*Trauma Recovery – notes on Waking the Tiger


Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma:  The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences

By Peter A. Levine with Ann Frederick


North Atlantic Books

P.O. Box 12327

Berkeley, CA   94712


Waking the Tiger – Healing is sponsored by the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a nonprofit educational corporation whose goals are to develop an educational and crosscultural perspective linking various scientific, social, and artistic fields; to nurture a holistic view of arts, sciences, humanities, and healing; and to publish and distribute literature on the relationship of mind, body, and nature.”


from the back of the book:

Further Information

“For further information about books in progress including a Trauma “Workbook,” one on childhood trauma and one geared for professionals, literature, public lectures, or professional training programs write:

Foundation for Human Enrichment

A non-profit organization

P.O. Box 1872

Lyons, CO  80540

Phone: (303) 823-9524

Fax: (303) 823-9250

Email: ergosl@earthlink.net

Web Site:  www.traumahealing.com


This appears to be perhaps THE BOOK that I would recommend regarding the healing of trauma.

My main concern being does it address people whose trauma originated at the time of their birth, and how traumatic interactions with early caregivers changed the way their brain developed?

Any time such a person encounters a phrase like “return you to your previous self” such a person will have an inner reaction that is a red alert STOP reaction.  We all know instinctively that we are in a “different boat.”  We need that boat recognized and named.  Otherwise, we are always on the losing end of every approach we try to take to healing.  Our healing is of a different nature.  We cannot be restored to a pretrauma self because there never was a time that the trauma was not there.  If we have a self, the trauma has been built right into our brain.  We cannot return back to anything that was well and whole.  We, in effect, have to start over from the beginning.

My book has to show this and not tell it.


All these alterations can probably be tracked back to the flooding of an infant’s brain with toxic stress chemicals like cortisol that alter how the brain not only functions, but how it continues its line of development, starting with alterations through disturbances to the mitochondrial DNA and the manifestation of phenotypes.

These changes create a situation for us where the trauma does not happen to the body, it happens IN the body and is formed right into it.


I am looking for a place to channel income from the sale of my book so that it can fertilize the growing seeds of healing trauma in the best way possible.

The Foundation for Human Enrichment might be such a place.


The disconnection between body and soul is one of the most important effects of trauma.  (Levine/WT/63)”


When child abuse begins at birth, when a newborn infant is born into a world of peritrauma, the soul cannot “grow down into” the body, cannot grow down into the world, as James Hillman puts it.

The world is too threatening of a place.  The WAY to do this growing is neither shown to the child nor allowed.  It is not enabled to do this.

The resulting separation between the soul of the person and the world of the body and the body of the world creates a situation where all kinds of serious problems ensue.

Unresolved trauma is passed down through the generations.  It is at the root of nearly all of our parenting difficulties and is therefore at the root of nearly all of our “mental illnesses” and the troubles they create in individual lives and in our society and in our world.  We have to go back to this beginning if we want to understand what happened, what continues to happen, how we can prevent most of our difficulties, and how we can heal the ones that have already occurred.

It is about “stopping the bullet.”  We can catch that bullet in mid-air.  We can disarm the bombs.  We can render trauma harmless by its healing in our individual lives, and in our societies.  But unless we are very very good at bullet stopping, we cannot accomplish this task with pretend thinking, with denial, with ignorance, with our heads in the sand.


“Trauma resolved is a great gift, returning us to the natural world of ebb and flow, harmony, love, and compassion.  Having spent the last twenty-five years working with people who have been traumatized in almost every conceivable fashion, I believe that we humans have the innate capacity to heal not only ourselves, but our world, from the debilitating effects of trauma.  (Levine/WT/21)”

Again, here I am confronted with the concept of RETURN.  For me, the only return possible would be to return to the wholeness and health that I had as a fetus within my mother’s womb.

