The freeze response occurs upon simultaneous activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic states of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This happens when the limbic system detects that neither fight nor flight is appropriate in the current situation and that they are in mortal danger. The victim of the trauma and, consequently, the freezing reflex perceives reality differently. The sensation of pain decreases, time slows down, and the person acts numb.
Due to the protection of the center of the organism, consciousness develops its surface numbness by increasing its tone. Freud wrote that the outer part then ceases to have the structure characteristic of a living being, and to some extent, becomes inorganic. Mollusk armor is a fine example of hardening the membrane’s surface to protect sensitive parts of the body.
Skin isn’t only a shield or the physical border of our body, but it is also deeply connected to our consciousness. Freud defined consciousness as a function of the surface, representing the area of contact between the outer and inner worlds of the organism. When we go to sleep, we gradually lose consciousness and are not aware of ourselves – we exclude the outside world. That’s when our sensing of external and internal stimuli drops significantly, allowing us to sleep. Anesthesia works the same way.
Protecting the organism from unstoppable stimuli is part of the ego’s adaptable functionality, which is meant to protect a person’s integrity. That way, the ego can also reject certain aspects of external reality as a defense mechanism in an inescapable situation. I work with clients who have described their childhood as happy and their parents as loving, although at the same time acknowledging traumatic beatings, punishments, and criticism. To survive such situations, children must suppress their rebellious instincts and submit, which they can only do by rejecting their emotions and feelings and denying their parents’ true behavior. Thus, they use skeletal muscles to defend themselves against overpowering stimuli from the inside, which creates a state of numbness and freezing, even though many years have passed since the events that caused this condition.