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The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex PTSD (excerpt)

By Pete Walker

The Freeze Type and the Dissociative Defense


Many freeze types unconsciously believe that people and danger are synonymous, and
that safety lies in solitude.
Outside of fantasy, many give up entirely on the possibility of love. The freeze
response, also known as the
camouflage response, often triggers the individual into hiding, isolating and
eschewing human contact as much as
possible. This type can be so frozen in retreat mode that it seems as if their
starter button is stuck in the
"off" position. It is usually the most profoundly abandoned child - "the lost
child" - who is forced to "choose"
and habituate to the freeze response (the most primitive of the 4Fs). Unable to
successfully employ fight, flight
or fawn responses, the freeze type's defenses develop around classical
dissociation, which allows him to disconnect
from experiencing his abandonment pain, and protects him from risky social
interactions - any of which might trigger
feelings of being reabandoned. Freeze types often present as ADD; they seek refuge
and comfort in prolonged bouts
of sleep, daydreaming, wishing and right brain-dominant activities like TV,
computer and video games. They master
the art of changing the internal channel whenever inner experience becomes
uncomfortable. When they are especially
traumatized or triggered, they may exhibit a schizoid-like detachment from ordinary
reality.
TX: There are at least three reasons why freeze types are the most difficult 4F
defense to treat. First, their
positive relational experiences are few if any, and they are therefore extremely
reluctant to enter the relationship
of therapy; moreover, those who manage to overcome this reluctance often spook
easily and quickly terminate. Second,
they are harder to psychoeducate about the trauma basis of their complaints
because, like many fight types,
they are unconscious of their fear and their torturous inner critic. Also, like the
fight type, the freeze type tends
to project the perfectionistic demands of the critic onto others rather than the
self, and uses the imperfections of
others as justification for isolation. The critic's processes of perfectionism and
endangerment, extremely unconscious
in freeze types, must be made conscious and deconstructed as described in detail in
my aforementioned article on
shrinking the inner critic. Third, even more than workaholic flight types, freeze
types are in denial about the life
narrowing consequences of their singular adaptation. Because the freeze response is
on a continuum that ends with the
collapse response (the extreme abandonment of consciousness seen in prey animals
about to be killed), many appear to
be able to self-medicate by releasing the internal opioids that the animal brain is
programmed to release when danger
is so great that death seems immanent. The opioid production of the collapse or
extreme freeze response can only take
the individual so far however, and these types are therefore prone to sedating
substance addictions.
Many self-medicating types are often drawn to marijuana and narcotics, while
others may gravitate toward ever
escalating regimes of anti-depressants and anxiolytics. Moreover, when they are
especially unremediated and unattached,
they can devolve into increasing depression and, in worst case scenarios, into the
kind of mental illness described
in the book, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.

Trauma Hybrids

The Flight/Freeze type is the least relational and most schizoid hybrid. This type
avoids his feelings and potential
relationship retraumatization with an obsessive-compulsive/ dissociative "two-step"
that severely narrows his existence.
The flight/freeze cul-de-sac is more common among men, especially those traumatized
for being vulnerable in childhood,
and those who subsequently learned to seek safety in isolation or "intimacy-lite"
relationships. Many non-alpha type
males gravitate to the combination of flight and freeze defensiveness stereotypical
of the information technology nerd -
the computer addict who workaholically focuses for long periods of time and then
drifts off dissociatively into
computer games. Many sex addicts also combine flight and freeze in a compulsive
pursuit of a sexual pseudo-intimacy.
When in flight mode, they obsessively scheme to "get" sex and/or compulsively
pursue and/or engage in it; when in freeze
mode, they drift off into a right brain sexual fantasy world that is often fueled
by an addictive use of pornography;
and even during real time sexual interaction, they often engage more with their
idealized fantasy partners than with
their actual partner.

Self-Assessment. Readers may find it informative to self-assess their own


hierarchical use of the 4F responses.
They can try to determine their dominant type and hybrid, and think about what
percentage of their time is spent in
each type of 4F activity. Finally, all 4Fs progressively recover from the
multidimensional wounding of complex ptsd
as mindfulness of learned trauma dynamics increases, as the critic shrinks, as
dissociation decreases, as childhood
losses are effectively grieved, as the healthy ego matures into a user-friendly
manager of the psyche, as the life
narrative becomes more egosyntonic, as emotional vulnerability creates authentic
experiences of intimacy, and as
"good enough" safe attachments are attained. Furthermore, it is also important to
emphasize that recovery is not an
all-or-none phenomenon, but rather a gradual one marked by decreasing frequency,
intensity and duration of flashbacks.