When someone has experienced trauma, in particular repeated trauma, they learn to use specific trauma responses to help them survive their particular situation. While many waver between two or more, most people primarily use one trauma response. Many people raised by narcissistic parents primarily use the freeze response.
Freezing means much like the name implies, you freeze & are unable to handle the situation in a healthy way. Think of a deer on a highway during the night when a truck comes barreling towards him. He stands still, staring at the truck & unable to move to save himself. People can & do react the same way sometimes. Sadly, freezing often is a good choice when dealing with a narcissistic parent, because it reduces the likelihood of that parent turning even more abusive. Equally sadly though is this survival tactic doesn’t help when dealing with other people. In fact, often the lack of response of a victim is taken as consent, so the other, non-freezing person assumes whatever they said or did was acceptable to the freezing person.
As an example from my own life, as I’ve written about before, I lived with awful back pain for ten years. During a fight with my mother, she threw me into a wall. I felt my entire spine crack from my tailbone into my neck when I hit the wall & was in pain for ten years after. I saw several doctors, had over fifty x-rays & an MRI. I was told no injuries showed up on the x-rays or MRI. Every single person I saw with the exception of one chiropractor was convinced I was faking the pain. I should have stood up to all of them, but instead I quietly accepted their diagnoses. Between that & other people in my life who were convinced I was faking it, I wondered many times if they were right. By silently accepting people’s accusations of faking my pain, that only seemed to confirm their suspicions of me. It also made me wonder more & more if I really was faking my back problem or if something was truly wrong.
This happened all because I learned how to use the freeze response so well as a child.
If you have used it as well, you probably can relate to my story. Also like me, you probably dissociated often as a child & possibly still do to some degree, struggle with making decisions, & isolate yourself. You also probably come up with good responses hours or even days or weeks after a confrontation but can’t think during the confrontation.
While freezing may have helped you to survive the narcissist in your life, it doesn’t help you in other relationships. In fact, it is likely to hurt you instead of help you.
When in situations that trigger your freeze response, your best place to start is with prayer. God will help you & ground you so you can function in a healthier way. Also, please remind yourself that you are safe now. You don’t have to freeze to protect yourself. You have rights including the right to speak up for yourself & to protect yourself. You aren’t doing something bad by taking care of yourself. The other person in question isn’t the narcissist who would abuse you for taking care of yourself.
Also take a deep breath in & exhale slowly. It will help you to calm your body & mind very quickly, which will help you to figure out a better way to handle your situation.
Doing this will help you over time to reduce the frequency of the freeze trauma response & enable you to respond in a healthier way. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen. Hang in there!