I am most fortunate to at least have that, because my mother ingested no noxious substances while she carried me.  In addition, her own mental and emotional state, reflected in her body chemistry that she fed to me while I was part and parcel of her physical body, was also benign.  Many infants do not have even that benefit, and it is to those who are working to unravel how healing and wholeness can be restored to THOSE infants and individuals that my heart truly stretches itself out to.

They are the truest of the wounded upon our beautiful planet.


“The healing of trauma depends upon the recognition of its symptoms.  Because traumatic symptoms are largely the result of primitive responses, they are often difficult to recognize.  People don’t need a definition of trauma; we need an experiential sense of how it feels.  (Levine/WT/24)”

“We can learn to (Levine/WT/25) identify a traumatic experience by exploring our own reactions.  It has a feel that is unmistakable once it is identified.  (Levine/WT/26)”

I am limiting the range of my discussion and my book to trauma that begins AT birth, and even that is limited in terms of my research capacities at the moment.  I hope to extend the range of my own understanding after this first book has been published.

But I would say from my own experience, that I never had a time post birth that felt “whole” so I have nothing to compare any aspect of my living experience of feelings with.  I have lived with this feeling of trauma from the beginnings of my life.  I did not have then, nor do I at this present moment, have any other frame or point of reference.  What feels like normal to me is in fact the feeling of trauma.

So how do I know what anything else might feel like?


“This is a theme present in traumatized people.  They are unable to overcome the anxiety of their experience.  They remain overwhelmed by the event, defeated and terrified.  Virtually imprisoned by their fear, they are unable to re-engage in life.  (Levine/WT/28)”

Here I am again, trying to find a way to heal from the traumas of my life, being hit over the head, or square in the face, with a brick thrown with g-force.  Of course I am unable to re-engage in life.  I was never able from the first hello to engage in life in the first place.

There is no return for me, or for those like me.  We have been stuck here with the cursed – no forward, no backward, no hope at all.

And when we look for this hope, we get hit with the brick – that nobody even knows are being thrown.  And certainly they cannot be thrown by the most well intentioned!  Or can they?  Well, as one sitting here with a brick in the face, I can assure you that they are being thrown – and do hit those of us who perhaps are in the most need of help.

There are some ethical issues here, and I am doing nothing more than trying to uncover them.

If one is going to remove honey from a bee hive, one dons a bee protection suit.  Do we have a brick protection suit to wear while we try to read these books that are well intentioned efforts to help us?


“Nancy….recalled a terrifying memory from her childhood.  When she was three years old she had been strapped to a table for a tonsillectomy.  The anesthesia was ether.  Unable to move, feeling suffocated (common reactions to ether), she had terrifying hallucinations.  This early experience had a deep impact on her….Nancy was threatened, overwhelmed, and as a result, had become physiologically stuck in the (Levine/WT/29) immobility response.  In other words, her body had literally resigned itself to a state where the act of escaping could not exist.  Along with this resignation came the pervasive loss of her real and vital self as well as loss of a secure and spontaneous personality.  (Levine/WT/30)”

“After the breakthrough that came in our initial visit, Nancy left my office feeling, in her words, “like she had herself again.”  (Levine/WT/30)”

Please note what I hope will become automatic for you – this woman had a secure and spontaneous personality before this traumatic event happened to her at three years of age.  She therefore had something to lose, and she lost it pervasively – her real and vital self.  She could have “herself again.”  I cannot, at least not yet.  I am going to have to find another way down to that river of life.  I am going to have to make that path because I can’t find one “ready made.”  And as I make it, I will share that effort with you.

Someone abused from birth does not EVER acquire, obtain or develop a “real and vital self.”  Believe me, this is a huge problem, duh!

Here again I am hit with yet another brick!  This wonderful book is booby trapped!  I am walking through land mines!  Now, seriously, how helpful is that?

I would come out of trying to work through my trauma with the help of this book feeling worse than when I started.  It would undermine my unbelievably fragile sense of any kind of self I might have at the start of this work.  This is a dangerous situation.  But, let me continue.

