and acquaintances be responsible for domestic violence, pedophilia, gaslighting, mental manipulation, psychological abuse, theft, etc.? Yet the myth still stands regardless of the overwhelming stories about inside threats vs. outside. I can attest to this personally, my far greater threats to this point in a life filled with risk, danger, conflict, and violence have come from a circle I put faith into and trusted at one point or another. When this realization hits suddenly, it can be an awful epiphany of shock that causes complete inaction and trauma.
- Context. Remember that violence never happens in a vacuum. There are slow-buildups where we have ample time to see the threat, assess, and heuristically come up with a highest-percentage solution. (the “interview”) There are fast build-ups where an altercation hits suddenly and we have minimal time to react and come up with a plan spontaneously (the “duel”) and utilize adaptation, critical-thinking, problem-solving, and on-the-spot decision-making. There are explosive build-ups where there is no time allotted prior to the event to do anything but have our evolutionary survival-skills take over on autopilot until we get our bearings and access training, experience, mentality, or a combination of 2 or more of the above. The third one is something that, if enough pain and shock are present, can be utterly overwhelming if caught completely off-guard.
- Adrenaline. If not used to adrenal-dump, it can come as quite a surprise at how powerful it can be, an absolute game-changer. This is why resistance, pressure, stress, and tension are so important in whatever training you do – and why context of that particular training is of the utmost importance. And, if we´re being honest, sometimes even that isn´t enough. Physiological response is something that can be abated by experience, immersion, occupation, exposure as, the greater those elements are present, the more apt one is to deal with sudden internal changes that occur so drastically…but it´s not a guarantee considering the previous 5 on this list.
- Past trauma. Previous high-level trauma from violence, abuse, war, and psychological torture can be a major hurdle to overcome when facing diverse versions of the above and accumulate. A sudden reflection back on past incidences and events can suddenly cause them to jump into the current context that one is facing. We need to deal with that trauma professionally to ensure that we don´t connect traumas and end up stacking them to cause even greater inhibitors in the future. Life is made-up of daily conflicts, stressors, and anxieties that come in various shapes and sizes. If these events contain even one element that sends us back in time, it can prevent appropriate response in the here-and-now.
- Any combination of the things on this list. There is a lot of overlap here and the very real possibility of “cross-referencing” with 2 or 3 of the above, exponentially enhancing the possibility of that freeze response and its occurrence.
As mentioned, I wrote this quickly as I am low on time today, but I wanted to get this out for thought. Forgive any errors or scattered thoughts present, will try and correct as I gain more time. As always, any thoughts welcomed. The “how to overcome that freeze response” will have to be left for another time. Enjoy.