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The story behind my trauma series

Photo of author, Karapace-founder Katie Whittier, walking contemplatively through a blueberry patch in the fall

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but let me come right out and make it clear: I believe our autonomic responses of Fight, Flight and Freeze serve very real, very important purposes in our life, and not just to keep us safe from harm. As I’ve trained my nervous system over the past year, I’ve experienced firsthand the power they each can bring once we take them from unconscious reactivity to conscious action in pursuit of our highest good.


And it’s my mission to share what I’ve learned so that you too can find power through these autonomic functions of the nervous system.


The roots of my new video course started in a wave of panic and terror as I sat on my couch one night. I’d been experiencing these fearful sensations with increasing frequency as I trained my nervous system, beginning about five days after trying my first neuro drills and showing up as everything from a gelatinous sense of numbness to an intense sensation radiating out of the center of my bones. I didn’t know what to make of the discomfort. The fear felt existential, and I felt totally inadequate to coping with it.


In truth, that fear had probably always been there, ever since childhood. And it was a driving factor in my talent for dissociating. By dissociating, I didn’t have to feel the fear. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. When I started doing daily practices that brought me into my body, I was finally aware of it because I connected mind and body with a level of directness and intention that no other practice had ever offered.


For months, I modulated between full dissociation and varying levels of embodiment, so the terror only showed up intermittently. But the longer my neuro training went on, the more often it showed up until, by early winter, it was present more often than not.


That’s the state I found myself in while sitting on my couch that night. I could feel the fear. I was curious about it, not fighting to escape it. And I knew enough by then to suspect it was a deeply-entrenched Freeze state.

As I turned over and over what it meant to be stuck in a Freeze state, it occurred to me that I didn’t want to cure it so much as I wanted to solve it, and that mindset change somehow simplified the equation.


I asked myself: How does a person get out of a Freeze state?


And I answered with: If Freeze is the inability to take action, then action would be the opposite of Freeze. 


But it isn’t quite that simple, obviously. If you’re stuck in Freeze, action feels impossible. It’s threatening and heavy, fraught with risk. I needed something more heavy-duty to pull me out of stuckness.


That’s when it dawned on me: I needed something as powerful as a Fight response to get out of Freeze.


The idea wasn’t entirely my own – I gleaned it from Pete Walker’s book COMPLEX PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. In it, he talks about pairing Fight and Fawn (another trauma response) to remediate the dangers of each. But what about pairing Fight with Freeze? I know the Fight state is just as dangerous as a Freeze state when triggered, but what if Fight could be leveraged with full cognitive awareness?


Better stated: What would it look like if Fight could be consciously leveraged into action by facilitating cognitive awareness around its strengths?


So, what are the strengths of a Fight response? What are its hidden powers? Being a writer, I pulled out the thesaurus next, and thus began my mission to transform trauma responses into motivated growth – even Post-Traumatic Growth. Here’s what I figured out:


A fully-conscious, responsible Fight state is the very embodiment of courage. And courage is the missing link between many Freeze states and the action necessary to move out of them. The weight of risk disappears under the glaring light of courage.


Just like the old saying goes, Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the willingness to act in spite of that fear.


When I tried it out, it worked. I paired the emotions of that courageous, positive Fight state – emotions like feist, tenacity, determination and fire – with my nervous system training, and the fear stopped paralyzing me. Action felt more possible. In fact, it was so effective at helping me rise out of that sense of terror that I started to wonder what else was possible.


  • What was the conscious version of a Flight state?

  • What about the Fawn state?

  • And best of all, what is the upside of the very Freeze state that I’d dissociated from for so long? The answer took my breath away.


As it turns out, a conscious, responsible version of the Freeze state is the embodiment that comes from full presence and awareness.


Holy crap. The gift of the Freeze state was the very thing I was dissociating from – the intense amount of embodied cognition (interoception) that often conflicted with what I was seeing in the world. That’s why I dissociated for years and years. But as a result, I trained myself to distrust what was going on inside me and over-trust external cues. I abandoned my self-trust... which explains a lot of the very bad circumstances I landed in over the years.


Embodied awareness has enormous benefits, from heightened intuition to a grounded sense of self. Courage has tremendous benefits as well – no explanation needed. If these are two of the powers behind evolving your autonomic threat responses, just imagine what else might be possible. What might your evolved Flight response look like? What could it mean to evolve your Fawn response?


Find out in my 8-module video series, available through Mothers' Day at the introductory price of $199.

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