Tonic Immobility


This is congruent with my experience and how I react now to stress:

When a rabbit or other animal is trapped by a predator, it will freeze and assess the situation. It might then flee or attack, what we usually call the “fight or flight response“. If that fails, a last-ditch defence mechanism is to go completely immobile, to play dead.

Researchers in Brazil now say that in times of grave danger, this same automatic last resort is also exhibited by humans and is experienced as a terrifying feeling of being “locked-in”.

Terrifying feeling is exactly right.  It feels as if it will never end and that I’m totally exposed.  A target.

…physiological evidence of “tonic immobility” in humans…. Participants who reported a strong sense of being paralysed, frozen, unable to move or scream, tended to show less body sway, higher heart rate and less heart rate variability.

Even reading about this phenomenon brings the terror regurgitating up to the surface. I also experience it as an overwhelming sense of dread.  It’s an incredibly large factor in low quality of life and suffering.  It seems to be an automatic/autonomic response, and I wish I could minimize it, but so far, no success.

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3 thoughts on “Tonic Immobility

  1. Locked in is a reoccurring nightmare for me. The terror follows me into the daylight as a haunting distraction.

    For the most part I dont encounter this problem in big ways anymore. Sometimes though in small ways I do find myself getting stuck. Unable to get my brain to move to the next decision or work out a path to complete a task. Until I find myself standing in the grocery store having stared at the same shelf of spaghetti sauce for last ten min. Thankfully we know my pattern of behavior and work to avoid known situations that cause it. And I’m not alone. Outside input from a trusted source is helpful in disrupting a recursive immobility.

    I almost didnt share. You write about familiar experiences, feelings, thoughts. Things that at one point almost ended me. Things I still fight against. I’m proud of my progress. It gives me hope others will find their own way out of the darkness.

    But I didnt do it alone. I was extremely lucky. I wasnt alone when I started to fight back. In fact I only started to fight back for the sake of someone else. It was far into my recovery that I started fighting back for myself.

    I wouldnt survive alone. I may not require others to take complete care of me and sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking I could do this on my own but the reality of me is that I need help.

    You amaze and impress me with your courage and strength.

    • Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing this, Me. I’m honored and privileged. I’m so sorry that you experience what you do.

      I haven’t written much about what things help and work to reduce distress because I haven’t found them (yet – I hope they exist to find). Please feel free to share what works, as well.

      • Yes you have … just the experience of reading about your struggle and how you are still fighting, still going ‘upstream’ is a help to some, who no doubt are still floundering, not having found direction. I am ‘doing better,’ theoretically, but I have times when fighting just seems like so much Effort. Like “Me,” I realize the importance of not being alone when you fight back. Very interesting that s/he started fighting back for someone else before deciding to fight back for him / herself. I get paid to fight for people. But when faced with the idea of getting up every day and waging the battles in my own heart and mind, sometimes Bed is a more welcome option, and as Simon and Garfunkle said, ‘sometimes I took some comfort there…’ .

        Everyone talks about how bad meds are. For me, I think they may be helping me fight – at least they may help me be open to it. Who knew. Me, community is so important – a community of friends, peers, ffamily, whomever. aek, you have written about how to help. In another post I commented on, you mentioned the idea of being able to explain to someone who wouldn’t walk away (not your words, but that was the idea.).

        I have someone like that, but I can’t always talk to her when I want to. So I have to learn how to talk to myself better. I think what works is putting one foot in front of the other every day…. getting up, getting dressed if possible, making a call, posting online, sending an email… talking to people. I talk to people on the bus, in line at the bank, the waitress at the diner, whomever. Just a few words, My therapist told me that the most important part of therapy is the relationship between patient and therapist – the connection. She’s right. And that’s why I’m so lucky. I wish you both better times.

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