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.)
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