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Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

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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.

288 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Peter A. Levine

54 books741 followers
Peter A.Levine, Ph.D. is the originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing® and the Director of The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. He holds doctorate degrees in Medical Biophysics and in Psychology. During his thirty five-year study of stress and trauma, Dr. Levine has contributed to a variety of scientific and popular publications.

Dr. Levine was a stress consultant for NASA during the development of the Space Shuttle, and has taught at treatment centers, hospitals and pain clinics throughout the world, as well as at the Hopi Guidance Center in Arizona. Peter served on the World, Psychologists for Social Responsibility, presidents’ initiative on responding to large scale disasters and ethno-political warfare. His best selling book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, is published in 20 languages.

Peter A. Levine received his Ph.D. in medical biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and also holds a doctorate in psychology from International University. He has worked in the field of stress and trauma for over 40 years and is the developer of “Somatic Experiencing.”

He teaches trainings in this work throughout the world. He has taught at various indigenous cultures including the Hopi Guidance center in Second Mesa Arizona. Peter has been stress consultant for NASA in the development of the first Space Shuttle. He was a member of the Institute of World Affairs Task Force with “Psychologists for Social Responsibility” and served on the APA initiative for response to large scale disaster and Ethno-political warfare. He is on the ‘distinguished faculty’ of Santa Barbara Graduate Institute.

Peter is the author of the best selling book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, (published in twenty languages) as well as four audio learning series for Sounds True including the book CD, Healing Trauma, a Pioneering Program in Restoring the Wisdom of Our Bodies; and Sexual Healing, Transforming the Sacred Wound. He is the co-author of Trauma through a Child’s Eyes, Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing, and Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, A Parents Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. Most recently, he has published In An Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.

Description courtesy of Trauma Healing.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 567 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel.
219 reviews186 followers
November 21, 2015
Totally idiotic, condescending, and insulting. Levine's central premises - that the body plays an important role in trauma, and that common events such as medical procedures and accidents can have psychological effects similar to those of severe trauma - are both true and important, but he reaches them by denying the lived experiences of trauma survivors at every turn. I finished this book shaking with anger.

Assorted rebuttals and points of disagreement:

- Actually, contrary to what Mr. Levine says, the nature and severity of an experience does matter. There is a difference between a rape and a consensual pelvic exam that "felt like..a rape of my body and spirit" (Levine 59). Disgustingly, he uses this premise (that unpleasant medical experiences can be likened to physical and sexual violation) in order to deny the experiences of survivors of abuse - "A traumatized person may end up believing that he or she was raped or tortured when the actual message the organism is trying to convey is that this sensation your are experiencing feels like rape or torture" (Levine 80). Recovered memories are a complex and difficult issue (for a more thoughtful treatment of them, try the collection Trauma and Memory: Clinical and Legal Controversies edited by Paul S. Appelbaum), but this is a horrid, dismissive way of dealing with them.

- Related to the above, when Mr. Levine is faced with treating a survivor of quite horrific sexual assault, he grudging concedes that her memories were clearly accurate - "In Margaret's case, independent reports of the incident (including medical evidence and police involvement) substantiate the basic facts of her story" (Levine 201) - but then goes on to suggest that the accuracy of her memories does not matter and that she could have had the same reactions if her story had been "completely fabricated" or based on frightening images she viewed as a child. This is absurd.

- He then goes on to define many of the methods which victims of assault and abuse have found most healing as maladaptive and counterproductive, including self-identification as survivors (which can help people build up a positive sense of self and see the strength that allowed them to survive their experiences), outside verification of memories (which can help people feel less crazy, especially if the veracity of their experience was repeatedly denied by people around them or if their abuser told them they would not be believed if they told anyone), support groups and communities created with other survivors, and the creation of trauma narratives. I don't think what gives him the authority to describe these methods of healing as maladaptive "dwelling" on their trauma, especially when such reputable psychologist as Judith Herman have said the opposite.

- All his accounts of sessions he has had with patients make me with in sympathy for the people he is treating. Particularly his session with a woman named Gladys, which, he tells the reader "may seem ludicrous" (Levine 166). Gladys was referred to him after what appeared to be psychosomatic attacks of abdominal pain. Upon meeting with her, Levine repeatedly asked her whether she had recently experienced something traumatic or frightening. She responded negatively to his first inquiries, but after he repeated the question several times, she admitted that she had been kidnapped a few years back, "But it wasn't that frightening." According to Levine's transcription, he constantly punctuated her account of the incident with insistent questions: "Weren't you scared?" "Was that scary?" "But you weren't really scared?" - I can hear his disbelief all the way from the other side of the page. Levine says that, after their first session, Gladys did not return, and describes her case as one of extreme and sad denial. No wonder she didn't come back. I wouldn't have either, if I met with a therapist who refused to believe my account of my own experience and tried to fit it into some pre-concieved pattern of reactions.

Worthless. Read Judith Herman instead.
Profile Image for P.
30 reviews
January 22, 2016
I have rather mixed feelings about this book. Being an asshole, I'll start with the negative ones.

On the downside, this book is not well written. Sometimes the tone is downright condescending.

