Do you ever go along even when you feel uncomfortable? In my experience, compliance is a form of freeze with some fawning to someone perceived as more powerful.
This could be in a situation of feeling peer pressure. We do not want to stand out. We want to fit in with family and society, to be “nice”, and to not make waves. This dynamic is common with bullies. We don’t want to become their target so we comply and go along.
We don’t send back food that is improperly cooked or not what we ordered.
We tolerate Uncle Frank’s too tight hug.
We cave to a salesperson’s pressure even though we do not want what they are selling.
We settle for a career or a marriage we are not interested in because it makes a parent happy and proud.
We don’t want to disappoint our date so we give in to sex even though we do not feel sexual desire at the time. This happens in long term relationships too.
Filling other people’s needs and helping them feel better seems more important than the cost of betraying ourselves. Depending on our motives and how much personal power and agency we feel in a relationship, going along might be kindness and a healthy give-and-take in a mutual relationship, or it may be compliance.
We can’t find the words to say no and find ourselves agreeing to something we’re not really interested in. We don’t say what we mean. We play it safe. We are more vulnerable to this when we are tired, stressed or dissociated. We might then turn on ourselves, shaming ourselves for our weakness.
When we are more deeply in freeze, we might not even consider that we have needs of our own. We can go along with someone else’s agenda for a long time, feeling more and more estranged from ourselves and out of alignment.
People can go into an extreme form of freeze in response to an extreme threat. The Stockholm Syndrome describes hostages who form a psychological alliance with their abductors in an attempt to stay alive. Hostages cease to perceive their captor as a threat when they hold the same values as the aggressor and often later refuse to testify against them. The FBI estimates this happens to about eight percent of hostages.
In 1974, heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped at age 19 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). She participated in criminal activity with her captors during the nineteen months before she was captured by the FBI. During her trial she testified she had been raped and threatened with death by the SLA and that “she accommodated her thoughts to coincide with theirs”. She was found guilty, sentenced to 35 years but in 1979 had her sentence commuted by President Carter and was later pardoned by Bill Clinton. There is still controversy over whether she was a hostage with Stockholm Syndrome or a criminal.
What do you do when you wake up and realize you’ve been in compliance?
Ten years ago I saw with stark clarity that my life was completely out of alignment with my own values and interests. I was living someone else’s idea of my life.
I left that behind and began to inhabit my own life. I healed trauma and developed courage to be authentic and real. Every day I am grateful to have come alive and for the passion I feel now for my life. This is my life and I get to decide.