Oh, and before I forget, let me mention “dissociation” before the author gets to it.  I have known since the beginning of my personal research that there is “something wrong” with every description I have ever seen about dissociation during trauma by young children.  I can see that brick coming well before I get to it.  It is impossible to read any literature on trauma without that huge brick hitting us.  But that one doesn’t get thrown at us.  It is a pallet load of bricks we innocently walk under, until we get in exactly the right place during our search for healing, and the entire pallet of bricks is cut loose and down upon us the load tumbles.

If we weren’t so strong and determined to do the best that we can in this life of ours, this load would kill us.  And it probably does kill some.  Like taking the wrong dose of the wrong medication, the effects can be lethal.  Suicide?  A violent attack upon someone else?  I would not want the possibility of that legacy chasing me around after I write MY book!!


Now here might be the glimmer of a reference that might be helpful to ME in my condition:

Levine states [italics are his]:

I now know that it was not the dramatic emotional catharsis and reliving of her childhood tonsillectomy that was catalytic in her recover, but the discharge of energy she expe- (Levine/WT/30) rienced when she flowed out of her passive, frozen immobility response into an active, successful escapeThe image of the tiger awoke her instinctual, responsive self.  The other profound insight that I gleaned from Nancy’s experience was that the resources that enable a person to succeed in the face of a threat can be used for healing.  This is true not just at the time of the experience, but even years after the event.  (Levine/WT/31)”

Research [Beebe] is indicating that human’s have adaptive abilities that they use to respond to and repair “disruptions” even while they are still a tiny fetus in their mother’s womb.  Now, this “instinctual, responsive self,” if we look back far enough – and assume as in my case that there was no prenatal traumas that interefered even with THIS ability that I had, this instinctual and responsive self IS a self that I can get back.

THIS statement, this piece of information from this author, feels like the truth.  It feels accurate.  THIS piece is NOT a brick!

Are you following me, and beginning to see the difference – and why being this specific and accurate is necessary?


“What we need to do to be freed from our symptoms and fears is to arouse our deep physiological resources and consciously utilize them.  If we remain ignorant of our power to change the course of our instinctual response in a proactive rather than reactive way, we will continue being imprisoned and in pain.  (Levine/WT/31)”

To be accurate, as the brain expert Damasio would say, pain is not a feeling.  It a state of the physical organism that happens when there is an actual threat to body tissue.  What we experience as relatively conscious humans is SUFFERING.  It is the suffering that I wish to end.

And I do agree with Levine’s  statement here.  But the rest of the story is that there is nothing short of a fetus for me to go back to, because once I was born, the development of my entire nervous system, brain part included, was in response to trauma.  That response was instinctual and reactive, but it built itself so into my body, brain, nervous system, that there is nothing for me to do but to try to become completely conscious of all these aspects of myself – far more than what any other person would have to do that did not suffer from abuse from birth.

This is a task that would seem past possible.  I am just telling you that it is a different quality of work, a different intensity, requires all the dedication we can muster – but, a miracle is as a miracle does!


“Bob Barklay minimized the traumatic impact of his experience by remaining engaged in the task of freeing himself and the other children from the underground vault.  The focused energy he expended in doing so is the key to why he was less traumatized than the other children.  (Levine/WT/31)”

He used active coping skills – which comes from and is connected to the competency aspect of fight, freeze, flee – anger, despair and fear.  He used the anger one.

I can focus energy.  I remained engaged in life as a child. I expended focused energy – but I could not often take my soul with me in these efforts, I don’t think, until the homestead came into my life.

I could use active coping in part because of my innate intelligence.  Also because my family was active, and even though I was forced to remain in isolation during huge extended periods, I could hear and I could listen – I could listen out into the world, down into the world.  That offset the effects of neglect – as did the horrific physical abuse and over stimulation itself.

