How to Overcome the Freeze Response

by Jan 9, 2020

Do You Freeze Under Stress?

While camouflage is part of human warfare, it’s not a skill you or I chose to develop. If we’re honest, when apprehensive, fearful of making a wrong choice, or not wanting to hurt anyone, we tend to freeze. Experiencing trauma in childhood, the freeze response was the brain’s reaction to protect us from something we had no control over.

However, when the freeze mode becomes our default reaction to life, we become easy prey to predators and to falling into temptation.

The Foolish Rabbit

I strode towards the hill behind my home the other day, when I sensed eyes on me and froze. There four feet away was a fat, furry rabbit. His beady eyes watched as he remained frozen to the spot.

Puzzled at his lack of inertia, I began to speak to him.

What are you doing? Don’t you realize you are supposed to run away? Why are you just staring at me?”

Beyond a twitch of his nose, he remained frozen, seeing no need to respond to my questions.

Determined to help him act decisively, I leaned forward. Clapping my hands, I said, “Shoo!”

Reacting, he immediately zigzagged off. Now zigzagging is normal behavior for a rabbit trying to escape. But his flight was erratic as he ran from me and then towards me.

I laughed, pondering his confusion. What lesson can I learn from him? My first thought was, if I were a bobcat, the rabbit’s choice to freeze when he saw me would have turned him into dinner.

What’s the Point?

Where we’ve suffered trauma, often we default to the freeze mode.The rabbit is a perfect picture of that response.

When confused, we do nothing. When we feel threatened, we are silent. Confronted by temptation, like the rabbit who couldn’t think clearly, we react as if we are invisible.

To freeze is a choice. Sadly, it sets us up as a perfect target.


In Genesis 37, Joseph was victimized by his brothers; knocked about, his coat ripped off him, leaving him unprotected from the cold. Thrown into a pit, he was then sold into slavery. He had every reason to hate and become bitter.

Trauma set him up to freeze like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Initially, he probably reacted in the freeze mode. But choosing to engage with God, he never became slave to the freeze mode. During the arduous journey to Egypt, he rejected a negative mindset. Instead, he chose to believe God was present with him.

Potiphar, a commander of men, was a discerner of character. Because of Joseph’s attitude, Potiphar chose him as his slave.

Joseph had no choice over that but he had choice over his attitudes. Rather than complain or feel sorry for himself, he embraced life, even though it felt like God had failed him.

Joseph never demonstrated a victim mentality. He was active and proactive. He didn’t react in anger or fear but responded with courage and wisdom and the Lord honored him.

A Word of Warning

When everything is going good, the enemy of our soul attacks. That happened to Jospeh.

As overseer of all Potiphar owned, he worked in the house and regularly encountered Potiphar’s wife. The problem, she was determined to seduce him.

Joseph was young. Testosterone pumped through his veins. Yet he refused her advances.

One day when he entered the house, she pounced. No one was there. No one would know if he yielded to temptation. Being a man of integrity, he tried to explain. Instead, she grabbed him. I imagine he initially froze, but feeling desire awakening, he jerked away and fled. Rejecting the freeze mode, he left his coat in her hands.

Joseph could have been like the rabbit and reacted in the freeze mode. He chould have chosen to do nothing. He could have pretended there was no danger. But he chose to respond with action; he fled. He wasn’t fleeing from relational intimacy. In fact, he chose to respect his relationship with Potiphar as he fled from the seductress.

Joseph didn’t care what others thought; he didn’t worry his action might hurt the woman’s feelings or land him in jail. He fled. That took courage!

He, too, had been traumatized but refused to default to the freeze mode. Joseph is proof you can be set free from freezing!

Flight Seems Cowardly

Sometimes the wisest choice is to flee. Paul said:

  • Flee fornication (1 Co 6:18).
  • Flee idolatry (1 Co 10:14).
  • Flee youthful lusts (2Ti 2:22).
  • Submit yourself to the Lord. Resist the devil and he will flee from you (Jas 4:7).

Dear Heart

Today is a new day. Freezing won’t make danger go away, it won’t protect you from making a mistake. Nor will it keep you safe.

You have a choice and choices bring responsibility. Even if you choose to freeze.

Choose wisely. Speak life over yourself. Say out loud, “I choose life.”

Did you know there is power in the name of the Lord?

Choose a name, like Defender, Almighty God, or Comforter. When anxious, rather than hide in plain site like the frightened rabbit, run to His name.

Why? The name of the Lord is your strong tower. You are not a victim! Choose to reject the temptation to freeze.

Ask Jesus for wisdom. Speak His name often.

Flee to Jesus when you are tempted. What feels exciting in the moment will steal your joy and cover you with guilt or shame.

Be like Joseph. Take courage. Cry to the Lord. Then flee from temptation.

Choose life as you walk into 2020.

Confusion is a tool of the enemy of our soul. He uses confusion to take us captive. But, the Lord is a strong tower!

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