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Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma Paperback – Illustrated, July 7, 1997
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Nature's Lessons in Healing Trauma...
Waking the Tiger offers a new and hopeful vision of trauma. It views the human animal as a unique being, endowed with an instinctual capacity. It asks and answers an intriguing question: why are animals in the wild, though threatened routinely, rarely traumatized? By understanding the dynamics that make wild animals virtually immune to traumatic symptoms, the mystery of human trauma is revealed.
Waking the Tiger normalizes the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal them. People are often traumatized by seemingly ordinary experiences. The reader is taken on a guided tour of the subtle, yet powerful impulses that govern our responses to overwhelming life events. To do this, it employs a series of exercises that help us focus on bodily sensations. Through heightened awareness of these sensations trauma can be healed.
—Bernard S. Siegal, M.D., Author of Love, Medicine & Miracles and Peace, Love, and Healing
"Fascinating! Amazing! A revolutionary exploration of the effects and causes of trauma."
—Mira Rothenberg, Director Emeritus of Blueberry Treatment Centers for Disturbed Children, Author of Children With Emerald Eyes
"It is a most important book. Quite possibly a work of genius."
—Ron Kurtz, Author of Body Reveals and Body-Centered Psychotherapy
"Levine effectively argues that the body is healer and that psychological scars of trauma are reversible—but only if we listen to the voices of our body."
—Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D., Professor of Human Development and Psychology, University of Maryland
"A vital contribution to the exciting emerging science of mind/body interaction in the treatment of disease."
—Robert C. Scaer, M.D., Neurology, Medical Director, Rehabilitation Services, Boulder Community Hospital
"Peter Levine’s work is visionary common sense, pure and simple."
—Laura Huxley, lifetime partner and collaborator of Aldous Huxley
“[Waking the Tiger] is an excellent resource for those who have been traumatized or know someone who suffers from trauma, like a soldier returning from war. Finally, there is help that doesn’t ask us to relive what happened and re-experience the pain. Instead, it follows the body’s wisdom in its search for renewal and healing.”
From the Back Cover
- Publisher : North Atlantic Books; Illustrated edition (July 7, 1997)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 288 pages
- ISBN-10 : 155643233X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1556432330
- Item Weight : 15.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.98 x 0.83 x 8.99 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #3,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #25 in Mental & Spiritual Healing
- #26 in Popular Psychology Pathologies
- #31 in Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 9, 2021
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Somatic Experiencing has somehow taught my body to self-regulate emotions, without causing more dissociation after sessions. It has the added benefit of not being talk-centered, so I don't have to constantly delve into details of my past that I often would rather not repeat again and again. It has by-passed my problematic thought-processes that often hinder my recovery, by working directly on my body. Somehow, without cognitive effort, I end up feeling much better without even trying to think my way better. In fact, my thoughts and perspectives have somehow changed of their own accord, as my body begins to feel better on its own. It's like my body just started healing on its own, and then my brain catches up with it accordingly. I see the world differently now, I see myself differently now, and without even trying to implant new thoughts or perspectives into myself.
When I was doing CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) I felt like I was constantly exerting immense effort on myself, trying to make my brain interpret my environment differently. I was repeatedly attempting to force new thoughts into my head, and this made me feel resentful at the constant argumentation I would have going on inside my brain, and angry because I felt that I was lying to myself with these new thoughts I was forcing into my head. Somatic Experiencing with a touch-certified therapist has removed this battle from my mind; and healthier thoughts and perspectives have slipped into my brain unnoticed by me at first. Despite having read this book, I still don't fully understand how it is possible that somatic experiencing is so effective.
This book explains somatic experiencing very well. Not only does Peter Levine go into the details of how trauma effects the brain and body, but he describes some somatic experiencing sessions with clients in enough detail that the reader can learn what he or she can expect in a somatic experiencing session. I highly recommend his other book "Trauma and Memory" for a detailed explanation of traumatic memory. This book "Waking the Tiger" explains how trauma effects the brain-body and how somatic experiencing functions; his book "Trauma and Memory" explains how traumatic memory works, and how it is different from non-traumatic memory, and the difference between explicit and implicit memory. For those of us who feel confused about our patchy, gap-ridden explicit memories, coupled with our highly valent emotional patterns of reaction, his "Trauma and Memory" book sheds much light on this confusion.
