Freezing: The Rarely Mentioned Third Survival Mechanism


Ices - Nicholas Roerich, 1941 (

After my Hyde abandoned me, I realized that I had lost sight of who I was and very out of touch with what I wanted out of life.  It was like my sense of self had been frozen for years and when Hyde left he took the bitter cold with him.

Even before Hyde, my self image had suffered damage at the hands of other bad men.  At 17, I was sexually assaulted by a schoolmate.  At 18, I was raped by a stranger and dumped by my then-fiancé when I told him.  I have had more than one boss get in my face and holler at me.

The thing is, I know with my brain that I did not deserve any of these traumas.  I did nothing to provoke any of these attacks, so when they happened my instincts would take over.  For me that meant instead of fighting or fleeing, I froze.  No one ever mentions freezing when discussing danger responses.

Freezing is the survival mechanism that kicks in when your predator is bigger, stronger, and faster than you.  Freezing is non-threatening to the predator; it is the gray rock of survival reflexes.  Prey in freeze mode is underestimated–a predator does not expect the dazed prey to make a getaway so they get sloppy and the prey often escapes… afraid, but alive. 

With my history of freezing in the face of dangerous men, I learned from experience that there was a measure of safety in passivity.  Over the course of multiple traumas, I took on the role of doormat.  I forgot how to defend myself; my boundaries had all been violated.  And then entered Hyde…

He appeared to be the antithesis of every man before him.  He wasn’t perfect, but he reflected to me every trait I sought in a good man.  He appeared to be safe, and I fell in love with him more deeply than I thought possible.  He made me feel like being me was the best thing I could be, which was a dangerous attraction for a person like me who doubted her own value at times.

In the haze of my relationship with Hyde, all I wanted was to be the perfect wife and mother.  I wanted to be perfect…not for me, but for him.  I see now that this made me vulnerable to the abuse he dished out.

Hyde was central in my universe (sinning by idolatry of husband).  When he smiled, the heavens broke out into sunshine.  But when he stonewalled, it was like the bitterest dark winter day.  Before I knew it, my daily goal was preventing Hyde’s withdrawal.  I obsessed over our relationship with my therapist.  “What am I doing wrong?” I would ask.  She said: focus on yourself, and I would ask, “How?”  I was a shell of a wife…a shadow of a woman. All my treasured hopes and thoughts got buried deep down in my psyche and I knew couldn’t access them until my marriage became a safe place to share them.  Sadly, the safest day in my marriage was when Hyde abandoned me.  Suddenly, he wasn’t there to disapprove of me.  I felt like I could breathe.

Slowly, I am reconnecting with the part of myself I put in cold storage as a teen.  The spring thaw of my life has at last begun.  I am surprised constantly at how adventerous I am becoming as I renew my acquaintance with my core self.  All I can say is bring on the sun!


2 thoughts on “Freezing: The Rarely Mentioned Third Survival Mechanism

    • Hi, girlfromjupiter. I feel really encouraged to hear how you feel happier a year out. Sometimes I can’t imagine how it will feel to not hurt daily.

      Thank you for taking the time to connect. I wish you all the best too! 🙂


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