I have come to the conclusion that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening""a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation. I have little doubt that as individuals, families, communities, and even nations, we have the capacity to learn how to heal and prevent much of the damage done by trauma. In so doing, we will significantly increase our ability to achieve both our individual and collective dreams.
Peter A. Levine
conclusion quoteshuman quotesbeings quotesborn quotesinnate quotescapacity quotestriumph quotestrauma quotestrauma quotescurable quoteshealing quotesprocess quotescatalyst quotesprofound quotesawakeninga quotesportal quotesopening quotesemotional quotesgenuine quotesspiritual quotestransformation quotesdoubt quotesindividuals quotesfamilies quotescommunities quotesnations quoteslearn quotesheal quotesprevent quotesdamage quotessignificantly quotesincrease quotesability quotesachieve quotesindividual quotescollective quotesdreams quotes
The door suddenly jerks open. A wideeyed teenager bursts out. She stares at me in dazed horror. In a strange way, I both know and don't know what has just happened. As the fragments begin to converge, they convey a horrible reality: I must have been hit by this car as I entered the crosswalk. In confused disbelief, I sink back into a hazy twilight. I find that I am unable to think clearly or to will myself awake from this nightmare. A man rushes to my side and drops to his knees. He announces himself as an off-duty paramedic. When I try to see where the voice is coming from, he sternly orders, 'Don't move your head.' The contradiction between his sharp command and what my body naturally wants-to turn toward his voice-frightens and stuns me into a sort of paralysis. My awareness strangely splits, and I experience an uncanny 'dislocation.' It's as if I'm floating above my body, looking down on the unfolding scene. I am snapped back when he roughly grabs my wrist and takes my pulse. He then shifts his position, directly above me. Awkwardly, he grasps my head with both of his hands, trapping it and keeping it from moving. His abrupt actions and the stinging ring of his command panic me; they immobilize me further. Dread seeps into my dazed, foggy consciousness: Maybe I have a broken neck, I think. I have a compelling impulse to find someone else to focus on. Simply, I need to have someone's comforting gaze, a lifeline to hold onto. But I'm too terrified to move and feel helplessly frozen.
Peter A. Levine
door quotessuddenly quotesjerks quotesopen quoteswideeyed quotesteenager quotesbursts quotesstares quotesdazed quoteshorror quotesstrange quoteshappened quotesfragments quotesbegin quotesconverge quotesconvey quoteshorrible quotesreality quoteshit quotescar quotesentered quotescrosswalk quotesconfused quotesdisbelief quotessink quotesback quoteshazy quotestwilight quotesfind quotesunable quotesawake quotesnightmare quotesman quotesrushes quotesside quotesdrops quotesknees quotesannounces quotesoffduty quotesparamedic quotesvoice quotescoming quotessternly quotesorders quotesdont quotesmove quoteshead quotescontradiction quotessharp quotescommand quotesbody quotesnaturally quoteswantsto quotesturn quotesvoicefrightens quotesstuns quotessort quotesparalysis quotesawareness quotesstrangely quotessplits quotesexperience quotesuncanny quotesdislocation quotesfloating quotesbody quotesunfolding quotesscene quotessnapped quotesroughly quotesgrabs quoteswrist quotestakes quotespulse quotesshifts quotesposition quotesdirectly quotesawkwardly quotesgrasps quoteshead quoteshands quotestrapping quoteskeeping quotesmoving quotesabrupt quotesactions quotesstinging quotesring quotespanic quotesimmobilize quotesdread quotesseeps quotesdazed quotesfoggy quotesconsciousness quotesbroken quotesneck quotescompelling quotesimpulse quotesfocus quotessimply quotessomeones quotescomforting quotesgaze quoteslifeline quoteshold quotesterrified quotesfeel quoteshelplessly quotesfrozen quotes
As I feel less overwhelmed, my fear softens and begins to subside. I feel a flicker of hope, then a rolling wave of fiery rage. My body continues to shake and tremble. It is alternately icy cold and feverishly hot. A burning red fury erupts from deep within my belly: How could that stupid kid hit me in a crosswalk? Wasn't she paying attention? Damn her! A blast of shrill sirens and flashing red lights block out everything. My belly tightens, and my eyes again reach to find the woman's kind gaze. We squeeze hands, and the knot in my gut loosens. I hear my shirt ripping. I am startled and again jump to the vantage of an observer hovering above my sprawling body. I watch uniformed strangers methodically attach electrodes to my chest. The Good Samaritan paramedic reports to someone that my pulse was 170. I hear my shirt ripping even more. I see the emergency team slip a collar onto my neck and then cautiously slide me onto a board. While they strap me down, I hear some garbled radio communication. The paramedics are requesting a full trauma team. Alarm jolts me. I ask to be taken to the nearest hospital only a mile away, but they tell me that my injuries may require the major trauma center in La Jolla, some thirty miles farther. My heart sinks.