Then there's the issue of credibility. The author bases his views on his practice as therapist. He really does that to the max: there are almost no references to psychological science. No footnotes or endnotes. Typically, when another book is quoted, that book is a work of fiction. I take no issue in taking examples and inspiration from fiction, yet I do take issue in that Levine, despite his dual doctoral degrees, seems completely unconcerned with psychological science. He talks about "energies" which he does not specify, and towards the end, we even discuss "vortices of energy". A vortex of trauma energy and a vortex of healing energy. (Unsurprisingly, no source.) Okay, if you say so? Sometimes functions of the brain are brushed upon, but even that doesn't happen in a pop science, informative way. It's more that Levine is very taken with the more poetical metaphors: he's very taken with our "reptilian brain". He takes quite a bit of inspiration from shamanic practices, but he doesn't spell those out either, so where this book stands is precisely Levine's personal work.

It's not a pop science book: it's just not that informative.
It's not a shamanic healing manual.
It's not even about Levine's clients.
It's about Levine's personal mindscape insofar as his work with trauma patients is concerned.

And then there's the issue, which pretty much boils down to the bad writing, of how the author writes about rape (as described by another reviewer). Now, I read Levine as meaning that whether you've been raped or whether the trauma has some other cause, does not matter to whether you can heal or how the healing process can be helped. However, Levine places his words in very unfortunate ways which definitely give space to another, revolting, reading. While I have no wish to entertain the thought that Levine would believe it doesn't matter if you've been raped or not, I do think that readers of books on trauma written by therapists are entitled to expect sensitive, well thought-out language that can help, not belittle survivors reading the book.

Now for the upside: Levine's personal mindscape is interesting.

I like the way Levine spells out that trauma doesn't just occur from war and violence, but that completely benign situations, like medical procedures, can also traumatize. There is no rule to what can cause trauma. It's all about the subjective experience.

I like the way Levine advocates against dwelling on the traumatic incident or playing detective, for example, about whether something horrible really did happen to one as a child or whether that's a false memory. Levine says this doesn't help with healing, and that the healing process can be aided in the same ways regardless of whether the memory matches the objective facts or not. Of course, in case of violence, it's good to bring the perpetrator to justice, but that's a separate matter. My hunch agrees with Levine's hunch.

I like the way Levine advocates intermingling the traumatic memories with empowering elements to be able to renegotiate them - to create a personal myth where one is a hero rather than a victim in the situation. This doubtless is one of the parts that draw strongly from shamanism.

I especially like how Levine pays a lot of attention to how the whole body, and not just the brain, is affected by trauma -- and how paying attention to the body can help resolve trauma. This corroborates with some of my own experiences.

In a way, I'd say this book should not be read as a psychology book. It should be read as a magical manual, much as if you were reading Carlos Castaneda or, say, Silver RavenWolf (sorry, I just had to): To what extent are his insights only valid for him subjectively, and useless bullsh*t from an objective point of view? To what extent does my universe match the subjective world of the writer? Are some of his practices useful for my practice?

As the comparisons to Castaneda and RavenWolf above indicate, I'm not convinced this is that good a magical manual, but there is something to be gleaned from almost any source. I did take something from reading this. You might, as well. But another book on the topic might have more substance.
Profile Image for Antigone.
517 reviews750 followers
November 1, 2017
Okay, consider my mind blown. And that's not easy to do.

It's especially difficult when starting off with such an unfortunate title (which evokes nothing quite so much as the beleaguered Ralph Macchio's dojo). Add to this the author's trademark of his treatment method - meaning every time he mentions the name it comes up in the text with a registration symbol. (Cue jazz hands and a laser spot.) Top it off with the sad truth that metaphors are not his friends. Be it myth, the environment or the animal world; no matter where he aims for comparison his connections misfire. Taking all that into account...how revolutionary would the core concept have to be to shoot past it? To set the charge, light the fuse, and blow the contents of a mind?

Sometimes the guy with the vision doesn't present well. And maybe that's because all the energy it would take to explain the thing is tied up in discerning it. I don't know. What I do know is that people who have been traumatized are in hell. All the time. This is a torment that knows no relief. No safety, no trust, no peace, no passage, no meaning or purpose. Serenity is virtually unachievable. Calm is something they front just to function. Imagine being on high alert twenty-four seven. Imagine an internal scream that hasn't ended in recent memory. Dr. Peter Levine has spent thirty years of his professional life in an active attempt to address that - which is a big thing when you consider how very many of his colleagues seem content to prescribe a pill and focus on increasing levels of day-to-day tolerance, as if this distress were to be logically accommodated as life's New Normal. For that alone, kudos doc. Major props to you.

But on to the theory.

Dr. Levine operates under the premise that there exists an ancient system in the brain, what humans had at the dawn of evolution, and it deals primarily with aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual behaviors. He contends that this reptilian system (you might be more familiar with the trending term "lizard brain") is where the psyche is caught in cases of trauma, and where it must be treated. This makes sense. The fight/flight/freeze aspects of trauma would seem to place the injury entirely in the primitive realm. And because this is the most primitive of systems, it has a much closer connection with the body. It's basically hard-wired into the physical, so physicality plays a significant role in both the distress itself and the healing.

It is Dr. Levine's belief that trauma is the result of an incomplete physical reaction to a catastrophic event. The ground-breaking nature of this idea is, of course, the physical component. Therapeutic professionals have focused for decades on the intellectual and emotional aspects of the traumatic puzzle - attempting to guide their patients through a careful exploration of thought, feeling, memory and belief. The body has been viewed, for the most part, merely as an indicator of distress; a reporter of the internal reality; a thermometer, so to speak, of the current psychological temperature. Levine insists it is not. He tells us the body, itself, needs to complete the cycle of reaction to the catastrophe it has experienced, and until it does it will be caught in that event and bleeding off excess energy into panic attacks, migraines, sleep disorders and just about anything else you might require a tranquilizer to amend.

