Healing Trauma

February 8, 2012

I’ve been listening to Dr. Peter Levine’s audio recording Healing Trauma–Restoring the Wisdom of the Body. In it he talks about the long-term effects of trauma, and how we can learn to move through it effectively, so as not to become damaged by it. Trauma, he says, “is shock to the psyche, body, nervous system, the spirit and to the soul”. Dr. Levine believes that trauma is biological, not psychological, and that this knowledge can help us heal. He points to animals in the wild and explains why they rarely suffer the effects of trauma even though their lives are routinely threatened.

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body-awareness approach to healing trauma developed by Dr. Levine. He believes that humans have an innate ability to overcome the effects of trauma so that it does not become a life sentence. Just like the animals in the wild, we have mechanisms in place to fully recover, but most of us are unaware of what they are and how to implement them.

Often we’re not even aware of trauma that may have occurred, especially if it happened in our childhood. Our coping mechanism may have closed off our memory of an event to protect us, but later in life the after effects of the trauma might surface as illness in the physical body or emotional upheaval. We cannot separate the mind and the body. They are undeniably connected, and in fact, it is often the body that suffers when we don’t pay attention to our emotions, properly processing them and clearing out what no longer serves us. Unresolved trauma makes an imprint at the cellular level, and left untreated might surface years later in the form of a chronic illness or even cancer.

We all recognize and give support to the serious traumas like child abuse, sexual abuse, the death of a loved one and those suffered by combat veterans. But as Dr. Levine points out, any trauma can have serious implications on our health. A car accident (even just a fender bender), a bike accident, verbal abuse, etc. can leave its mark in the body. Even daily occurrences like a toxic work or school environment can be viewed as a form of human trauma. Dr. Levine gives concrete steps to show us ways to recognize the signs, and through body awareness he teaches us how to heal our own trauma. In many cases, however, and especially when the trauma is severe, the help of a good therapist can be a crucial part of our recovery.

Let me give you an example of using body awareness to recognize where emotions are initially felt in the body. I recently wrote an article about February being the month of love and how important self-love is to our well-being. I received many lovely comments from people and because I had been doing Dr. Levine’s exercises, it didn’t surprise me that I consciously felt the emotion in my heart center. I could feel my heart opening when I read the kind comments. It was a positive, healthy experience of emotion. The next evening, however, I noticed an email in my inbox from someone that I know. This person was on my newsletter list and so she had received the article on self-love. Well, I was anticipating another nice comment but instead, when I clicked open the e-mail, I saw seven words, too vile to share here. I immediately felt like I had been punched in the solar plexus, the area of the 3rd chakra, which is our seat of self-worth and self-esteem–our power center. I was shocked, but when I recovered, I recognized the synchronicity of it happening while I was exploring the subject of trauma. I was able to immediately go through the exercises I had just learned and clear out the trauma rather than let it eat away at me. It turned out to be a great teaching moment.

Interestingly, a trusted friend with whom I had shared the e-mail, said she had the same reaction in the same area of her body – her solar plexus, when she read the words in my email.

Just imagine how this knowledge could help not only ourselves, but our children, to move through life without storing all of the negative emotions and trauma that will inevitably come our way. If you are interested in exploring the teachings of Dr. Peter Levine, you can purchase books or audios on his website or at Sounds True where you can find the audio Healing Trauma at a discounted rate. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!


P.S. Thanks to Dr. Delphyne J.Platner for introducing me to the teachings of Dr. Peter Levine

  1. Barbara, this is a great post, and so needed! How many people are walking around with trauma stuck in their bodies because they had no support when it happened, or were told to “just get over it” ? I read Peter Levine’s “Waking The Tiger” years ago about processing trauma, how animals literally do “shake it off”, but very few humans know to do this. Thank you for this post — you are doing an important service educating people about this. Once more, I appreciate you!

  2. thanks Barb. I’m so glad I met you and suscribed to your newsletter I just love it!. on a separate note, today while I was grooming a std poodle you came to my mind, I was thinking that it would be the perfect dog for you and I can teach you how to groom it. so maybe you need to think about it they come in 3 different sized and 8 different colors and they are smart and lovable; females are better because they are calmer that males, males are super busy even when they are erderly.

  3. Thanks, Nancy. I think his teachings are so valuable for all of us. xoxo

  4. Thank you for sharing this insight Barbara. Your focus on trauma being relative is so important — for years I thought there must be something wrong with me since I didn’t have major “bad things” happen to me as a child, yet I felt traumatized anyway. Since then we have learned much, haven’t we? I have great respect for Dr Levine and will return to his work – it’s been awhile – but he speaks a powerful truth, as do you, our powerful truth-teller Barbara!

  5. Some good insights here, Barbara. It’s great that you share them with others like this.

    If you’re interested, we at Vital Cycles have some tips on healing from emotional trauma too…


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