Peter A. Levine
feel quotesoverwhelmed quotesfear quotessoftens quotesbegins quotessubside quotesflicker quoteshope quotesrolling quoteswave quotesfiery quotesrage quotesbody quotescontinues quotesshake quotestremble quotesalternately quotesicy quotescold quotesfeverishly quoteshot quotesburning quotesred quotesfury quoteserupts quotesdeep quotesbelly quotesstupid quoteskid quoteshit quotescrosswalk quotespaying quotesattention quotesdamn quotesblast quotesshrill quotessirens quotesflashing quoteslights quotesblock quotesbelly quotestightens quoteseyes quotesreach quotesfind quoteswomans quoteskind quotesgaze quotessqueeze quoteshands quotesknot quotesgut quotesloosens quoteshear quotesshirt quotesripping quotesstartled quotesjump quotesvantage quotesobserver quoteshovering quotessprawling quotesbody quoteswatch quotesuniformed quotesstrangers quotesmethodically quotesattach quoteselectrodes quoteschest quotesgood quotessamaritan quotesparamedic quotesreports quotespulse quotes170 quotesripping quotesemergency quotesteam quotesslip quotescollar quotesneck quotescautiously quotesslide quotesboard quotesstrap quotesgarbled quotesradio quotescommunication quotesparamedics quotesrequesting quotesfull quotestrauma quotesteam quotesalarm quotesjolts quotesnearest quoteshospital quotesmile quotesinjuries quotesrequire quotesmajor quotescenter quotesla quotesjolla quotesthirty quotesmiles quotesfarther quotesheart quotessinks quotes
One of the paradoxical and transformative aspects of implicit traumatic memory is that once it is accessed in a resourced way (through the felt sense), it, by its very nature, changes. Out of the shattered fragments of her deeply injured psyche, Jody discovered and nurtured a nascent, emergent self. From the ashes of the frantically activated, hypervigilant, frozen, traumatized girl of twenty-five years ago, Jody began to reorient to a new, less threatening world. Gradually she shaped into a more fluid, resilient, woman, coming to terms with the felt capacity to fiercely defend herself when necessary, and to surrender in quiet ecstasy.
Peter A. Levine
paradoxical quotestransformative quotesaspects quotesimplicit quotestraumatic quotesmemory quotesaccessed quotesresourced quotesfelt quotessense quotesnature quotesshattered quotesfragments quotesdeeply quotesinjured quotespsyche quotesjody quotesdiscovered quotesnurtured quotesnascent quotesemergent quotesashes quotesfrantically quotesactivated quoteshypervigilant quotesfrozen quotestraumatized quotesgirl quotestwentyfive quotesyears quotesago quotesbegan quotesreorient quotesthreatening quotesworld quotesgradually quotesshaped quotesfluid quotesresilient quoteswoman quotescoming quotesterms quotescapacity quotesfiercely quotesdefend quotessurrender quotesquiet quotesecstasy quotes
In response to threat and injury, animals, including humans, execute biologically based, non-conscious action patterns that prepare them to meet the threat and defend themselves. The very structure of trauma, including activation, dissociation and freezing are based on the evolution of survival behaviors. When threatened or injured, all animals draw from a "library" of possible responses. We orient, dodge, duck, stiffen, brace, retract, fight, flee, freeze, collapse, etc. All of these coordinated responses are somatically based- they are things that the body does to protect and defend itself. It is when these orienting and defending responses are overwhelmed that we see trauma. The bodies of traumatized people portray "snapshots" of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. For example, when we prepare to fight or to flee, muscles throughout our entire body are tensed in specific patterns of high energy readiness. When we are unable to complete the appropriate actions, we fail to discharge the tremendous energy generated by our survival preparations. This energy becomes fixed in specific patterns of neuromuscular readiness. The person then stays in a state of acute and then chronic arousal and dysfunction in the central nervous system. Traumatized people are not suffering from a disease in the normal sense of the word- they have become stuck in an aroused state. It is difficult if not impossible to function normally under these circumstances.
