Freeze Mode: A Trauma Response

Freeze mode, when survival is at stake and the situation you are in overwhelms your coping capacities and leaves you paralyzed in fear.

Freeze mode in adults has been associated with dissociation as a child. Many of us disconnected as children during our abuse or during extreme emotional situations in the home.

For me, as a child who disconnected in pretty extreme ways from my abuse – I have found freeze mode is something I can slip into quite easily when triggered.

Recent events in my life have triggered some emotional flashbacks throwing me into a freeze mode. For the first time I have become aware of my freeze mode while I am in it. Which means for the first time I have the opportunity to pull myself out of it more quickly.

My Freeze Mode

I have always told my counselor that I feel disconnected. Or I call it lethargy. I’ve even referred to it as avoidance. Now I realize that all of those are actually the symptoms of my freeze mode.

When I am in freeze mode, time melts together and days blur. I can lose days in freeze mode. I’ve written about how depression cost me – turns out, you guessed it, freeze mode.

My freeze mode affects my movement, my mental fortitude, my ability to focus, and my sleep. I withdraw and get lost in mindless videos, tv shows, and games. I lose connection to the people in my life and the world around me. I don’t take proper care of myself. Freeze mode pretty much knocks me down every time.

Talking with Other Survivors

I often pose questions to my Instagram followers when I am processing something. It is nice to have peers that understand and relate. When we all start talking about a specific topic, I think we feel a little less alone in the heaviness of trauma healing.

As I sit in awareness of my freeze mode, fully aware of the stressful event that has triggered my response I immediately reached out into my peer community to see how others feel during freeze mode.

It was reassuring (sadly) to find that I am in good company. That alone softens the edges of the harder things to accept as I heal.


Here are what other survivors said about freeze mode:

I asked the following question, How do you recognize when you are in freeze mode?” Here is what survivors had to say:

“I’m someone who is a very joyful person, but sometimes I just get so quiet.”

“Recognizing my thinking – I don’t want to see/talk with anyone or do anything or go anywhere.”

“Can’t get out of bed. Extreme lethargy. So much more.”

“Can’t think. Or be productive. Don’t move all day.”

“Time feels like it’s passing slowly and my appetite is reduced.”

“I feel like I am in a bubble.”

“Brushing my teeth is nearly impossible.”

“I become detached from the world, I’m left feeling numb, empty.”

“Zoning out, heightened anxiety with decision making, confusion.”

“I call out of work.”

“When I stay quiet and go along with things even when I know I shouldn’t or don’t want to.”

“Lots of TV and scrolling. Resistant to movement.”

“The edge of my vision darkens, sometimes it happens so fast I get dizzy, cold sweats, I can’t put words on what I’m feeling.”

“When I struggle to remember what I did during the day.”

“I can’t speak no matter how much I try.”

“I’m staring and my heart is racing, my palms are sweaty.”

The Common Themes

It seems for many of us, when we go into freeze mode we lose time, our memory fails us, and our bodies shut down nearly all functioning. In some cases, vision and mobility are affected. We all dissociate, and withdraw from our friends, partners, and the world.

We lose ourselves in the mindlessness of tv and internet scrolling. We stop taking care of ourselves.

The world continues to move but we stop.

Time in our safe, little bubbles stop as we respond to the immediate danger that has appeared and threatened our survival.

The Power of Awareness

As it sinks in, just how often I revert to freeze mode and what it looks like for me when it manifests – it’s a little intimidating. This is a pretty deeply rooted protective response in me.

But it is maladaptive to my life now. I don’t need to protect myself this way – it does more damage than good.

So, with the comforts of understanding from other survivors, and my own new awareness – it is time to level up my game. New knowledge of my symptoms and nervous systems responses is how I will continue to practice and learn mindfulness and intention; which always gets me back to fully living more quickly.

Feel free to answer the question in the comments: How do you recognize when you are in freeze mode?


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One thought on “Freeze Mode: A Trauma Response

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  1. I’m another one who deals with overwhelming events or emotions by going into freeze mode. I hate to think of how many days I have spent in bed, spacing out, napping or staring at my phone, willing the time (and the pain) to pass. I also notice it more now but still find it hard to summon the energy to overcome the fatigue and exhaustion.

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