Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 2

“Courage, Anxiety, and Despair: Watching the Battle” by James Sant (c. 1850), Author Christie’s Auction House (Lot No. 5563227)(PD-Art l Old-100)

As abuse victims mature, we develop emotionally and intellectually, in the process acquiring new coping skills.  However, situations which call up the past for us, can still trigger the freeze response.

We may not be aware why this feels like familiar ground; may not be able to identify the similarity to prior events.  Triggers can be as subtle as an aroma, or the play of light on the water at a certain time of day.

Subtlety does not though make triggers absurd.  We have simply lost their original meaning.  It is deeply buried in our past.

Dealing with the Freeze Response

There are strategies victims can use to deal with anxiety and the freeze response [1].  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Distraction

Overthinking any problem will only increase the anxiety associated with it.  Distraction can provide temporary relief.  Options might include a good book, compelling movie, or engaging video game.  Online shopping, if to excess, is likely to cause problems of its own.

2. Physical Activity and Sensory Assault

Physical activity can interrupt the feedback loop of paralyzing anxiety.  For abuse victims in good condition, vigorous exercise like running, spin class, or racquetball can be helpful.

Some people find that several minutes of blaring music or other noise will bring them relief.  Applying ice water to the face, or drinking something vile-tasting can, also, work.  Alcohol is not recommended for this.

3. Opposite Action

This requires doing the very thing we fear, for a short period of time.  It is one of the techniques taught by Dialectical Behavior Therapy [2][3].  Even “pushing through” for a single minute is a start.

4. Smiling

Amazingly enough, a smile – sincere or not – releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin [4].  These chemicals act to reduce pain, counter depression, and lower blood pressure.

5. Mindfulness

Anxiety anticipates disaster.  Worry is future-oriented.  Mindfulness is a technique which focuses our attention instead on the present.

6. Prayer

Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved
” (Ps. 55: 22).

Prayer allows us to place ourselves and our concerns in God’s hands – the best possible place for them.


Though we are quick to apply negative labels to ourselves, abuse victims are far from cowardly.  We have withstood the worst of assaults on our sanity and sense of self, yet survived.  And we have done so at the most vulnerable time in our lives.

Like the women depicted in the painting (above), we exhibit courage and anxiety, hopelessness and valor.  Many times, in fact, these coexist within us.

That does not make us cowards.  It makes us human.

[1]  HealDove, “Paralyzing Anxiety:  5 Things You Can Do When It Attacks” by Greg Weber, 4/25/17,

[2]  HealthyPlace, “5 Ways to Disarm Anxiety by Taking an Opposite Action” by Greg Weber, 7/30/14,

[3]  Linehan Institute/Behavioral Tech, “What Is DBT?”,

[4]  Psychology Today, “There’s Magic in Your Smile” by Ronald Riggio, PhD, 6/25/12,

The freeze response was discussed last week in Part 1



Filed under Child Abuse, Child Molestation, Christianity, domestic abuse, domestic violence, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

14 responses to “Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 2

  1. This is such an incredibly helpful post, Anna. I can’t speak for others, but sometimes when I am at my lowest, helpful tips can seem really unhelpful: much more comforting to sit with the effects of anxiety and allow it to overwhelm me. The very act of doing anything to make the situation better is just too much trouble. It feels almost as if helping yourself is an abusive act. And I think that is how crippling anxiety can be – it’s almost as if you are dealing with an entity which is physical rather than feelings.

    It takes courage to help yourself: to actually get up and move is a feat of bravery. Suggestions such as smiling can seem ridiculous. But you know, it’s these small and seemingly insignificant acts which create pathways clearing the fog of despair and lighting the way to a better way of being. Of course it takes time and oftentimes the fog can be overwhelming, but victims of abuse are not cowards as you righty point out, they have been through the worst forms of abuse – the courage to heal and be well is a battle we can and will win.

    You have such a big heart Anna. Despite your own suffering, you courageously never fail to bring words of hope, understanding and love,

    • You are always so kind, Marie. I’m glad if this post was helpful. Anxiety can, as you say, feel overwhelming. Which is why I fell in love w/ that painting. ❤

    • pur1fy

      “The very act of doing anything to make the situation better is just too much trouble. It feels almost as if helping yourself is an abusive act.” – this resonates a lot with me. Even though I know it would be helpful to follow these steps a little voice is say “why should I? Why do I have to self soothe, why can’t my parent do this? It was their job”. Obviously I still have a lot of inner work to do!

      Great thought provoking post again Anna, thank you.

      • Little surprise that inactivity can seem the safest course, if everything we did as children was harshly criticized. The problem with that approach is that it cedes power over our lives to our abusers, even after they are long gone. No one has the right to take that power from us.

        As children, we had no way to fight for ourselves. But as adults, every step we take in the direction of independence from the past is another battle won. Inertia can be a powerful drain on our energy. Rejecting excuses — however valid — and pursuing freedom can be enormously liberating (so long as do not reprove ourselves for the pace our scars may force upon us). ❤

      • Pur1fy, thank you for your response to my comment. Despair and depression coupled with resentment about the abuse and the abuser do alter one’s mind set. It can skew any attempts to love yourself in order to change things for the better. I read a quote recently which goes something loosely like this: ‘When a parent abuses a child, the child doesn’t stop loving it’s parent, it [the child] stops loving itself’.

        It’s so easy to stop loving yourself, but as Anna says so much better than I, it is incredibly liberating to ‘pursue freedom’ rather than sit with the pain.

        Wishing you well!

      • That’s an important point. Depression and discouragement can skew our entire view of the world. They pose enormous challenges for victims. But life is worth the effort. We are worth the effort.

  2. Excellent advice, my friend.

  3. Great advice Anna!
    P.S. I was unable to open ” Undeserving” posted in A Lawyers Prayers..
    Posts come in my email and I connect from there.. It could be my email server..
    God Bless 🙂

  4. Thank you for haring great advice dear

  5. Pingback: Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 2 – NarrowPathMinistries

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