I’m very enthusiastic about this book; I want everybody to read it to get educated about trauma inflicted blocks and processes, and how to deal with it on the personal level.
In this book Peter Levine describes mechanisms of forming a trauma, living with it, and discharging the energy of trauma.
Humans have 3 parts to their brain – reptilian (the oldest, holding the basic survival responses), limbic (mammal) and neocortex (capable of the rational thinking). In life threatening situations reptilian brain initiates the fight/flight response, flooding the organism with energy and excitement enough to run or fight for its life. Human emotions corresponding with those states are fear (flight) and rage (fight).
If the power of the threat is greater than the power of the organism responding with fight/flight, then nature came up with the next level of protection – freeze response. Prey about to be seized by a predator “drops dead” ; either the predator will be confused and stop the chase, or the prey will not feel a thing while being killed – freeze response makes organism numb. Nature has mercy that way, allowing animals to die easily.
In nature, if the animal escapes death, it goes thru the process of discharging the powerful fight/flight or freeze energy by shaking, thrashing, moving the body (running). It then returns to a relaxed state, flowing easily from relaxation to alertness, orienting itself in the ever changing environment.
Not so with humans. While in danger, our reptilian brain has immediate power over our nervous system, bringing about fight/flight/freeze responses. But then, when we need to discharge that energy, neocortex kicks in discharge (now that the immediate danger is gone), with its need to find a rational, socially acceptable behavior. It has power to suppress the process of discharge, and then the energetic structure of freeze becomes a permanent fixture of human nervous system – a trauma.
Often trauma is reinforced by repetition of overpowering life threatening actions/circumstances, without escape rout and/or any support in dealing with it.
Traumatic freezing is a highly aroused/excited state of nervous system in conjunction with inability to feel, move or function adequately; it consumes energy otherwise used by the organism for orientation and learning.
When the freeze state unwinds naturally, the organism goes thru the process in reverse: the way out of freeze zone is thru the fight/flight zone, with its high excitement and emotions of fear and/or rage (anger). Humans culturally conditioned to suppress strong feelings of fear and anger thru neocortex; they internalize those feelings, directing them often at themselves.
Symptoms of trauma:
Inability to feel
Dissociation (including denial)
Feeling of helplessness
Exaggerated emotional and startle response
Abrupt mood swings – rage reactions, temper tantrums, shame
Reduced ability to deal with stress
Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
Panic attacks, anxiety, phobias
Mental ”blankness” or “spacyness”
Extreme sensitivity to light or sounds
Attraction to danger
Exaggerated or diminished sexual activity
Amnesia and forgetfulness
Inability to love, nurture or bond
Fear of dying or going crazy
Muted or diminished emotional responses
Inability to commit
Chronic fatigue, low energy
Immune system disorders, endocrine and psycho-somatic illnesses
Feelings of detachment, alienation, isolation – “living dead”
Diminished interest in life
Educating our rational brain about these processes is of tremendous value, because it shifts us from being a victim of overwhelming feelings and emotions, from thinking that something is deeply wrong with us, into a conscious participant /witness of a powerful natural process.