Trauma: Stuck in Functional Freeze Response

Article by Brooke Chang, Pathway to Joy and Healing

When confronted with danger, people as well as animals may exhibit fight, flight or freeze response. The fight, flight, or freeze response refers to involuntary physiological changes that happen in the body and mind when a person feels threatened. This response exists to keep people safe, preparing them to face, escape, or hide from danger. This is an instinctive survival response. We also may become stuck in one of these trauma responses.

I have suffered from functional freeze response since my childhood trauma. In this state, I was able to highly function as I did well in school and even went onto become a practicing lawyer.  However, I have few detailed memories of my childhood or most of my adult life.  I felt disassociated from my everyday life and was not present in my body during most of my experiences. Dissociation is a break in how our minds handle information. We may feel disconnected from our thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. It can affect our sense of identity and our perception of time.

I only became aware of my functional freeze response when others in my life recollected in great details about their childhoods and life.  I recall major events in my life, but I have few vivid memories of them, and I have limited memories of other events.  This made me wonder why that is.  I don’t generally have memory problems as I easily recalled the facts in my legal cases with great detail, and can recall legal concepts and cases with proficiency.

Another coping mechanism of the functional freeze response is the need to keep our minds busy. This is another form of dissociation, although highly functional, it prevented me from being present with my past thoughts, feelings, memories and surroundings. It is curious that although I no longer experience the psychological symptoms of my earlier diagnoses: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, and General Anxiety Disorder – I still behave as if I do.  This conditioned behavior is a pattern from my earlier childhood experiences.

The first step to emotional healing is the conscious awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by observing them.  Secondly, we need to rewire our brain. The brain’s flexible is called neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire or reorganize synaptic connections to form new neuropathways, especially in response to an experience or following an injury. For example, if we drive a certain route to work every day, we can change this route.  The brain creates new synaptic connections which allows us learn this new route.  Similarly, we can change the patterns of our conditioned routines, behaviors, or responses to create new synaptic connections in our brain.

As for me, I began to stay more present in my life by practicing yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature. I retired from my hectic work life filled with others’ crises and chaos and began writing and journaling – forcing me to reflect and recall my earlier memories. I also am consistently diligent about observing my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Everyone has a different path, so finding the right path for you is key. I share my path with you so that you may recognize your own emotional issues and conditioned responses and behaviors.(Copyright 2023 Brooke Chang with All Rights Reserved.)

If this resonates with you, please leave your thoughts or comments for me below. I love to hear from you!

Letting Go of Codependency

Article by Brooke Chang, Pathway to Joy and Healing

Leaving my Reiki practice was one of the more difficult decisions I’ve had to make, as I recently decided to retire from my practice. This decision came particularly difficult because I truly love and care about my clients.  When I realized that my relationship with them had been based on codependency on my part and dependency on many of their parts, I felt that leaving my Reiki practice was the best solution in order to take ownership of this problem.

On a cool January day, I walked with some reservation and anxiety to my Reiki studio located in an older mall with a fountain in its center. As I entered the mall, the smell of disinfectant was strong, and the air was cool since the landlord never turned on the heat. I took the elevator to the second floor where I entered a shared suite and reception lounge. The couch and chairs in the reception lounge were modern with a tree of life sculpture hanging on the wall.

As I unlocked the door to my Reiki studio, the smell of a lavender candle lingered in the air which was used for a client from the previous day. In the Reiki studio, two original abstract landscape paintings by my husband hung on the wall along with my Reiki Therapy certificates. Several Himalayan salt lamps and wicker style furnishings were positioned around the small room. Muted light shone through the frosted windows and door. I felt calmer and less anxious as I prepared to tell my first client that we must conclude our time together and about my retirement from Reiki practice.

When my first client arrived, I greeted her cheerfully in the reception lounge and asked her how she was doing as we walked together to my Reiki studio. I took a deep breath and shared the difficult news about the codependency and dependency relationship that I have with my clients and our need to conclude our sessions due to my retirement. To my surprise, she seemed okay with our concluding. She asked a few questions about my retirement and wished me well. With each client thereafter, we had this discussion where I expressed what I needed to address with each of them. 

Codependency defined by Merriam-Webster is a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person manifesting low self-esteem and a strong desire for approval has an unhealthy attachment to another person. It places the needs of that person before his or her own. In codependency, a person tries to satisfy the needs of another who may have an addictive or emotionally unstable personality.

My codependency began in my childhood with parents who had addictive and emotionally unstable personalities.  I learned to be their emotional care taker, and that setting boundaries was unsafe. My family dynamics were full of abuse, violence, and violation of personal boundaries, as my refusal to comply resulted in more emotional and physical abuse. After I complied with their demands, I suppressed the subsequent rage, anger, sadness, and fear that I felt.

My failure to be able to set healthy personal boundaries plagued me for most of my adult life. I suffered from guilt, obligation, and over-responsibility. My conditioned behaviors continued as I simply gave into others’ demands and gave up my own health, safety, time and resources. This continued into my Reiki Therapy practice.

The dynamic of Reiki Therapy lends itself readily to a codependent practitioner and dependent client relationship. The client has a passive role in their healing as they lie on a Reiki table while the practitioner performs the energy work. The client participates little in this energy healing. The practitioner becomes the caretaker while the client becomes the dependent to this practitioner and her energy work. This dynamic also occurred with my Reiki practitioner, when I received Reiki Therapy earlier on my healing journey.

I further became aware of the lessons that my clients were teaching me. I learned that I can’t save everyone and only they can save themselves. I am only a guide to support their healing journey. I also recognized that I must, as the practitioner, take responsibility to change any unhealthy dynamics with them. I referred many clients to psychotherapy to help them become more independent in their own healing, and to begin to reduce their sessions with me in order to conclude our work together.

Shortly after these conversations with my clients, I experienced a massive energetic heart release. It felt like strong tremors emanating from my heart chakra while I slept; this experience felt like it lasted for hours although I believe it only occurred for several minutes. I had experienced this type of energetic release before after major shifts within my emotional landscape. I also felt a tremendous relief come over me and overall wellbeing. Sadness, loss, and even anger and resentment also came over me, as I re-experienced what I must have suppressed as a child.

The letting go of this codependency is essential for my emotional growth. Each time I let go, I begin to grow, change, and ultimately, heal the trauma that has been stored within my energy field for most of my life. Each growth and change I experience culminates in my spiritual transformation to become the person I am intended to be. Peace and love, Brooke (Copyright 2023 Brooke Chang with all rights reserved. May be reblogged in its entirety with credit to this author, but may not be copied or excerpted.)