Freeze: Leaning into the threat

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Lady Harley

The natural response, that one should fight or flight in a threatening situation is well documented! Having learned to compose myself in situations that demand a more measured approach, as a nurse under pressure or as a leader with a consciousness of my influence and impact upon others, I also recognise that there is a third way. That is to freeze.

In a baby or small mammal alarmed by a sudden noise, we see this shock or freeze reaction just before the flight or fight (a bawl as in the case of a baby). This can give a momentary state of high acuity to danger and strategy, at least give an idea to the threatened subject of whether to fight or take flight.

I believe there is a boundary between these states which if we understand and use to our benefit can save us from the wrong and potentially catastrophic decision. If we fearfully flee, we risk the loss of running from a major benefit we fail to perceive. Or if we fight, we may become harmed by a threat that we are not matched for.

What if instead we simply lean? We give both ourselves and the supposed aggressor, the benefit of the doubt?

I experienced a powerful example of this principle years ago as a staff nurse on a cardiac medical ward. One elderly man had become disorientated and frightened and failed to understand that the little plastic box looped around his neck with a soft piece of bandage was actually a temporary pacemaker. He fought with me in the corridor of the ward. His frustration was targeted at the piece of hardware hanging around his neck. It was connected to a subcutaneous wire that directly entered and stimulated the wall of his heart muscle! (Things have progressed since the late 1980’s!). This was usual practice before a permanent pacemaker was fitted so that the consultant cardiologist could prescribe the correct frequency and amplitude of the electrical stimulation through the external controls until a suitable regime was decided upon for the eventual settings of the implanted pacemaker.

The poor man was mistaking his “necklace” as a foreign body and he found my approach threatening. I had to shadow him because he had removed the bandage from his neck and all that stood between him and a potentially fatal arrhythmia was my attempt to keep the slack on his vulnerable pacemaker wire!!

My emerging brand and message is Disentangling Genius and I am launching this new blog today.

I see my service as an attempt to walk closely on behalf of those who may not fully grasp both the potential and vulnerability they carry. In seeking to undo knots it is always better to work into rather than pull away from the tangle, relieving the tension and loosening the mess.

My patient all those years ago did not understand that by my holding him and the pacemaker box firmly without tension, I was able to prevent a medical emergency. I suggest that to lean into your situation which may seem threatening and inexplicable to you can be equally valuable It may give you the clues you need to befriend the situation or walk away from it without harm, gain new wisdom and even a good friend.

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