Once he lands on the solid ground of his expertise in trauma - introducing his research, citing case histories, elaborating on specific treatment directions - the chapters sail by at a swift and energizing clip. There are exercises included for those who wish to explore his methodology on their own, although he is adamant about pacing and backing off when overwhelmed. Should the desire exist for some form of supervision, he suggests a therapist be brought on board and the book shared toward a mutual endeavor. The chapters at the end of the work are devoted to instructions on how to assist both adults and children in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.

I found the ideas Dr. Levine introduced to be fascinating, and they've certainly served to connect many of my own perceptions to a more direct and comprehensive understanding. If trauma is a study (or condition) you have any interest in, I would recommend this book. Highly.
Profile Image for Mike.
49 reviews9 followers
July 15, 2020
I recommend reading “The Body Keeps the Score” instead.
Profile Image for Kerry.
147 reviews64 followers
February 6, 2019
I love the hero's tale. A quick glance of my other reviews will confirm as much. But I also believe those wonderful tales perform a valuable purpose. They can provide guidance for difficult transitions through the use of symbols and metaphor. Levine's book was a useful discussion on healing trauma. Don't expect a lot of "inspiring" stories or case examples like psychology books often contain.

Clash of the Titans

Peter Levine made an explicit connection between trauma, and in this case, the tale of the hero Perseus and the Gorgon Medusa. When Levine spoke of trauma, it was a buffet of any trauma the world can devise: cPTSD, war veterans, car crashes, death in family, abuse, toxic parenting, surgery, etc... For instance, in Section IV, Levine offered advise on immediate 'emotional first aid' to be used to address trauma involving a car crash (think EMTs) and for children (He suspects, often the ones most impacted but last to get help.)

Levine wrote,
"In the myth of Medusa, anyone who looked directly into her eyes would quickly turn to stone. Such is the case with trauma. If we attempt to confront trauma head on, it will continue to do what it it has already done - immobilize us in fear. Before Perseus set out to conquer Medusa, he was warned by Athena not to look directly at the Gorgon. Heeding the goddess's wisdom, he used his shield the reflect Medusa's image: by doing so, he was able to cut off her head. Likewise, the solution to vanquishing trauma comes not confronting it directly, but by working with its reflection, mirrored in our instinctual responses."(p. 65)

Clash of the Titans

Levine felt trauma is not an unnatural experience that needs to be medicated, etc... but a natural and necessary biological reaction to real and/or perceived dangerous experiences, a bodies reaction since the dawn of the evolution of organisms. Levine felt, it was just our evolved higher stage neo-cortex human brain which had mucked up the experience and over-ridden our instinctual mind and our ability to shake-off a bad event.

In a simplistic sense, I suppose the more instinctual mind would flee like a rat from a sinking ship the moment a relationship became abusive, or a soldier in his instinctual mind would go no where near a raging battlefield. But we humans can remain fixed in a situation, both physically and mentally, and in many cases suffer, locked in a vigilant and hyper-sensitive stance that will become our new emotional mind.

Clash of the Titans

Continuing, Levine described the human brain's three levels and the experience of the hunted gazelle. The layers are: base reptilian brain (conscious choice is not an option, instinctual response is the entire game); the limbic brain (mammalian mind, source of social and herd instinct, Levine's gazelle is here, a positive example of how animals properly shake off trauma); and the higher rational neo-cortex. (An aside, I seem to recall other mammals can show signs of stress as well, harder to measure an elephant's trauma, I suppose. Levine may be oversimplified in his view of animals.)

Levine's premise is that while the neo-cortex is not strong enough to override the primitive instincts to flee, fight or freeze in the face of danger, it is strong enough to lock those reactions into a frozen state (that may last days, weeks, years,) that we know most familiarly as a veteran's PTSD but it can be any trauma. And like many veterans groups recently, Levine would probably like to drop the 'D' of Disorder from PTSD.

In Section II, Levine went directly into the symptoms of trauma. These are the fundamentals of the traumatic reaction including: Hyperarousal, Constriction, Dissociation, Helplessness. Valuable information present in an accessible way for neo-cortex bound humans to help recognize that our Medusa may be near. He acknowledged this may be a just quick rehash for professionals and learned laymen.

What Levine had to offer to the subject, besides an appealing hero's tale framing of the subject area, is the idea of beginning the healing process with FELT SENSE, or internal body sensations. The term was coined by Eugene Gendlin in his book Focusing. Levine admitted this is a hard term to define. Gendlin wrote, "A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one." Levine then suggest some exercises and discussion that would help you access this felt sense. This is part of Levine's program called Somantic Experiencing (a registered trademark) Best if you read the book if this sounds promising. Or just jump to the chase and hit the web page: Somantic Experiencing: Traumatic Institute Reconnecting with body to help heal the mind.

