The initial response to danger in which fight or flight is temporarily put on hold. The freeze response involves an immediate stilling of movement, with vigilance to the threat, and in preparation for active fight or flight response. In the midst of initial trauma exposure, freeze presents as a highly activated state of immobility in which muscle tone remains high and the body prepares for possible fight or flight response. Understanding of the freeze state has evolved in the literature and differentiated from a tonic immobility response.
In the ongoing life and development of the trauma survivor, the freeze response can continue to emerge in response to the perception of threat, with the brain and body moving into a state of high alert (e.g. heart racing, sweating, breathing accelerated) when triggered. However, when observed, the individual might appear shut-down or withdrawn. This generally occurs in the survivor in response to a trigger that is reminiscent of past traumatic experiences. Therapeutically, it can be useful to assist clients in recognizing the original source of the danger/survival response, and to learn to distinguish between triggered reaction vs. present moment.