Working with Numbness, Shut-down, Freeze
Working with a client’s dream in a group setting, this chapter highlights the possibility of developing a conscious regulatory and participatory relationship with our physical surroundings, to encourage the social engagement system to calm ventral arousal and release the grip of a dorsal freeze.
Initially, Kate showed signs of high activation in the form of: poor eye contact, social engagement system had shut down, and neo cortex was in freeze mode. This was making her incapable of thinking when asked a question, and causing her to cut out and dissociate. The group felt unsafe to her–‘the room has holes in it’.
We worked through cycles of contraction and expansion, titrating the tendency to dissociate and freeze, by enlisting the social engagement system to orient to nature and thereby reduce activation. She observed the bushes as they moved, and was asked to notice how her body responded. Together, inner and outer attunement helped restore homeostasis and brought greater fluidity to the whole system–hers and the groups: “the bushes don’t have panic attacks.” She used laughter and play to mediate her experience with the group. The field of consciousness expanded, providing a sense of participation in and reciprocity with each other and with nature, affording an experience of what Winnicott refers to as “in-dwelling”.