In completing the recovery from a trauma, we go back to the story of Medusa.
"In dreams, mythical stories, and lore, one universal symbol for the human body and its instinctual nature is the horse. ... When Medusa was slain two things emerged from the body: Pegasus, the winged horse, and Chrysaor, a warrior with a golden sword. ... The sword symbolizes absolute truth, the mythic heroes ultimate weapon of defense. It conveys a sense of clarity and triumph, of rising to meet extraordinary challenges, and of ultimate resourcefulness. The horse signifies instinctual grounding, while wings create ... an image for rising above earthbound existence." (p. 66)

Clash of the Titans

I liked Levine's connecting myth with real human experience. Getting in touch with trauma is not only an exercise in feeling starting with how your butt feels in your chair, somantic experience, though it has a place for the disconnected. Though it probably easily works with mindfulness, exercise and talk therapy that embraces a role for connecting with our physical body. Yoga.

Interestingly, Levine also brought up the world of shamanic rituals and the old belief that trauma was often addressed as a community issue. An important aspect to consider. Maybe look into Brene Browns' book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead to look at the role of shame.

The community aspect reminded of stories of the Bataan Death March and the forced use of prisoners to build roads and facilities in WWII. Trauma in the extreme example, the weak were bayoneted by the road, no health care was provided, and there was very little food. A common trait of the survivors: a caring somebody to watch over them and to whom they cared when time arose. A human connection to life where everything else was inhuman in nature. Taking care of others can help form trust and mutual care. (Unless the other is a narcissist, or is the reason for the trauma, etc...)

The suggestion that community played a role in healing trauma and that trauma is a natural reaction to bad experiences is also a important element. That a physical connection/grounding plays a role in restoring a wandering spirit (a shamanic image) is interesting. Mostly, I tend agree with Levine, looking at the trauma directly and reliving it is at best not helpful (his clinical practice strongly affirmed this view), at worst, only making matters worse.

I'm not a counselor but I've watched them on TV. :-) Personally, I am particularly intrigued by the veteran's experience of PTS, I love to see when these veterans make real progress with PTS, because their efforts may be blazing a path for all of us. A real heroes journey.
Profile Image for Nathaniel.
113 reviews78 followers
January 27, 2010
“Waking the Tiger” advances Peter Levine’s hopeful theory that trauma has been badly misunderstood and mistreated in Western Culture. He uses numerous examples from the animal kingdom along with case studies of his own patients to argue that people can make a complete and healthy recovery from trauma by somatically renegotiating their traumatic experience. He emphasizes that “somatic experiencing” is not re-enactment—an approach that he is skeptical about, at best. His contention is that the tremendous energies mobilized to defend us in moments of fear and danger can become trapped within us if they are not allowed to discharge themselves or to complete their functions.

Whereas a lay person has little to gain by reading about how trauma should be medicated, anyone can benefit from an exploration of Peter Levine’s arguments. Even if he is only partially or occasionally right, his strategies can help anyone to explore ways that trauma may be influencing their behavior or the behavior of their loved ones. He then offers an empowering framework for engaging with these vestiges of trauma, both in ourselves and in others.

The warning that totally routine dental and medical procedures or minor accidents can be traumatizing to young people who do not understand them seems to be particularly relevant. I think anyone in the medical profession and everyone with young children should read this book to make sure that they can better accompany young people through experiences that are perceived as threatening. This book has definitely changed the way that I will interact with people who have just been through something traumatic-—and how many books actually make you change the way you behave during extremely important moments of your life?
Profile Image for ben adam.
174 reviews5 followers
August 25, 2018
Okay, I am going to be honest because I know a lot of people were stoked on this book, but I really did not enjoy it. I know it was written to be accessible and comprehensible for non-experts, but he cites nothing at all as proof for his central tenets. The basic summary is that trauma is not just a psychological experience resolved by changing thoughts and emotions but a full-body, physiological experience that requires full-body interactions in order to heal. This is the only good part of the book. It is true. However, his supporting concepts on how to heal it rely on strange conjectures about how people are like other mammals, especially prey, who freeze when we go through a life threatening event. He claims that this causes our nervous systems to store energy that requires "discharge." He believes that animals innately know how to discharge this energy but that humans require assistance learning how to do it from other people (from his book?). He describes how animals discharge this energy through trembling, fleeing, and reenacting the traumatic event, but he indicates that none of these things are sufficient for humans to resolve their trauma. Instead, he creates a complex and somewhat convoluted concept he calls "renegotiation" which he never clearly defines and sounds a lot like reenactment but "with incremental changes" in behavior. It is pretty confusing. He confesses late in the book that much of his understanding of animal behavior comes from National Geographic and Discovery channel TV documentaries. Additionally, he is sharply negates people's desires to remember their traumatic experiences. He could could care less about whether or not anyone's memories of trauma are "real" or not. He focuses on how to heal from the belief that one experienced trauma. This leads him to be rather dismissive of people's (read: women's) experiences.