Peter A. Levine
response quotesthreat quotesinjury quotesanimals quotesincluding quoteshumans quotesexecute quotesbiologically quotesbased quotesnonconscious quotesaction quotespatterns quotesprepare quotesmeet quotesdefend quotesstructure quotestrauma quotesactivation quotesdissociation quotesfreezing quotesbased quotesevolution quotessurvival quotesbehaviors quotesthreatened quotesinjured quotesanimals quotesdraw quoteslibrary quotesresponses quotesorient quotesdodge quotesduck quotesstiffen quotesbrace quotesretract quotesfight quotesflee quotesfreeze quotescollapse quotescoordinated quotesresponses quotessomatically quotesbased quotesthings quotesbody quotesprotect quotesorienting quotesdefending quotesoverwhelmed quotestrauma quotesbodies quotestraumatized quotespeople quotesportray quotessnapshots quotesunsuccessful quotesattempts quotesface quotesinjury quotestrauma quoteshighly quotesactivated quotesincomplete quotesbiological quotesthreat quotesfrozen quotestime quotesfight quotesmuscles quotesentire quotestensed quotesspecific quoteshigh quotesenergy quotesreadiness quotesunable quotescomplete quotesactions quotesfail quotesdischarge quotestremendous quotesgenerated quotespreparations quotesfixed quotesneuromuscular quotesperson quotesstays quotesstate quotesacute quoteschronic quotesarousal quotesdysfunction quotescentral quotesnervous quotessystem quotestraumatized quotessuffering quotesdisease quotesnormal quotessense quotesword quotesstuck quotesaroused quotesstate quotesdifficult quotesimpossible quotesfunction quotescircumstances quotes
So, what role does memory play in the understanding and treatment of trauma? There is a form of implicit memory that is profoundly unconscious and forms the basis for the imprint trauma leaves on the body/mind. The type of memory utilized in learning most physical activities (walking, riding a bike, skiing, etc.) is a form of implicit memory called procedural memory. Procedural or "body memories" are learned sequences of coordinated "motor acts" chained together into meaningful actions. You may not remember explicitly how and when you learned them, but, at the appropriate moment, they are (implicitly) "recalled" and mobilized (acted out) simultaneously. These memories (action patterns) are formed and orchestrated largely by involuntary structures in the cerebellum and basal ganglia. When a person is exposed to overwhelming stress, threat or injury, they develop a procedural memory. Trauma occurs when these implicit procedures are not neutralized. The failure to restore homeostasis is at the basis for the maladaptive and debilitating symptoms of trauma.
Peter A. Levine
role quotesmemory quotesplay quotesunderstanding quotestreatment quotestrauma quotesform quotesimplicit quotesprofoundly quotesunconscious quotesforms quotesbasis quotesimprint quotestrauma quotesleaves quotesbodymind quotestype quotesutilized quoteslearning quotesphysical quotesactivities quoteswalking quotesriding quotesbike quotesskiing quotescalled quotesprocedural quotesmemory quotesprocedural quotesbody quotesmemories quoteslearned quotessequences quotescoordinated quotesmotor quotesacts quoteschained quotesmeaningful quotesactions quotesremember quotesexplicitly quotesmoment quotesimplicitly quotesrecalled quotesmobilized quotesacted quotessimultaneously quotesmemories quotesaction quotespatterns quotesformed quotesorchestrated quoteslargely quotesinvoluntary quotesstructures quotescerebellum quotesbasal quotesganglia quotesperson quotesexposed quotesoverwhelming quotesstress quotesthreat quotesinjury quotesdevelop quotestrauma quotesoccurs quotesprocedures quotesneutralized quotesfailure quotesrestore quoteshomeostasis quotesmaladaptive quotesdebilitating quotessymptoms quotestrauma quotes
The second noble truth states that we must discover why we are suffering. We must cultivate the courage to look deeply, with clarity and courage, into our own suffering. We often hold the tacit assumption that all of our suffering stems from events in the past. But, whatever the initial seed of trauma, the deeper truth is that our suffering is more closely a result of how we deal with the effect these past events have on us in the present.
Peter A. Levine
noble quotestruth quotesstates quotesdiscover quotessuffering quotescultivate quotescourage quotesdeeply quotesclarity quotescourage quoteshold quotestacit quotesassumption quotessuffering quotesstems quotesevents quotespast quotesinitial quotesseed quotestrauma quotesdeeper quotesclosely quotesresult quotesdeal quoteseffect quotespast quotespresent quotes
The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviors.
Peter A. Levine
effects quotesunresolved quotestrauma quotesdevastating quotesaffect quoteshabits quotesoutlook quoteslife quotesleading quotesaddictions quotespoor quotesdecisionmaking quotestoll quotesfamily quoteslife quotesinterpersonal quotesrelationships quotestrigger quotesreal quotesphysical quotespain quotessymptoms quotesdisease quoteslead quotesrange quotesselfdestructive quotesbehaviors quotes
basically quotesfightorflight quotesresponse quotesobjective quotessource quotesthreat quotesmuscles quotesprepare quotesescape quotesincreasing quotestension quoteslevel quotesheart quotesrate quotesrespiration quotesincrease quotesbasic quotesmetabolic quotessystem quotesflooded quotesadrenaline quotes
I am often asked how I can work with a subject as morbid as trauma without becoming burned out or depressed. My answer to this question is that witnessing the transformation that takes place in people when they master their traumas has proven to be a deeply sustaining and uplifting experience in my life.
Peter A. Levine
asked quoteswork quotessubject quotesmorbid quotestrauma quotesburned quotesdepressed quotesanswer quotesquestion quoteswitnessing quotestransformation quotestakes quotesplace quotespeople quotesmaster quotestraumas quotesproven quotesdeeply quotessustaining quotesuplifting quotesexperience quoteslife quotes