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Do You Freeze When in Conflict?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

What does freezing mean in the context of conflict? Freezing is one reaction to being provoked during a conflict—fighting and fleeing are two other common responses. It has been suggested that freezing is different from “being stuck”. This suggestion is based on the notion that being stuck is a more transient state of being during conflict, whereas freezing, as it is described here, is more like being unable to engage at all when provoked. That is, freezing is immobilizing.

Freezing may be a reaction to conflict that reflects helplessness and powerlessness to know what to say or do. It may be a fear response, a shutdown of our usual skills and ability to process information and emotions, or both. It may be a matter of becoming cold internally or toward the other person (or both) as a way to stave off tension and the depth of our emotions.

These and other ways in which freezing affects us have a huge impact on the course our interpersonal conflicts take and the outcomes. In an effort to thaw out a freeze response, it helps to deconstruct what is happening at the times when we freeze or the other person does so. The following questions facilitate such a process.

Try to imagine a conflict when you froze. How would you describe what freezing was like?

What specifically felt “frozen” for you?

What impact did your freezing have on the other person? How did freezing affect the specific conflict interaction?

With what would you want to replace freezing in the context of this conflict? What would be different about the interaction if that occurred?

If you do not want to thaw out, why is that so?

How do you describe what you have observed when the other person in a conflict with you freezes? What is the impact on you at these times?

How do you suppose you might help the other person in a conflict interaction to thaw out, if you want or wanted to? What difference might that make?

Generally, what positive outcomes come from freezing? What not so positive ones?

Generally, when you have reacted to being provoked in other conflict interactions—without freezing—what was different in that situation or those situations? What did you do differently? What different outcomes resulted?

What learning might you apply from your previous experiences (your answer to the question above) in the future? What else do you think it would take for you to thaw out, if you wanted to, when you freeze in response to a conflict?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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