His claim that trauma is physiological and requires bodily healing is a very important insight, but the rest of his treatment of trauma is under-researched, contrived, and not discursive.
Profile Image for Kate Collins.
Author 92 books895 followers
June 23, 2011
If you or anyone you care about has suffered a severe shock or been under enormous stress, there are many ways their traumas will come out if not dealt with adequately. This book helped me tremendously after my husband passed away suddenly. I didn't understand that some symptoms appear months after the fact, and doctors didn't know what to do with me other than hand me prescriptions. This book changed my thinking and therefore my approach to dealing with the grief. I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Steve Woods.
618 reviews61 followers
February 10, 2017
This is an outstanding piece of work. It was published in 1997 and I added it to my reading list in 2011 and it has sat on my shelf for over two years. Just the luck of the draw I suppose, but in reading it my one disappointment is that I didn't do so years ago. I have struggled my way through the effects of a severely abusive childhood and combat related ptsd derived from service in two wars, and no doubt I have made great progress at relieving some of the more radical symptoms from which I have suffered. Then, the process is like peeling the layers of the onion and while I have had Buddhist meditation practice and extensive reading in Buddhist psychology and the works of Jung and Rogers as well as some exploration of Shamanic practice to guide me, the path has been much like a very dark room full of dead ends and sharp objects and I have really felt my way through by instinct. It has been a remarkable journey and there have been many aha moments of realization and understanding as my own mind and soul have emerged into the light. I have been fortunate! Through meditation practice contact with my felt sense of things in me, my own sense of me in me to me, has evolved as a central and crucial part of my own journey. My sense of that journey has often yielded images, thoughts and dreams that could be well described by the language in this book. Nothing here is unfamiliar to me and indeed it all has the ring of truth for me. What it gave me that I did not have was a framework upon which I could hang my already extensive understanding of trauma and how it operates in me gained through both experience and reading. The book added a "coming together" of all that had gone before, and that has been timely. The last year has been difficult in ways which I thought had been relegated to the past. That both upset and terrified me as I found myself drawn yet again into the behaviors and ways of thinking that make up much of the life of someone who has been traumatized by extreme circumstances and human cruelty. As this happened I lost much of my internal awareness and was slowly drawn back into the vortex, without realizing that it was happening. The fact is that in retrospect I can see that my progress along the road has inevitably led me to the place I have been seeking the core of the onion. Too much to front up to and feel, so all the mechanism developed over more than half a century to stop myself from feeling what was going on in me kicked in and yielded what has been several weeks of confusion, pain and chaos. Thankfully, the old adage that once the journey begins it assumes a life of its own and will always prevent us from falling entirely back into the insanity of the past. I felt the crash and I stopped the careening around and started to fully experience what was there for me. The same day I picked up this book and started to read, all became clear. That has not relieved the symptomatic fear, rage and anxiety much but it has had me put into place a plan of action. It made so clear the steps I now need to take to further the process. Funny how over the years the right thing has fallen into my hand at the right moment. Now to work.

This book provides the only approach that has ever worked for me, and I've been down many deadens with many so called experts. The bulk of the therapeutic approaches available in the mainstream just never worked for me and in fact only compounded the problem; they nearly killed me. Anyone who has difficulty in their life with the way they relate to themselves or others, those who live with fear or anxiety, whose lives are coloured by that sense of something terribly wrong, who cannot get answers from anyone, whose experience is misunderstood in any way should find some direction here. I am grateful this book was written and that it came into my hands through whatever force of grace.
Profile Image for Shannon.
183 reviews58 followers
Currently reading
February 5, 2012
1/2 way through. I am left wondering what exactly this 'energy' is that Levine writes about. If it is indeed some sort of energy, then can we find a scanner to find it? Or is it instead not an increase in any type of energy per se (like there is no more water in a pipe system) but that the body isn't regulating the energy any better (the valves are out of sync). The first is that if it is indeed an increase in some form of energy then we can look for it and find it in scans. If it is not a form of energy, then we cannot scan for it. And searching for biomarkers will prove impossible by Levine's own model as he writes that the symptoms in the body manifest in an incredible diverse manner that renders any sort of attempt at screening null. What we have, then, is a wide butterfly net of a label of trauma.

The position was stated that trauma occurs nearly everywhere in the human existence, including as a fetus. Now, if it is the case that animals are less likely to get trauma than humans are, that humans get trauma as a result of the meddling of our higher human cognitive functions inhibiting the natural progression of the mysterious energy from working itself out in our electrical systems as they would normally do thanks to 150 million years of evolution, then how can any human, including very young infants, who still have much development to occur?

So far this book is interesting. However there are many instances while reading that I wish the author had put in his sources for some of his claims. Also, I would like more delving into support for some of his theories. I can only imagine going to a biologist or even an neurologist and saying "its trapped energy in the body" and getting a strange look. Need more background, more info, more support for this model.

I hope that by the time I read the second half I've come across some more of the technical aspects of his theory, including some aspects of a theory that important... predictability.
Profile Image for A. Raca.
739 reviews152 followers
July 16, 2022
"Gerçek kahramanlık yaşanan deneyimleri bastırıp inkar etmek değil, onları açıkça kabullenecek cesarete sahip olmaktır."
Profile Image for Cole.
81 reviews4 followers
November 20, 2011
I think just about anyone could benefit from reading the first four chapters of this book. This offers a refreshing, biological-based look at trauma and its after-effects, while dispelling many of the myths that surround trauma and PTSD in Western psychology today. This is a book that actually could change certain peoples' lives for the better.
I like that the author writes in simple, layman's language. He tells you what methods of therapy do not work, and why they do not work, and also tells you what will - and why. He must expect people to skip around a lot, because he does repeat himself frequently. For all that, it is still a short book and an easy read.
Chapter 15 is the author's "Soapbox" chapter, in which he indulges in the argument that any clinical specialist of an poorly-understood and complex malady eventually gives in to. Namely, "I have been studying [THIS THING] fr 20 years, so I believe everyone in the ENTIRE WORLD is suffering from [THIS THING], and if [THIS THING] can be treated using the methods in my book, all the world's problems can be solved." Chapter 15 may be safely skipped. The rest of the book is very good.
Profile Image for jaz ₍ᐢ.  ̫.ᐢ₎.
121 reviews59 followers
March 18, 2023
I don’t really have much to say, condescending narration and just wasn’t for me. The contradictions about sexual abuse and trauma really made me upset and angry and there are better books about trauma out there that is worth your time.
36 reviews6 followers
April 7, 2016
As with literally any subject involving human emotion, there are very few clear answers and if someone offers a simple solution to any deeply complex emotional problem, the solution is usually only partially helpful under very particular circumstances.

