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‘Ginsberg (1974) immobilized chicks, and then allowed one group to recover spontaneously, and one to recover, but with prodding and stimuli to terminate the freeze. These groups, along with a third group of chicks that had not been immobilized, were then tested for resiliency to avoid death by drowning. The group that had not been allowed to complete recovery from immobility died first, the group not exposed to immobility next, and the group that had spontaneously recovered from the freeze survived the longest. Clearly the experience of and the spontaneous recovery from freezing carries survival benefits, whereas not being allowed to go through this recovery process seemed to reduce resiliency to life threat.’ Scaer (2001)

This is a very powerful illustration of the innate ability of animals to recover from trauma. Natural/spontaneous recovery actually enhanced the drowning survival rates over the control group. We can transcend trauma and be stronger afterwards, but only if we engage the bodies natural healing mechanisms. Not my favourite philosopher, but Friedrich Nietzsche was right: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’

The worst option is to interfere and block the natural processes of the body – in this experiment poking and prodding the chicks out of immobility. The chicks were immobilized by holding, the inescapable threat inducing the freeze response.

My experience of TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) has shown me that shaking is a natural part of recovery from trauma. Even though it can appear that people are falling apart when shaking, it is better to fall apart briefly, rather than hold on to a life time of chronic tension.

References

Ginsberg, H. (1974). Controlled vs noncontrolled termination of the immobility response in domestic fowl (Gallus gallus): parallels with the learned helplessness phenomenon, as quoted in Seligman, M. (1992) Helplessness: On depression, development and death, New York:W.H. Freeman

Nietzsche quote from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/friedrichn101616.html#ixzz1lKDnjPOs

Scaer R.C., (2001) The Neurophysiology of Dissociation and Chronic Disease. Published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, (2001), 26(1), 73-91

With thanks to Riccardo Cassiani Ingoni for the reference and image – I saw Riccardo talk about the chick experiment at a TRE Level 1 course in London.

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Like the snake video, the above video captures some essential elements of hardwired trauma responses. Notice how stiff the mouse is at the start of the video. I am increasingly appreciating how stiffness is a good early sign of immobilisation. Before I was only focussed on the loss of muscle tone as a cardinal sign, in fact both can hyper and hypo myofascial tone can occur in immobilisation.

Why does the mouse attack the cat as it comes out of immobility? Two passages from Peters Levine’s excellent new book ‘In An Unspoken Voice’ give an explanation:

As They Go In, So They Come Out: The Rage Connection

‘Similarly, when a well-fed household cat catches a mouse, the latter, restrained by the cat’s paws, stops moving and becomes limp. Without resistance from the mouse, the cat becomes bored and will sometimes gently bat the inert animal, seemingly trying to revive it and restart the game anew (not unlike Jimmy Stewart slapping his swooning heroine to bring her out of her faint). With each reawakening, chasing and reactivated terror, the mouse goes deeper and longer into immobility. When it does eventually revive, it frequently darts away so quickly (and unpredictably) that it may even startle the cat. This sudden, non-directed burst of energy could just as easily cause it to run at the cat, as well as away from it. I have even seen a mouse ferociously attack the nose of an astounded cat. Such is the nature of exit from imrnobility, where induction has been repetitive and accompanied by fear and rage. Humans, in addition, reterrorize themselves out of their (misplaced) fear of their own intense sensations and emotions.

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Amazing illustration of the mobilisation and immobilisation phases of the overwhelm response. Initially aggressive and quick, but when its head is trapped and there are no options for escape the snake goes limp and plays dead.

If you ask me, playing with snakes and spitting out the venom they have managed to spit into your mouth is slightly too interesting a way of earning a living. Just saying.

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