Tuesday, March 5, 2013

My Freeze: Boundaries

Over the last couple of days there's been a little spike in the conversation about "the freeze." This in part due to the questions that were born out of my post: Abuse, Abduction, Self Defense. Questions like, "Why didn't she call for help?" "Why didn't anyone help?"

Kathy Jackson over at Cornered Cat did a fantastic job covering the topic so I won't try to reinvent her words. Her blog, Fear And The Freeze Response is a must read. So, go.. read.

A Girl And Her Gun also talks about the aftermath of the freeze and how it can have an effect on self perception.

The sad fact of the matter is, many (dare I say, most) people don't even know that the freeze response exists. If they are aware of it they somehow think it will not happen to them. Or, they may have experienced it but in such a low-stress-level environment that consequences of the freeze were negligible or at most, embarrassing (freezing up at a business meeting). If they experience it on a tragic level it is in a non-violent environment: a car accident, natural disaster or major injury. In these environments it seems understandable that one would freeze. Often times there is nothing that could have been done even if there were no freeze so the freeze is rather inconsequential to how events unfolded.

People who do experience the freeze response when faced with violent crime, however, are suspect. If not outwardly questions as to why they froze they often find themselves looking inward and questioning their own sense of preparedness and worth. If they survive, the looming question can often be, "What was wrong with me? Why didn't I do something?"

I could watch surveillance videos of violent crimes almost all day. I have a strong stomach for it. I find analyzing them to be fascinating and as long as I can slow things down I can catch things that some people miss. It's a lot different than watching a movie where you are shown exactly what you are supposed to see and understand. In a surveillance video you are often questioning everything and discovering what you are supposed to see and what investigating what is important.

What can I learn about how the attack started? Where did the attack come from? Were there pre-attack indicators that were missed? When was the weapon presented (if at all)? Was there a freeze? How/when was the freeze broken? What for knowledge isn't in the video such as relationship between victim and attacker? How does that play into the dynamic?

One thing I have universally noted is that in almost every single video, if you know what you are looking for, is a freeze. A moment of disbelief, a moment of hesitation while the brain wraps itself around the reality of the situation, even moments of paralysis where victims or bystanders stand stock still throughout the entirety of the crime.

The freeze is there. It is hard wired in us. It can and will happen to you. It's nothing to be ashamed of or to question. It happens! It's time to stop beating ourselves up about it and learn to embrace it and/or minimize it when necessary.

I'm in the middle of reading Rory Miller's Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected. In it he dedicates an entire chapter to the freeze and ways you can eliminate some types of freezes and minimize others and even tactically use other types. But he makes it very clear that you will never do away with the freeze 100%.

But, you may be like me and think, "Okay, I'll admit. The freeze will be there. How do I find out where my freeze is and how do I train it out of me or at least minimize it?" 

Some freezes you may never find until the time comes. Some freezes you may be able to find in training. Sometimes those freezes are nothing more than a training issue. You're in a shoot out and your firearm jams. Because you've never practiced clearance drills you stand there staring at a non functioning gun because you haven't trained yourself what to do in that scenario. Establishing a trained and regular response (tap, rack, bang) to that particular scenario (an jammed gun) can eliminate that freeze.

But other freezes are not so easy to identify.

Just recently I discovered a big one in myself and if you want to see if, watch this video:


Watch between :04 and :11 seconds in the video. There is a threatening presence. He has cornered me. He is within my striking distance. At one point he even threatens me by saying, "I'm not letting you leave." And I still don't act. I'm stuck in a frozen loop of repeating the same command that he's clearly demonstrated he's not going to obey.

You would think I learned my lesson. This video was taken almost three years ago. I can't make the same mistake twice, can I?

Enter last week:

Due to weather we had a very small turn out in Krav class and it was just my husband, myself and our instructor. Because it was just the three of us our instructor let us decide what we wanted to work on and my husband volunteered some of my issues. Such as my freeze.

It can be easy to know you need to attack when you are being attacked, but the fact of the matter is that is far too late in many scenarios--including the scenario above. Recognizing this, our instructor set up my husband as my attacker and started working some drills to get me to attack him when he got within striking distance.

And then he messed everything up.

After resetting the scenario my instructor walked up to me and asked if I had any ID. I looked at him, confused. Why did he need my ID? I've been in his class for months. He knows who I am.

"Hey, let me see your ID!" he said and it hit me that this might be a set up to distract me from an attack from the side by my husband.

While trying to keep my husband in my peripheral my instructor got closer. I began to feel myself getting overwhelmed by his closeness and demanded he get away from me, EXACTLY as I did in the video from almost three years ago.

He got closer and closer and eventually my husband did rush in and attack me and I fought him off as I'd been taught. But once the scenario ended both my instructor and my husband pointed out that I let my instructor break the boundary we'd been working on all night and get FAR too close and I failed to act as I'd been trained. The newness of the attack with the change in attacker and him presenting with a seemingly innocuous question completely froze my trained response until I could identify a clear threat: my husband rushing me out of the corner of my eye.

We reset the scenario a few more times and I no longer froze, having recognized my error and trained past it.... at least for that day and in that environment.

Boundaries are my freeze. I need to set clearer boundaries that I do not allow people to cross.

Does that mean I'm going to hit anyone who gets within three feet of me? No, but my intuition told me something was off about that scenario and I wasted time questioning myself and trying to figure it out instead of acting on my training. And, again, I gave him a command to get away from me and instead of complying he continued to move in. As before, I froze myself in a loop of wasted commands. Such an act should have been an immediate trigger that told me it was time to act. Instead, I froze, just like I did three years ago.

Greg Ellifritz (incidentally, the man I was fighting in the linked video) wrote a very nice, short article about boundaries. Rory Miller also talks about boundaries (though he uses a different word) that should be triggers for you to act. If this happens, I respond with this! You won't think of everything, of course, but it can and will help minimize some of those moments of freeze.

Set boundaries!

1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading a book about working with your subconcious. In it, the author discusses the fight/flight/freeze wiring in our brain, and the common reasons why the freeze symptom can be a continuing problem for some people. Book came out in 2012, and I found it in the local library.