In Waking the Tiger, Levine offers the opinion that all trauma is simply a disruption of a very instinctual process of handling extreme stress. You either fight, run, or freeze and it's the freezing Levine is most focused on. He explains that if you freeze there needs to be a gradual recovery in a safe environment and oftentimes that doesn't happen. After trauma you're more likely to wake up in a hospital with doctors in masks with imposing postures or, with a more long-term view, surrounded by people instructing you that, "You're ok, shake it off, get back to work." According to the book these interruptions are what cause emotional trauma and if you're given a chance to gradually recover on your own terms then emotional trauma would be avoided.

Levine also stresses that it isn't necessary to dwell on or relive the original trauma to address the resulting emotional instability, but this is a point he seems to waver on since in the later chapters he describes anecdotes of how he was able to resolve trauma by recreating the causal events and empowering the client by giving them a reasonable solution that was unavailable during the original event. This described method seems to contradict his earlier explanations of the non-importance of the original event.

Although my biggest criticism of the book doesn't have to do, necessarily, with what he says but rather what he avoids saying. Throughout there are no explanations of the functions of the endocrine system which plays a very big role in the confrontation of extreme stress. And he only describes the nervous system in very vague, nebulous terms, avoiding any specific neurological explanations of trauma.

Overall, I thought there were a handful of interesting ideas, but the abundance of anecdotal content, repetition, and lack of scientific explanation leaves this book a little too mysterious and vague to take too seriously.
Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books281 followers
January 29, 2022
I stumbled on this book in the most bizarre way. For two consecutive nights, I dreamed of tigers. Then, I started seeing tigers everywhere - not in real - but on screen, in the paper, even random shopping for shorts on Amazon. After that, I realized this is the Year of the Tiger. Finally, I am doing research for a trauma-centered story, and while reading an interview by Bessel van der Kolk, he mentions this book. See the title? Waking the Tiger. All this in the span of a week. The Universe worked overtime to pass this message.

And, in case you are still not awestruck, during that week, my therapist finally 'diagnoses' me as being affected by trauma, and that I ought to start working on healing my trauma of the recent and old past.

I had to read this, right? It’s written in a rather soporific way, sadly. But I got the essence of how healing trauma lies in aligning our bodies and minds. It doesn’t offer much in the way of many practical ‘exercises.’ But it’s enough to continue the journey I have been strangely called on to lead - through all these signs.
Profile Image for Daniel  Potts.
41 reviews2 followers
May 23, 2019
Speculative and insubstantial Waking the Tiger is a maddeningly imprecise account of trauma and its causes. The author stitches together poorly explained scientific concepts and new-age/psychodynamic theories to produce a confused and unconvincing pastiche. The writing is convoluted, obtuse, and worst of all repetitive. The jist of the book could have been well explained in 1000 words, but Levine torments us for nearly 300 pages. It may in some sense be true that, as Levine argues, the symptoms of trauma are the consequence of an unresolved emergency response, but we cannot know this from his account. All of the evidence Levine presents us with is circumstantial, anecdotal, and ambiguous. The entire argument feels selective and highly motivated to support Levine's priors. There is very little to admire in this boring and poorly written book.
Profile Image for Viviana Obadau.
37 reviews6 followers
February 13, 2022
- You can’t push the river.

- Much of the violence that plagues humanity is a direct or indirect result of unresolved trauma that is acted out in repeated unsuccessful attempts to reestablish a sense of empowerment.

- We are inextricably drawn into situations that replicate the original trauma in both obvious and unobvious ways. The prostitute or “stripper” with a history of childhood sexual abuse is a common example.

- When we are healthy and untraumatized, these instinctual responses add sensuality, variety, and a sense of wonder to our lives.

- The only time we see similar effects in other animals is when they are domesticated or consistently subjected to stressful conditions in controlled laboratory environments. In these cases they develop acute and chronic traumatic reactions.

-“Medusa Complex”—the drama called trauma. As in the Greek myth of Medusa, the human confusion that may ensue when we stare death in the face can turn us to stone. We may literally freeze in fear, which will result in the creation of traumatic symptoms.

- While trauma can be hell on earth, trauma resolved is a gift of the gods—a heroic journey that belongs to each of us.

- Children who have had a traumatic experience will often repeatedly recreate it in their play.

- To paraphrase Dostoevski in Notes from the Underground; no one can live without being able to explain to themselves what is happening to them, and if one day they should no longer be able to explain anything to themselves, they would say they had gone mad, and this would be for them the last explanation left.

- There are four components of trauma that will always be present to some degree in any traumatized person: 1. hyperarousal 2. constriction 3. dissociation 4. freezing (immobility), associated with the feeling of helplessness. Together, these components form the core of the traumatic reaction. They are the first to appear when a traumatic event occurs.

- The body has been designed to renew itself through continuous self-correction. These same principles also apply to the healing of psyche, spirit, and soul.