CBT is woefully under-equipped to handle childhood attachment trauma; it only made me fight inside my head more, and feel resentful at the constant effort of forcing myself to think differently. EMDR did not work for me, as it attempted to cram more trauma into my brain while leaving my body behind in the process, which mainly led to further dissociation. Talk therapy has been helpful for my own understanding of what happened to me, but it, too, left my body out of the picture, and did not help me with the daily emotional dysregulation which caused me so much constant grief. Somatic Experiencing, on the other hand, has put the healing emphasis onto my body, and caused it to heal itself, resulting in my body feeling better and my brain responding to my improved feelings in my body. My brain just keeps catching up to my healing body without much exerted effort on my part.
I highly recommend this book, and somatic experiencing with a touch-certified therapist, to anyone who has experienced childhood attachment trauma.
Levine reinforces the holistic nature of the human being. Our bodies and brains connect instinct, emotion and rationality to our experience. Trauma may create damaging and often enduring symptoms. Human beings have a harder time than do animals in releasing trauma and may carry it throughout our lives. We often become frozen in trauma, unlike animals that can cope with the unpredictability of nature. This may provide a major interference with our health, peace of mind and the ability to live joyfully and creatively. When human trauma remains unhealed, the energy of the trauma and accompanying emotions remain locked within the brain and held within the body's musculature, tissues and organs, awaiting discharge.
The author writes about an oft-forgotten aspect of trauma, freezing or immobilization during a traumatic experience. Modern medicine/psychiatry emphasize the "flight or fight" response while often neglecting the freeze response. The concept of the freeze response in the face of overwhelming threat provides a missing link to symptoms such as dissociation that our old ideas of "fight or flight" fail to explain. Immobilization in the face of threat is an automatic biological response that is not voluntarily chosen by the victim. This provides redeeming message to trauma survivors.
Levine points out that our memories are not literal recordings of events, but rather, a complex of images that are influenced by arousal, emotional context, and prior experience. Memories may even transform over time as new experiences add layers of meaning to the images. While remembering the past can be an important aspect of therapy, appreciating the subjective quality of memories is crucial to integrating them appropriately into the healing process.
Those with deep psychological scars may have dissociated the memory from their minds and are living in a numbed, tensed body awaiting its release so the body can return to wholeness and optimum mental and physical health. The author asserts that psychological wounds are reversible and that healing comes when the physical and mental letting go occurs, similar to the way the tiger experiences the coming and going of threat, tensing in response to danger, and as the threat passes, the tiger's muscles shake, twitch and let go right then and there the fear related energy which now is forever out of mind and body. Trauma is stored energy that must be released.
Top reviews from other countries
Walter Bradford Cannon (1915) first proposed that animals react to threats “with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system preparing for fighting or fleeing” (Wiki); but unlike animals releasing its coiled springs in natural flight, humans are burdened by the weight of their own consciousness in the maladaptive coupling of fear and states of self-perpetuating arousal to the ‘immobility response’, creating distorted orienting responses of hyper- or hypo vigilance. If the instinctive reptilian urge to discharge intense survival energy is suppressed enough “then the function of the other two brain systems is profoundly altered, which explains Levine’s concept of ‘reenactment’: the emotional brain translates energy into anger and shame, while the rational brain creates the idea of justice and revenge - which according to J. Gilligan (2001) “is the one and only universal cause of violence.”
The neo-cortex in humans helps create the conditions of heightened anxiety ([anxious = Greek word for press tight/strangle] for “why humans don’t just move into and out of different [nervous system regulating] responses as naturally as animals.” Firstly, there is a thwarting of the restorative instinctual responses generated naturally at the reptilian core with more subconscious identifications (top-down processing) - “what labels, roles, stereotypes, definitions, or other preconceived categories that fit their needs” (cf. Plato’s essentia). Secondly, humans are often drawn into situations that repeat the original trauma since the “drive to complete and heal it is as powerful and tenacious as the symptom it creates.” Thirdly, the complexes (Jung) presented by symptoms become a “way to manage and bind the tremendous energy of the unresolved residue combined in both the original and self-perpetuated response to threat.” This safety valve “as uncompleted physiological responses suspended in fear”, can range from the intrapersonal (aggression turned inwards) to the interpersonal, i.e. having the capacity to destroy the quality of relationships by ”excessive cautiousness, inhibitions, dangerous reenactments, victimisation, or unwise risk-taking etc.”