Perhaps the isolation and “quiet” in between my mother’s rage attacks were actually helpful in that way because they could have enabled and allowed me to “process” in some way, or dissipate the intensity of those emotional and physical attacks so that I could in some way almost spread them out within my brain and my body, like one would spread a lump of peanut butter over the surface of a slice of bread.  Perhaps this helped me not to be so overwhelmed as things averaged themselves out.  The over stimulation was able to cover some of the huge emptiness of the isolations.  Kind of like putting away a huge load of groceries.  My brain found places to put the information from that stimulation.  And because I had no reference points from birth, no points of comparison, my growing brain really didn’t know what was good and what was bad.  I did not have the after effect or residue of feelings from the physical experience of her interactions with me.  [like the locked-in patients, I could experience calm between the storms – probably when my soul and I were one].

Over a time span of 18 years of developmental stages gone awry, however, a great deal of residue no doubt did accumulate.


“Although we rarely die, humans suffer when we are unable to discharge the energy that is locked in by the freezing response….Those who are able to discharge that energy will be restored.  Rather than moving through the freezing response, as animals do routinely, humans often begin a downward spiral characterized by an increasingly debilitating constellation of symptoms.  To move through trauma we need quietness, safety, and (Levine/WT/35) protection….We need support from friends and relatives, as well as from nature.   With this support and connection, we can begin to trust and honor the natural process that will bring us to completion and wholeness, and eventually peace.  (Levine/WT/36)”

Now this is a new thought for me – as part of the abuse cycle, sooner or later during the abuse cycle, even if it was one that lasted days or weeks, there would be a time when my mother had exhausted herself in abusing me.  After the physical pain lessened from whatever injuries she had inflicted upon the tissues of my bodies, no doubt there were some actual physical chemicals that would have been released into my blood stream to calm and heal me.

Also, because like the locked-in victims, there was not the normal connection between the experience of pain in my body, the experience of primitive emotions such as fear – that had not evolved into differentiated feelings anyway – that would have contributed to a sense of calm that I would eventually have felt.  Like a dog trained to feel safe and secure in a dog crate, the corners or the bed was a “safe enough” place for me.  It had to be, it’s all that I had.  At least I could listen most of the time at least to hear when she was coming back so that I could be prepared.  Unless she attacked me when I was in a dead sleep, which was not unusual.

But during these times after the beatings, because they began at birth and because I did had not developed the additional complication of consciousness and its extension of suffering, I could rest.  My body could rest.  I suspect that it did dissipate energy during these times rather than store it all up.  It HAD to have done that.  Even though the other day when I felt that fatigue and exhaustion from having focused for so many hours at work – and realized that body feeling was so familiar – I suppose the older I got the more risk there was for maintaining that level of tension in my body.

But as a young child, I would not have held onto it.  The wisdom of my body would not have held onto it.

But any “completion and wholeness, and eventually peace” that I felt was nothing more than a part of a continual 18 year long cycle.  My point being, at least it was a cycle that I responded to physiologically so that I could rest, and repair, renew, and get ready for the next one.  Or I wouldn’t BE right now, I would be dead.

In other words, when trauma begins at birth, the mind does not develop with an inclusion policy of “block the process” of physiological trauma resolution, then.  My mind had not been prepared through any other kind of “ordinary” experiences to think that what happened to me wasn’t in any way not normal.  My mind, therefore, did not block my body’s own response cycle to my mother’s abuse cycle.  Whatever unpredictable respite I had from her attacks I could use to restore my body (not my self because I did not have on in anything like an ordinary sense) in preparation for the next attack – because there always was one.

And even though I had nobody to assist me in these “recovery” bouts, I did have my soul, though I did not consciously know that, either.  But I certainly did not have a mental self for company.  In a primary way, then, not having a mental self meant that I did not interfere with a natural physiological process – because I could not.

But even if my “system was idle” during the forced isolations in corners, etc., it did mean that I was deprived of what I needed – moving around actively and playfully in the world.  That created its own set of problems.


