Summary: Renegotiation of Freeze/Immobility states is a central piece of the work we do as SE Practitioners and one of the great gifts that SE has to offer. The relief that comes from quelling the compulsion of Freeze is essentially unmatched by anything else we can do for folks (after all: the true Freeze/Immobility state is associated psycho-biologically with deep conservation, withdrawal, and the neuroception of life-threat. Who wouldn’t like less of these?). All the better to complete the phase whenever possible.
“Whenever POSSIBLE” is key. All because freeze is present doesn’t mean that completing it is possible. And trying to complete it when it’s not possible is a good way to reinforce “I CAN’T” and that’s essentially the opposite of what we want to do.
I think there’s a little list of “needs” we’re looking to have pre-established before we want to encourage an emerging Freeze state/phase.
[These guidelines are somewhere between a “paradigm statement” and an actual list of “necessary and sufficient conditions”. In the paradigmatic sense of things, the meaning behind the items on this list are the “sense of things” that we’re after. When we grok the sense or gestalt of this check list we can step aside the notion of a formula and proceed more dynamically. Until then, it’s a good idea to respect that Freeze requires certian things for successful renegotiation. Better to be aware of them and get them in place before saying those lovely words: “And as you feel that heaviness-distance-haziness-etc, is it okay to just let that happen and we’ll see what happens next?”]
Here’s my proposals for a Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Permitting Freeze/Immobility states/phase in SE sessions:
- Successful activation-deactivation cycles: We need to have seen that a person can do “up and down.” That they can know that after things intensify they will deactivate. The more “involuntary” this is the better. This has to be felt at the experiential level. It’s not just the Practitioner (or the Client) verbally convincing them of this. Without this the Freeze can just wind up going up, up, up, up, DOWN!
- Cultivation of sufficient observer-witness: Freeze is correlated to the experience of dissociation, it’s almost a definition of it. One of SE’s primary points is the integration of experience through the application of attention (i.e. focusing and mindfulness). Remarkably, with this kind of skill, one can “pay attention” to the experience of dissociation (a kind of associated-dissocation). Cultivating this skill is easiest in an area of experience that isn’t inherently dissociating. Without this they’ll just “check out” = no integration of the experience and that’s “a bummer.”
- Organic pendulation: As in “it’s like this…now it’s changing…now it’s different.” This is very different than the Practitioner or Client asking for things to change by actively redirecting attention. Pendulation is ultimately an involuntary process that often requires voluntary effort to to “get going in the right direction”. However, to really participate with Freeze the pendulation must become something that is happening “on it’s own.” Without this we’ll see everything just get stuck in one place (usually a bad place)!
- Fear Uncoupled from Immobility: Peter Levine named this back in Waking the Tiger and it’s critical. The overcoupling of fear to the immobility state is a commonplace and a completely LOGICAL association. Freeze is initiated by the neuroception of life threat, no wonder it would be overcoupled to the experience of reconnecting to the somatic experience of freeze in your office. The good thing about Fear is that it helps get us away from things. The bad thing about Fear in this case is that it will direct us to get away from the Freeze state, which ultimately we need to ALLOW! Without this we’ll spend the next 45 minutes trying to make everything “cool” again.
- Re-establishment of Self-Protective Responses: The saying “As they go in, so they come out” has a lot of truth in it. One of them is that when we emerge from freeze, particularly freeze related to shock events that include arousal before the freeze (i.e. inescapable attack, failure of physical defence, etc), we’re going to come back into related experiences of high arrousal. If the body-brain communication doesn’t have some structure, pathways, improved communication and I CAN experiences re-established in order to DO SOMETHING with that energy then as Clients emerge from Freeze they’re going to want to go right back into it. Without this we’re just going to stay, Stay, STay, STAy, STAY in Freeze.
- Open Space for More? I’m always open to the idea that they’re are more. When I say “Necessary and Sufficient” conditions, it’s a proposal. If you realize something that doesn’t fit in the categories above, please let me know! Without this we think we know everything and that simply isn’t ever going to be the case.
These are the preconditions I’m generally thinking of around Freeze. If any of them are absent then it’s very likely that:
- The Practitioner and Client will have to work MUCH HARDER than necessary to negotiate the Freeze or repair the failure of it (i.e. trying to enter freeze with too much fear present, spending the rest of the session calming things down and then risking the likilihood of making the next attempt that much harder to ALLOW).
- The freeze will be “terminal” (i.e. Go until the end of the session). This always begs the question “Did it need to go even longer or was 1 or more necessary conditions not sufficiently present?(i.e. When you don’t have enough real organic pendulation going into this inherently low energy state the oscilation doesn’t have enough momentum to get through and eventually just seems to stay stuck. 5 minutes before the end of the session you say gently “Well Twig, I know I told you: You have all the time in the world; to take all the time you need; to feel as if you have all the time that ever existed; but we’re at the end of our hour so it’s time to WAKE UP”).
- Surely there are more ways it “goes wrong.”
It takes discipline (and a degree of courage) to be certain that these conditions are in place or avoid Freeze at all costs. Still, in my sincere opinion, allowing Freeze when the above conditions aren’t really present is essentially a waste of time, money and very likely to reinforce the wrong things (i.e. “Take all the time you need – now wake up”. “You can allow this – Oh, no you can’t, you’re freaking out – OPEN YOUR EYES NOW!”). We’d be far better off talking about the weather or anything else under the Sun and keep the message consistent.
When we get the pre-conditions for Freeze established we’ll find that it’s not only much easier for Client and Practitioner alike but also one of the most beautiful experiences ever. And such a Relief!
*Of course this all starts a nice list of questions:
- How do you make sure that you have all of these conditions present?
- What’s the best way to ensure each necessary condition?
- How do you avoid Freeze if they’re going there and you don’t have these condition present?
- What do you do if Freeze has already happened and you realize you don’t have the pre-conditions set up?
- And then some….
Good. That’s how we learn things. We ask questions, wonder at the parts of them and put new things together as answers. That’ll be fun.