While “the animal’s innate drive to return to a state of dynamic equilibrium” allows these creatures the opportunity to shake the shock in the system out, Levine’s clinical approach is more like heroically using trauma’s reflection of Athena’s shield (upon which was placed medusa’s head by Perseus). This is explained as “not confronting directly...but learning to swim within the energies of the body senses” through the cultivation of a ‘felt sense’ of clarity (sword), instinctual power (horse) and fluidity (wings).” Thus SE attempts to replicate in an ever so subtle and gentle way the wild animal’s innate wisdom, approaching the instinctual healing magic of the animal ‘trembling response’.
What I was not expecting, though, to find in a book addressed to budding felt sensors’ (covertly developing their first-chakras and clairsentient abilities I suspect), is an ethereal theory of healing with curious diagrams of how “a split-off whirlpool (trauma) sucks away life-energy in the body” and that nature [somehow miraculously] responds by creating a counter-vortex to balance the turbulent force of the trauma vortex! What Levine goes on to describe is “the ‘renegotiation’ of natural restorative laws of centrifugal energy between healing and trauma vortices” in a figure-of-eight balancing motion he terms ‘pendulation’ - rather than either the typical ‘re-enactment’ of emotional flooding into the original wound by individuals who get “sucked in” to their vortex (with symptoms as described above), or its avoidance (phobia). It is clear, therefore, the metaphysics of SE renegotiation incorporates a healing process of the ruptured body which “begins with the healing vortex picking up support and resources needed to successfully negotiate the trauma vortices, then slowly releasing the tightly bound energies at their cores by ‘unwounding’, i.e. by moving towards the center of the trauma vortices so that its energies are released.
As an exercise I thought it useful to model some of SE’s principles within the context of other healing modalities widely available today. The jury is rather out for me as to whether the same results are not ordinarily achieved through other psychotherapies. Firstly, take balancing motion stemming from “rotating the healing vortex in an opposite direction of the trauma vortex so the vortices then break up and dissolve, and are integrated back into mainstream.” This motion approximates (and pre-dates) Eileen McKusick’s Biofield Tuning (2014) [see review] ‘click, dragging and dropping’ distorted energies (“kerfuffles”) collected from the bioplasmic field and integrating them into the vortices of the sacral system. Secondly, there is an emphasis on the client within SE having an undeniable experience, i.e. making a conscious registering of the turbulence between a healing vortex and counter-vortex in the direction of release to “bridge the chasm between heaven expansion and hell contraction [trauma is a condensed energy] uniting these polarities.” In SE this is mainly achieved by developing a ‘dual-consciousness’ or mindfulness of dissociation while somatically experiencing what is occurring in the immediate environment; most importantly, witnessing positive results tends to reinforce future healing processes, though nevertheless it can be said dual-consciousness is the basis of a raft of therapeutic approaches including NLP and Psychosynthesis. Thirdly, SE skilfully adopts a process called ‘titration’ meaning small incremental differences in the client’s responses and behaviours “opens up, watches and validates” the healing cycle - “which cannot be evaluated, manipulated, hurried or changed.” I would argue slow incremental changes are par for the course of a great number of therapeutic modalities and thereby creates the governing conditions for a (reptilian) rhythm and timing that exists at a slower pace (than the mammalian and cortical parts of the brain). Fourthly, reptilian healing may turn out to be equated with theta and/or delta frequencies harnessed by binaural beat technologies. Theta waves, for example, are connected to experiencing and feeling deep and raw emotions, and is involved in restorative sleep; it also has a slow frequency range of 4 Hz to 8 Hz containing the Schumann resonance frequency of 7.83 Hz. Delta waves (0 Hz to 4 Hz) are even slower and have been found to be involved in regulating the Immune system, natural healing and restorative deep sleep. Fifthly, part of the grace of the nervous system is it is constantly self-regulating and processing so that some other time can exist either in the here-and-now or a future-now “when we are stronger, and more resourceful and better able to do it.” This principle alone forms the core of practically all the modalities offering a humanistic and existentialist slant, such as Gestalt.
Finally, as is so poignantly put we are “living in a culture that does not honour skilful ‘renegotiation’ of the internal world of dreams, feelings, images and sensations as sacred.” Extending this world to make connection with the reptilian aspect of our selves serves as an incredible contribution to healing science that establishes the credentials for a missing link of ‘sensation’ in the unified mind-body therapies.