“…gentle beads of warm (Levine/WT/36) sweat often accompany the resolution and healing of trauma.  In moving through apprehensive chills to mounting excitement and waves of moist tingling warmth, the body, with its innate capacity to heal, melts the iceberg created by deeply frozen trauma.  Anxiety and despair can become a creative wellspring when we allow ourselves to experience bodily sensations, such as trembling, that stem from traumatic symptoms.  (Levine/WT/37)”

Well, maybe because my body did not freeze the traumas but dissipated them in a continually reoccurring cycle, I did not experience these sensations.

But fear as the place that the old responses are not working, and despair as the place where we learn new ones – interesting.  They are part of a creative cycle.

I know that I was terrified of my mother.  But after she had spent however much time exhausting herself on my body, and I had used up incredible resources of focused attention and energy surviving the beatings and avoiding being killed – those were not the times when I was able or allowed to be creative!  And there was no way to come up with anything that would have helped me to prevent or cope better with anything that happened to me.


“Released from the debilitating effects that plague so many trauma sufferers, they were both able to move on with their lives….I  learned that the healing process was more effective it it was less dramatic occurring more gradually.  The most important lesion I have gleaned is that we all have the innate capacity to heal our traumas.  (Levine/WT/32)”

Innate capacity to heal our traumas is good.  I will buy that.  No brick here, except to realize a huge fact – to move on with our lives means to go back and start in some fundamental ways at the moment of our birth, or even before that!  It is the innateness that is hopeful – which is something that has been with us since our physical conception – hopefully – even then we must consider that cortisol and the stress reactions in the body alter how “innate” manifests if it is attached to our genetic genotype – which stress alters in its manifestation as our phenotypes.

How much of what was supposed to be our genetic potential was removed to us through the trauma?


“Until we understand that traumatic symptoms are physiological as well as psychological, we will be woefully inadequate in our attempts to heal them.  The heart of the matter lies in being ale to recognize that trauma represents animal instincts gone awry.  When harnessed, these instincts can be used by the conscious mind to transform traumatic symptoms into a state of well-being.  (Levine/WT/32)”

Well, let’s see.  Yes, we have suffered physiological alterations that manifest themselves not only in our bodies, our brains as aspects of our body, and in our minds.  But we have what nature gave us as a result – a brain, nervous system, body and mind that is different – that evolved differently along an “unsafe world” evolutionary track.  For us, it is far far more than animal instincts gone awry.  Our trauma happened to us from the time when we were barely even animals, so defenseless and underdeveloped were we.

I don’t quite buy the animal instincts gone awry part for us.  Our animal instincts took a different course – a completely different pathway to the river.


“The roots of trauma lie in our instinctual physiologies.  As a result, it is through our bodies, as well as our minds, that we discover the key to its healing.  Each of us must find those roots, realizing that we have a choice – perhaps one of the greatest in our lives.  The healing of trauma is a natural process that can be accessed through an inner awareness of the body.  It does not require years of psychological therapy, or that memories be repeatedly dredge up and expunged from the unconscious.  We will see that the endless search for and retrieval of so-called “traumatic memories” can often interfere with the organisms [sic no hyphen] innate wisdom to heal.  (Levine/WT/34)”

Often the facts of the memories were fried in their cells, aborted in the first place, but the emotional memories are still there in our bodies.

Infant trauma – the roots are in the brain we developed – this different brain – it is very possible for us that the healing is not only in our bodies, brains and minds – but the healing must incorporate our souls –

How deep and comprehensive can our inner awareness of our body really be in our case?  Don’t tell me I have the same kind of brain and body that you do.  That is a brick in the head.  I do not.

I am not saying the solution is in dredging up traumatic memories – why say that with such spite and sarcasm, anyway?  Everything our body has within it, including our memories known or not known, is precious.  This author’s attitude gives me a yellow flag right here – a sense of warning that something is not right in Denmark.