- If we are highly activated and terrified upon entering the immobility state, we will move out of it in a similar manner. “As they go in, so they come out” is an expression that Army M.A.S.H. medics use when speaking of injured soldiers. If a soldier goes into surgery feeling terror and panic, he may abruptly come out of anaesthesia in a state of frantic disorientation. Biologically, he is reacting like the animal fighting for its life after it has been frightened and captured. The impulse to attack in frantic rage, or to attempt a frantic escape is biologically appropriate. When captured prey come out of immobility, their survival may depend on violent aggression if the predator is still present.

- On the biological level, success doesn’t mean winning, it means surviving, and it doesn’t really matter how you get there. The object is to stay alive until the danger is past and deal with the consequences later. Nature places no value judgment about which is the superior strategy. If the coyote leaves the seemingly dead opossum alone, it will recover from its immobility and walk off unconcerned about whether it could have responded in a better way. Animals do not view freezing as a sign of inadequacy or weakness, nor should we.

- For humans as well as other animals, expectancy, surprise, alertness, curiosity, and the ability to sense danger are all forms of kinesthetic and perceptual awareness that arise out of these orientation complexes. In the traumatized person, these resources are diminished. Often, any stimulus will activate the frozen (trauma) response rather than the appropriate orienting response (i.e., upon hearing a car backfire, a traumatized vet may collapse in fear).

- Shock trauma occurs when we experience potentially life-threatening events that overwhelm our capacities to respond effectively. In contrast, people traumatized by ongoing abuse as children, particularly if the abuse was in the context of their families, may suffer from “developmental trauma.” Developmental trauma refers primarily to the psychologically-based issues that are usually a result of inadequate nurturing and guidance through critical developmental periods during childhood. Although the dynamics that produce them are different, cruelty and neglect can result in symptoms that are similar to and often intertwined with those of shock trauma. For this reason, people who have experienced developmental trauma need to enlist the support of a therapist to help them work through the issues that have become intertwined with their traumatic reactions.

-Our brain, often called the triune brain, consists of three integral systems. The three parts are commonly known as the reptilian brain (instinctual), the mammalian or limbic brain (emotional), and the human brain or neo-cortex (rational). Since the parts of the brain that are activated by a perceived life-threatening situation are the parts we share with animals, much can be learned by studying how certain animals, like the impala, avoid traumatization. To take this one step further, I believe that the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaptation of wild animals as they shake out and pass through the immobility response and become fully mobile and functional again. Unlike wild animals, when threatened we humans have never found it easy to resolve the dilemma of whether to fight or flee. This dilemma stems, at least in part, from the fact that our species has played the role of both predator and prey. Prehistoric peoples, though many were hunters, spent long hours each day huddled together in cold caves with the certain knowledge that they could be snatched up at any moment and torn to shreds. Our chances for survival increased as we gathered in larger groups, discovered fire, and invented tools, many of which were weapons used for hunting and self-defense. However, the genetic memory of being easy prey has persisted in our brains and nervous systems.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sumit.
248 reviews27 followers
January 3, 2020
Though I've read several books on trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and methods for processing trauma, I felt this book added some new perspectives while containing enough overlap and grounding with past work to be trustworthy (as opposed to, e.g, the cottage industry of self-help style books on trauma). After some brief background on types and origins of trauma and a helpful illustration of how trauma is processed (and cleared) in animals, the author explains how uncleared trauma is unique to humans, and how this can result in persistent issues from chronic pain to panic attacks etc. years or decades later. He then focuses on four axes of symptoms of uncleared trauma: hypervigilance, constriction, helplessness, and disassociation; these provide a framework for describing a wide range of reactions and pathologies he shows in his case studies. He discusses how the trauma can "re-negotiated" (rather than relived) to help clear it, but doesn't go into many general principles on how to do this. Instead, he illustrates the phenomena through numerous case studies, mostly from his own experiences as a therapist, and ends the book with a few chapters on "first-aid" for those who have just experienced trauma.

While I felt the book was quite useful in understanding the origins of trauma and identifying some of the symptoms, and also found the idea of "re-negotiating" trauma compelling, it doesn't provide much in the way of actionable advice on how to reduce this idea to practice. Also, while I found his case studies interesting and certainly illustrative of his perspective, it was somewhat disappointing to hear mostly anecdotes and not see more scientific grounding in the published literature or others' work. That said, the book still left me with much to think about, and I expect it will do the same for others.
Profile Image for Michael.
44 reviews12 followers
August 11, 2012
The book is written by Peter Levine with Ann Frederick. I find this book fascinating, and it has helped me to see that I have been sometime in my childhood (probably) traumatized because I have these four common symptoms: hyperarousal, constriction, dissociation, and helplessness. I hope to begin therapy soon with someone who has been trained in "Somatic Experiencing," which was devised by Levine. More later, when I finish the book!

I have now (8-11-12) finished the book and have talked with a couple of Somatic Experiencing practitioners about consulting with one of them after Labor Day. The basic premise is that we carry our traumas in our bodies, so we need to attend to the "felt sense" of an experience so that we can discharge the energy that we hold there.

