It’s a bit like back pain, when it gets too bad, we can’t do anything. We might not even be able to get out of bed in the morning. Such is the debilitating nature of pain. Can fear be just as limiting?
Of course we can relate this to the fight or flight response so often spoken of and if we do we must add that third response: to freeze. We only need to look at the animal kingdom to see this kind of reaction to extreme threat. Many creatures will just freeze and remain completely still when exposed to extreme stress.
Although it might seem a little counterintuitive, the freeze response is as much about survival, as fight or flight. Staying absolutely still could well trick a predator’s senses. Movement may be the only way a predator can detect its prey.
So how does this apply to humans when we’re exposed to extremely stressful situations?
We humans are at the top of our game when it comes to beating off potential predators. Over many thousands of years we’ve learnt the best ways to respond to differing threats. In the wild we instinctively know the times to run, freeze, or fight. In the modern jungle though, these things have become somewhat confused.
When the mechanism we use for survival (the brain and its senses) has become damaged through childhood learnings how we manage fear becomes a reflection of this
There are times when we all feel slightly beyond our depth. We may be in a situation that has developed into something extremely frightening. There are those of us that feel a constant underlying level of anxiety that they seem unable to escape. Now, imagine this sense of anxiety, was the kind you felt in the moments just before a plane crashed. You know it’s going down, but are completely powerless, to change the outcome. The response in such a situation, I would suggest, would be to simply freeze. It would be pointless to do anything else.
Perhaps for you the fear has become so unmanageable that the freeze response is the only response
When we stop and do nothing, consider what’s going on, all around. All the other animals are trying to sense our presence are they not? Consider what happens to fear when we stop. Does it grow, remain the same or diminish? Would the fear diminish whilst you waited for the final moments sitting (shitting) on an aircraft plunging uncontrollably to the ground? Perhaps it would if you decided to accept the inevitable?
When we’re unable to influence the outcome, in any way whatsoever, and we then accept the inevitable, fear, has no bearing at all. In this respect perhaps the freeze response does have value in a modern world.