“My observations of scores of traumatized people has led me to conclude that post-traumatic symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear.  Reactions to life-threatening situations remain symptomatic until they are completed.  (Levine/WT/34)”

The fear reaction is the one where we know that no active coping skill we possess is will work in this situation.  It is not quite the stage where we are ready to learn another one yet, either.  We are suspended right there:  “Is there a chance that what I know will work?  Or not?  Do I need to move into despair to learn a new one?”  And the cycle completes.

But in our case, the energy probably found another way around this obstacle.  What our organism did with the energy of the trauma is something we need to look closely at the whole picture of who we are to determine – not just the “body.”  I don’t believe we could have continued to survive from traumas that started at birth if the main part of our life force had not found another way over the damn, around it, under it.  Our organism created an alternative brain, an alternative nervous system.  It had to.  We were poised on that brink, and that instant in our development, where there was no choice.

Because most infant traumas are relationship traumas, and create insecure attachment styles or patterns, and because most attachment experts would name our form of attachment disorder the “disorganized – disoriented” type, I would suggest that we came up with an entirely different form and structure of organization to orient ourselves in a life-threatening world.  And not just any old life threatening world – a world that threatened the life of a newborn helpless dependent purely innocent newborn.  Now THAT is about the worst kind of a world that a human being can be born into.

And because our adrenal systems are 2 ½ times larger as infants in proportion to our thyroid systems – because we are the ultimate prey – it is to that system that we have to pay particular and very close attention to if we truly and honestly want to see what a human being is capable of doing in order to continue to survive.  To “go on being” as the experts call it.


“These symptoms will not go away until the responses are discharged and completed.  Energy held in immobility can be transformed, as we have seen in the cases of Bob Barklay and Nancy….Both of these people succeeded in a bio- (Levine/WT/34) logical mobilization and discharge of survival energy that allowed them to return to full vitality.  (Levine/WT/35)”

Did you see that brick coming this time?  No, we will NOT “return to full vitality,” at least not in any way suggested here.  Any vitality that we are going to access is our very life force itself – and I don’t think it is “stuck” anywhere.  I think it found another way through.  Whatever this “full vitality” is supposed to be, we can’t return to it, or be allowed to return to it in the same way as ordinary people can.

This all starts to sound like a sales pitch for something we can never buy and can never own.

I once knew a precious woman who one time rolled over in a dead sleep and smothered her newborn daughter.  There’s no returning “to full vitality” for that baby girl, now, is there?

But I am obviously different from her:  I am still here.  Therefore, my life force has never left me.  I doubt that even anything like a significant portion of it was ever held up by trauma.  There was too much trauma.  I wouldn’t have had enough life force left to get even to first base.  And here I am going on 56.



[italics are Levine’s]

In his exercise on page 63 he describes a ten minute pulsing shower routine which includes the following under his subheading “Let Us Begin – Calling the Spirit Back to the Body”

“Hold the backs of your hands to the shower head; then the palms and wrists; then both sides of your face, shoulders, underarms, etc.  Be sure to include every part of your body:  head, forehead, neck, chest, back, legs, pelvis, hips, thighs, ankles, and feet.  Pay attention to the sensation in each area, even if it feels blank, numb, or painful.  While you are doing this, say “this is my head, neck,” etc. “I welcome you back.” (Levine/WT/63)”

We find here the crucial and core seed of the issue I am describing.  There is no welcoming ourselves BACK.  When the abuse begins prenatally, and from birth, where exactly is that point of welcoming ourselves BACK into our bodies, back into the world?

We never got to come here in the first place.


“Trauma evokes a biological response that needs to remain fluid and adaptive, not stuck and maladaptive.  A maladaptive response is not necessarily a disease, but a dis-ease – a discomfort that can range from mild uneasiness to downright debilitation.  The potential for (Levine/WT/37) fluidity still exists in maladaptation and must be tapped for the restoration of ease and full functioning.  If these trapped energies are not allowed to move, and trauma becomes chronic, it can take a great deal of time and/or energy to restore the person to equilibrium and health.  (Levine/WT/38)”

Well, here we are again dodging bricks.  For us, there is, again, no restoration of ease and full functioning, nor is there “restore the person to equilibrium and health.”

I think “and trauma becomes chronic” would be better said “the aftermath of the trauma, traumatic reactions become chronic.”

We know what chronic trauma is.  It is peritrauma, every minute of every day from birth onward.

I do not consider a response to trauma to be maladaptive, but the process, as author is suggesting, can be interfered with, and that interference with the process is what is maladaptive.

I did not have a mind or a self to act to interrupt my trauma response.  In addition, the altered brain that I did get out of this was also not maladaptive per se – it was perfectly adapted to the doomsday world that built it.  It is just not adaptive to this supposedly safe world I left home to join!


“To complete its biological and meaningful course of action, the organism requires the spontaneous shaking and trembling that we see throughout the animal world.  (Levine/WT/38)”

No problem with that one.  I did plenty of shaking and trembling!  Never thought of it as healing, though!


“Whether the restorative response is suppressed by drugs, held in frozen fear, or controlled by sheer acts of will, the innate capacity for self-regulation becomes derailed.  (Levine/WT/38)”

Beebe talks about this innate capacity for self-regulation [repair disruption response] that is present in a fetus!  How did I carry that onward through the horror of what faced me after birth?  Did it go away, or change itself?  Is it a constant?

Emotional self-regulation is something the brain builds into itself through interaction with its environment.  But is even that based on a foundational innate capacity, then?


“We must realize that it is neither necessary nor possible to change past events.  Old trauma symptoms are examples of bound-up energy and lost lessons.  The past doesn’t matter when we learn how to be present; every moment becomes new and creative.  We have only to heal our present symptoms and proceed.  A healing moment ripples forward and back, out and about.  (Levine/WT/39)”

This might be true for ordinary people with adequate brain-building from birth onward, but it is a dangerous statement for those of us who have been through the worst of the worst.  It is a huge brick in the face, if not another one of those falling brick pallets on the head.

The past does matter to everyone.  We use everything we have ever experienced every moment of our lives.  The past matters, the present matters, the future matters.

And for those of us with changed brains, we have to go back “there” to find out who and what we are right “here.”  This is not a matter of learning “how to be present.” It is about learning “how we are present,” right now.  We brought ourselves with us, intact, with every effect of every traumatic experience that was done to us – and for us, they changed us.  As I have been showing you – we have nothing to return to!  No previous state of “better than we are now.”  Who and what we are NOW is the best we have EVER BEEN because it is ALL that we have ever been.


“These techniques can be used with at-risk children, a spouse, or friends to create a positive support network.  Of course, it must be realized that some people have been traumatized to the degree that they may require professional help, including appropriate medication, to assist them in their recovery.  There is no shame or inadequacy in seeking that support.  (Levine/WT/39)”

I believe we need to distinguish people whose traumas originated at birth from those whose brains developed normally under adequate parenting conditions.  It makes all the difference in the world.

For infant abuse survivors, we are tired of the brick to the head.  We are included in most of those who DO need additional help.  What trauma did to us is pervasive and massive, fundamental and pivotal.  This includes children at-risk as most of them have probably formed a different brain by now, anyway, due to the conditions of abuse they have already suffered.

We have to be careful.


“Dissociation is one of the most classic and subtle symptoms of trauma.  It is also one of the most mysterious.  The mechanism through which it occurs is less easily explained than the experience of it or the role it plays.  In trauma, dissociation seems to be a favored means of enabling a person to endure experiences that are at the moment beyond endurance – like being attacked by a lion, a rapist, an oncoming car, or a surgeon’s knife.  Dissociation can become chronic and evolve into more complex symptoms when the hyperaroused energy is not discharged.  (Levine/WT/138)”

Schore would say that dissociation occurs at the instant the hyperarousal is switched to hypoarousal.

“Individuals who have been repeatedly traumatized as young children often adopt dissociation as a preferred mode of being in the world.  They dissociate readily and habitually without being aware of it.  Even individuals who do not dissociate habitually will dissociate when they become aroused or when they begin to access uncomfortable traumatic images or sensations.  In either case, dissociation serves a valuable role in helping to keep the undischarged energy of hyperarousal disconnected from the fullness of our experience.  At the same time, dissociation interrupts the continuity of the felt sense, and in so doing, prevents traumatized people from (Levine/WT/138) working effectively on resolving their traumatic symptoms.  The point here is not to eliminate dissociation, but to increase one’s awareness of it.  (Levine/WT/139)”

I did not develop a felt sense, therefore I did not dissociate from it!  This is a crucial sense.  It is not that I dissociated from the traumatic experiences when they happened, but the “me” that experienced them was not anything like an “ordinary” child, either.

The world I lived in had different rules.  I call this “trauma rules,” because in such a traumatic environment such as mine was, trauma did rule – and that was, I believe, because unresolved trauma ruled my mother.  Trauma ruled her, and she ruled my world.


“The forces underlying the immobility response and the traumatic emotions of terror [coping skills not working], rage [I will use the skills I know and have as long as possible], and helplessness [despair is the place to learn the new ones] are ultimately biological energies.  How we access and integrate this energy is what determines whether we will continue to be frozen and overwhelmed, or whether we will move through it and thaw.  (Levine/WT/111)”

“The drive to complete the freezing response remains active no matter how long it has been in place.  When we learn how to harness it, the power of this drive becomes our greatest ally in working through the symptoms of trauma.  The drive is persistent.  (Levine/WT/111)”


“Most animals in the course of feeding or mating exhibit aggressive behaviors….Animals routinely kill and eat members of other species.  When it comes to members of their own species, Nature seems to have drawn a line that ani- (Levine/WT/222) mals rarely cross.  There are some exceptions, but generally speaking, members of the same species rarely kill or even seriously injure one another.  In spite of the strong evolutionary imperative that drives animal aggression, most wild creatures have taboos about killing their own kind.  (Levine/WT/223)”

I think the “different brain” that was made in the doomsday world sees this differently…


“Healthy babies are born with a complex array of behaviors, feelings, and perceptions.  These elements are designed to facilitate exploration and boding and eventually healthy social behaviors.  When infants are born into a life of stress and trauma, these life-promoting behaviors are interfered with.  Instead of exploration and bonding, these babies are inhibited and exhibit fearful and withdrawn behaviors.  As young children and adults, they will be less social and more inclined to violence.  Healthy exploration and bonding seem to be antidotes that mitigate against violence and disorder.  (Levine/WT/227)”


“…stimulating rhythmical movement”  correlates with “low incidence of violence.  (Levine/WT/228)”

“critical period of infancy” for this

“The movement, rhythm, and singing strengthen the neurological patterns that produce peaceful alertness and receptivity.  (Levine/WT/229)”


I note that Levine makes ample use of visualizing techniques – note the warning by Jon Allen of the dangers of doing those with people with infant abuse issues…..

4 thoughts on “*Trauma Recovery – notes on Waking the Tiger

  1. I read this book recently, and found it incredibly helpful in healing from a PTSD type disorder that left some ‘trapped’ bodily energies that needed to be cleared. If I am not mistaken it is based on ‘Gendelin Theory’, but perhaps I’m wrong there.My starting point had been a beginner’s interest in quantum physics, and vibrational healing energies, as I had a physical illness at the time. It started me down the path of exploring energy body stuff too, and I found one of Valerie Hunt’s books free online too, and devoured that. She goes into chakras, and I’ve kinda come full circle, since I’ve become interested in Attachment theory as it relates to PTSD by re-reading Winnicott. I enjoyed your article very much, and would love to re-press it (ha ha, not in the Freudian sense) if you wouldn’t mind.

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