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FREEZE mechanism - why it happens in marital relationships?

couple with snowman

The FREEZE mechanism:

The freeze mechanism is an ancient evolutionary response designed to increase the chances of survival in situations of grave danger. When encountering a danger that cannot be escaped or fought, the freeze response can make the individual less conspicuous and thus reduce the risk of a direct attack. Additionally, if the assault does occur, the frozen state may help survive the trauma by reducing pain and lessening the emotional and physical response. In a state of stasis, a person will feel paralyzed, unable to speak or move, their body shut down to protect themselves from harm.

While the freeze as an early human survival tactic in situations where staying in place could save from detection by predators, nowadays the freeze response can be triggered by situations that trigger past traumas, even if there is no immediate physical danger. This automatic shutdown can have significant implications for emotional health, especially in romantic relationships, where it can create barriers to effective communication and connection.

The freeze reaction in a relationship - why does it happen?

The stagnation response in marital relationships stems from past traumas and unresolved emotional wounds. When a partner exhibits behaviors or emotions that unconsciously trigger memories of past traumatic events in the other partner, this may activate this survival mechanism. The response is often an attempt by the subconscious mind to avoid tangible danger, similar to how animals freeze in place when they feel threatened. In couple dynamics,

In addition, the freeze response can be related to attachment issues that developed during early childhood. If you experienced neglect or abuse as a child, you may have learned to freeze as a way to deal with overwhelming emotions.

Expressions of the freeze mechanism in action

Let's get to know how it looks, feels and behaves in practice:

Physiological manifestations:

  1. Temporary paralysis

  2. Slowing down the heart rate and breathing

  3. Release of hormones

  4. Feeling cold or hot

  5. Reducing the sensation of pain

Psychological expressions:

  1. Feeling of detachment

  2. Mental stagnation

  3. Emotional numbness

frozen tree

Expressions in a relationships

  • In romantic relationships, the stagnation mechanism can manifest itself in a variety of ways: a partner may suddenly become quiet or unresponsive during a confrontation, and seem emotionally distant or detached. This can create confusion and frustration in the other, who does not understand why the other is withdrawing.

  • The frozen partner may feel overwhelmed by past traumas that have been activated, leading to detachment as a protective measure. This reaction can disrupt communication, and make it difficult to solve problems and maintain emotional intimacy.

  • Over time, repeated instances of freezing can erode trust and the relationship, as the non-frozen partner may feel rejected or unsupported.

Five complaint sentences that are typical of people who are at a standstill:

1. "I'm stuck in the same place in our relationship and don't know what to do to change the situation."

2. "I feel powerless in this relationship, I have no power to change anything."

4. "There is a wall between us that I can't break through."

5. "There's nothing to be done! I don't see a way out of this."

Coping tools

The stagnation mechanism can be especially challenging to manage in marital relationships. However, with the right therapeutic tools, couples can learn to navigate and overcome this trauma response. I find differentiation and family constellation are effective tools for dealing with the stagnation reaction.

With the help of the constellation we will examine the source of the stagnation, where does this paralysis come from and where does it belong? With the help of dedicated healing sentences, we will perform an action of recognizing the existing there. Later in the process we will use the tools of the differentiated approach (differentiation) which will teach us how to identify the moments when the stagnation reaction occurs and how to start moving from them in a gradual manner.

In conclusion

Freeze is an important survival response, but when activated in non-life-threatening situations, it can be an obstacle to normal functioning and emotional well-being. Understanding and dealing with the stagnation mechanism within the marital system is critical to fostering healthy communication and emotional connection. Through differentiated processes and a family constellation, couples can reveal ingrained patterns, heal from past traumas and build stronger and more durable bonds.

sivan avni

Sivan Avni - marriage and family counselor, couples therapy based on family constellation in Kiryat Tivon and online.


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