January 3, 2020
January 3, 2020

Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma, by Peter A, Levine


Many people who have suffered tremendous emotional trauma (for example, the recently bereaved, people in war-torn countries, those who have been tortured or sexually molested) or physical hurt (e.g. severe neglect, debilitating injuries) recover entirely or near completely from their tragedy. However, others do not fare as well and continue to relive the same horrific experiences of morbid fear, anguish, and anxiety for a prolonged period of time. These latter groups of people have been traumatized by their bad experiences.

In their book, “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” Levine and Frederick (1997), said that this is a result of bottled-up somatosensory symptoms emanating after trauma. There are three main ways people respond when faced with a traumatic experience, said Levine and Frederick (1997). They can fight (confront the situation), flee (get away from the situation), or freeze (be totally overwhelmed by the predicament to the point of immobility). Victims who apply a fight or flee solution to a traumatic experience fare better in dealing with trauma than people who freeze in response to shock (Levine & Frederick, 1997). This state of suspended animation and paralysis occurs unconsciously and involuntarily. During this state of freeze, the victim has no way of going through all the typical reactions associated with traumatic events (Levine & Frederick, 1997). Because they are not adequately discharged by the victim, the trapped emotions wreak havoc on the traumatized individual.

The solution to trauma is, therefore, to guide the victim along a path (Experiential Sensation-FELT SENSE) that allows them to perceive and release those trapped emotions (Levine & Frederick, 1997). This approach to healing trauma was garnered by learning how animals recover from traumatic experience (Levine & Frederick 1997). Confronting trauma, said Levine and Frederick (1997), should be mostly on an emotional, limbic brain level, and not solely on the rational, executive brain level.

Levine and Frederick’s trauma theory is also supported in some ways by the polyvagal theory, which suggests that trauma has a somatic experiential component. If, as indicated by the polyvagal theory and by the Levine and Frederick (1997) theory, that trauma has strong emotional roots, one can apply elements of relationship models such as the DIR model in addressing trauma. After determining the victim’s functional emotional development capacity level, a DIR practitioner can begin to appeal, build and strengthen discovered areas of weaknesses, thus allowing the victim to escape the shackling phenomena of a past traumatic event. Calming the traumatized individual is a tool in the DIR toolbox with which to regulate traumatized individuals. A calmed mind creates an opportunity for further regulation of emotions and understanding of deep-rooted feelings, all of which are needed for trauma victims to extricate themselves from the shackles of the past and begin to attain new heights of functional capacity.

Other applicable trauma theories include the NARM model, which, focusing on the mind, suggests that trauma is associated with a maladaptation in the victim’s attachment history. The PTSD model suggests that trauma victims are applying to their current problems solutions which had worked and were appropriate in the past.

In my opinion, while attachment and trauma appear as opposite ends of the same emotional realm, it is apparent that whereas attachment is mostly positive, except, for example, in cases of extreme attachment/dependency, trauma is almost always negative, at least until it resolves. Treatment of trauma requires a dedicated practitioner, who is ready to learn from their victims and understand their challenges in order to develop an appropriate management strategy.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma, making timely referrals to a trauma specialist, and integrating several of the modalities mentioned would likely give the best result in the management of traumatized children and adults.


Levine, P. A., & Frederick, A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma: The innate capacity to transform overwhelming experiences. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

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