The Frozen Child Technique

The Frozen Child technique works directly with trauma memories, even when these have been buried deep in the unconscious and cut off entirely from the conscious mind. Used alongside other Focussed Mindfulness techniques, a mindfulness practice and reflection (which could include counselling or another talking therapy) it will support recovery and rehabilitation in those who have been severely affected, and it can also be used as a powerful practice for all of us working towards a more conscious way of being.

Childhood trauma can have a range of influences over our ability to be present and live consciously: from subtle and manageable to overwhelming and life limiting. This blog gives a model for understanding the trauma response and how it affects emotional wellbeing and describes how the Frozen Child technique can be used as a powerful tool in the healing process.

Most of us come in to the world as open, trusting beings. As we grow more aware we learn in various ways that we are not safe.

This perception that we are not safe might be real: we may be in a war zone or born to a violent parent. Or it may be an unfounded belief: we may be frightened because we feel alone, because we feel that someone is angry with us, or we experience a traumatic event. Anything that sends us into a state of shock will teach us that we are not entirely safe and we learn from this: it affects our responses in the future.

Let us take the example of someone being angry with us. Our immature brain is not capable of understanding the context of the anger it just sees and hears and feels the emotion and it evokes – however briefly – a fear reaction in us. We are likely to respond by crying which ideally will bring our fear to the attention of our care-giver, who will pick us up and soothe us. In the simplest scenario this will be the end of it. However, with repeated or overwhelming experiences we develop a trauma response to anger.

The trauma response is a survival strategy, it gets hard-wired into our brain and will come into play whenever we perceive a similar danger situation in the future. The cue may be a smell, sight or sound that reminds us of the original fearful experience, for instance, someone with the same vocal tone as the person who originally scared us, or who has a similar expression or body stance. Our primitive brain takes us instantly into a state of shock which over-rides all other activities and evokes a freeze followed by a flight, fight or flop reaction. We don’t get to choose which, it might depend on many factors including our gender, hormone levels, previous learning and genetic tendency.

The unconscious response is instant: consider the speed with which you withdraw a hand if it accidentally touches a hot surface. Depending on the magnitude of the stimulus it may take some time before we become consciously aware of what has just happened. When touching a hot surface we will straight away notice our own sharp movement, may hear ourselves cry out and feel emotionally unsettled for a few moments. If the cue is catching sight of someone who abused us over an extended period of our childhood we may become frozen with shock, overwhelmed with fear and unable to take charge of the situation for an extended period of time until the centre of control returns from the automatic lower, reptile brain back to the more conscious frontal lobes.

This magnitude of trauma is deeply debilitating and can cause life-long difficulties for the sufferer. They may adopt a habitual “flop” approach to life, feeling victimised and helpless, and unable to make positive and empowered life decisions. An angry “fight” approach may lead to and an inability to remain calm in challenging situations, an aggressive personality, violent and cruel behaviour. The “flee” response can manifest extrinsically as numbing out habits such as alcoholism, drugs and other addictions or intrinsically as depression, borderline personality disorder, total dissociation, sycosis and other enduring mental health problem; all of which can lead to self-harm and suicide.

The Frozen Child technique works directly with trauma memories, even when these are entirely unconscious and gives the sufferer a practical tool to support healing. Used alongside other Focussed Mindfulness techniques, a mindfulness practice and reflection (which could include counselling or another talking therapy) it will support recovery. I believe it should be a mainstream intervention for PTSD and people suffering severe after effects of traumatic experiences, as it is effective, brief and gentle. It is also useful and even life changing in less extreme cases: I think everyone reacts from traumatic memories at times and it causes harm to ourselves, relationships and to the world. It prevents us from being present and acting consciously. 

We often only know that a trauma response has been activated because we feel it as an overwhelming emotion: we might become uncontrollably angry and aggressive in an argument with our partner, begin to panic as we drive down a busy motorway or feel tearful and powerless in a meeting with our boss.  We cannot prevent this response by rationalising it, this is why talking therapies and CBT may have only limited success in preventing us from ‘losing it’ in stressful moments. The Frozen Child technique works directly with the trauma memory, even when this has been buried deep in the unconscious and cut off entirely from the conscious mind.

You can experience the Frozen Child approach, working with your own trauma, through a guided meditation or attending a talk. Should you find that you need one-to-one support in doing this you can arrange for face-to-face or video link sessions with a qualified Focussed Mindfulness practitioner. If you are a practitioner wishing to explore the approach with the aim of integrating it into your own practice you can attend a full day workshop where you can gain an experiential understanding through practice with your peers. You may also want to consider training as a Focussed Mindfulness guide which will give you a range of tools that you can integrate into your practice as a coach, therapist or body worker. Details of all these options can be found here: www.absolute-specialists.co.uk or send any enquiries to  clare.walters@absolute-specialists.co.uk.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *