Waking The Tiger - Healing Trauma. The Innate Capacity To Transform Overwhelming Experiences. Peter Levine Ph.D. with Ann Frederick. 1997
Peter Levine believes that each of us has a great capacity to heal ourselves with support of family, friends and counselling. In his book Waking the Tiger, Levine offers a hopeful vision of trauma recovery.
He explains how old cultures that use rituals and shamans to heal trauma may use primitive and superstitious practices, “but they have one important advantage – they address the problem directly… most modern cultures, including ours, fall victim to the prevailing attitude that strength means endurance; that it is somehow heroic to be able to carry on regardless of the severity of our symptoms…(ignoring the gentle urges to acknowledge and heal the pain).”
When ignored …”the traumatic effects will grow steadily more severe, firmly entrenched, and chronic… frozen in our nervous systems like indestructible time bombs… real heroism comes from having the courage to openly acknowledge one’s experiences, not from suppressing or denying them.” (p62-63)
Levine describes a series of exercises that can be tried at home inviting the reader to develop self awareness and recover sensations by developing an understanding of felt sense which is the foundation of somatic experiencing therapies. These easy activities are excellent for family and supporters of survivors.
Later chapters discuss the human instinctual healing forces that are shared with our primitive past stating that “nature has not forgotten us, we have forgotten it. A traumatised person’s nervous system is not damaged; it is frozen…rediscovering the felt sense will bring warmth and vitality to our experiences.” (p86)
In addition the book discuss the human response to threat, the unified defense system - fight, flee or freeze. Freezing being the more common response for children experiencing trauma and abuse – Levine discusses the cumulative effects of freezing. This helps explain how many survivors will sometimes live with unresolved trauma until their middle or older adult years at which time they may be triggered into an overwhelming response that brings all of the past trauma experiences into the foreground, requiring immediate attention and treatment.
In this book Peter Levine explains: “Somatic Experiencing is a gentle step-by-step approach to renegotiation of trauma. Using the felt sense… it is akin to slowly peeling the layers of skin off an onion, carefully revealing the traumatized inner core.” Levine acknowledges that this process is very slow and can run over many years. He recommends to seek support with a counsellor trained in somatic therapy. The process is not explained in the book however many counsellors in Australia have trained in this area. Some can be accessed by calling the Blue Knot Helpline and asking the counsellor for their details.
Levine goes on to describe and explain many of the very common symptoms of complex trauma - hyperarousal, dissociation, and helplessness. He provides a series of easy exercises that explore these symptoms so that everyone can get a sense of what they feel like. Later he discusses the larger list of possible symptoms and how they affect physical and mental states.
This book is recommended reading for many callers to the Blue Knot Helpline and anyone who wants to explore the premise that trauma is part of a natural physiological process. Levine normalises the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal.
Waking the Tiger is full of interesting information, case studies, stories and reflections.
Blue Knot Foundation makes every effort to provide readers of its website and newsletters with information which is accurate and helpful. It is not however a substitute for counselling or professional advice. While all attempts have been made to verify all information provided, Blue Knot Foundation cannot guarantee and does not assume any responsibility for currency, errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the information provided.