Levine defines trauma very broadly. Not everybody is on board with his approach, but enough of this book resonates with me that I want to learn more.
Profile Image for Karly Danielle.
46 reviews1 follower
July 1, 2023
I appreciate Peter Levine’s work and recognize the importance of the felt sense in our bodies’ innate healing processes. I’ve witnessed the benefit of interoception in practice. While there are some empowering concepts in this book, I would not recommend it to clients given I found the tone often to be dismissive. I also found the section on memory to be misleading, and it is likely out of date (the book is from 1997). Trauma survivors struggle enough with others not believing their experiences, so for the author to spend so much time essentially undermining the accuracy of trauma survivors’ memories, I found this to be unhelpful and even harmful.
Profile Image for Narda.
26 reviews2 followers
December 19, 2012
this book was given to me by my therapist many years ago and helped me greatly in understanding the effects that trauma had on my body that i had been unable to shake off such as hypervigilance. looking at the way animals deal with traumatic experiences such as being pinned down by lions and being able to just walk away and shake it off allowed greater understanding of how we have lsot this ability as humans. good read for anyone with PTSD or unresolved grief
Profile Image for Bethany.
943 reviews18 followers
May 3, 2019
I learned some things about trauma that felt validating. But I’m a bit skeptical of the treatment process proposed. Seems a bit wackadoo.
Profile Image for Ella Tutlis.
10 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2023
I have been meaning to return to Peter Levine's work since I was first introduced to him in one of my clinical classes during my MSW program. I remember being annoyed with his theory at the time, arguing with my therapist that it felt belittling to me, the idea that our deepest felt emotions can be boiled down to our "reptilian brain". At the time, I don't think I really even understood it. At the time, I was reading it in reference to working with other people, not myself. My walls were high against any mention that my anxiety had deeper roots beyond my own rationalizing.

Coming back to this 3 years later is a gift. I have my critiques of Levine (the distillation of "aboriginal" cultures into a fantastical group, or the simplification of violence/war being about unresolved PTSD, without mention of genocide, colonialism and the deliberateness of it all through white supremacy, or the inherent whiteness of his work). But there is something so raw and TRUE feeling about his research. Beyond socialization and harm are our bodies, primed and ready to take care of us. The world has thrown so many blockages in the way of us accessing them, but they are there. I am so pumped to expand this in to working with community and my clients - This book left me with hope, new skills to try, and a deeper love and understanding of humanity.
Profile Image for Helene.
Author 6 books91 followers
September 6, 2023
This book is life-changing. I discovered somatic therapy through it. Highly recommended for Bessel van der Kolk fans.
Profile Image for Buck Wilde.
836 reviews45 followers
December 24, 2020
It's an excellent and insightful book on the topic of trauma therapy. The gold standard of current PTSD treatment is the acknowledgement that the body keeps the score. That's why PTSD flashbacks are so visceral. The refrain is, "It's like I'm back there, in that moment", and as far as the body is concerned, you are. The evolutionary perspective justifies this both in the understanding that we are animals operating on primitive mammalian hardware, and in the body's reasoning that whatever it was we did the first time we were in that traumatic (read: perceived as life-threatening) situation, we survived it, or we wouldn't be here to have the flashback. It becomes maladaptive when falling back on whatever that response was damages the way we live our lives.

Levine breaks up sympathetic nervous response into fight, flight, or freeze, and the main thrust of his argument is people who deal with PTSD are trapped in the freeze response. Animals who survive life-threatening encounters tend to take minute to literally shake it off before going about their days, but these same animals tend not to have enough cortical folding to develop an obsessive fixation on the traumatic event (and future avoidance thereof). They don't have the brain power to get stuck in the trauma, and they probably don't have the computing power to have flashbacks, because flashbacks require memory and imagination.

His recommendation is trying to create some form of meaning aside from "I was a helpless victim", not because it wasn't necessarily true, but because for therapeutic purposes it's not helpful in the long term. Sympathizing with your own victimhood is the willing lamb-on-the-altar sacrifice of your personal power and autonomy, deliberately sabotaging any efforts you (and to a lesser extent, your therapist) make to help you process the trauma and better understand the effect it has had on your perspective, your emotional response cycles, and the person you have become. You need that understanding to effect changes, and you need those changes to keep the PTSD from dominating your life. This is pragmatically indistinguishable from Levine's "shaking it off".

He wrote it for the layman and for survivors, so the language is accessible. It draws heavily on evolutionary biology and psychology which is usually conjecture cross-referenced with the fossil record, as you obviously can't naturalistically observe human evolution, or replicate it in a lab.

That said, I am utterly baffled by some of the other reviews this book is getting, calling Levine condescending or unscientific. Blood from a stone here, fellas. If you want footnotes, we can tack a few APA citations from modern psychodynamic practitioners here, and although that technically qualifies as empirical, a real scientist would understand it's about as scientific as reading tea leaves.

Psychologists are a bunch of bone shakers. All of the evidence we have comes from self-report, which can take a 180 degree turn based on whether the participant ate breakfast that day, and brain imaging, which is dudes in labcoats looking at a grainy photo and saying "that part seems to be... activated." It's the least scientific of all scientific disciplines, so to deride an active practitioner, a dude in the trenches of trauma therapy, putting his ass on the line every session and risking his own secondhand traumatization, for being unscientific... it's like standing up at the "Speak now or forever hold your peace" part of a wedding and going: "This marriage is a sham, for God cannot be proven!"

Yeah, maybe. But you don't gotta be such an asshole.
11 reviews
May 8, 2020
I can give you a complete summary of this entire garbage fire:
1) Senseless metaphors that miss their mark (mostly relating to the anim kingdom)
2) The author stroking himself and telling readers about his broad experiences and ability to heal his patients
3) Trauma is natural, bodily, and can be healed (okay, this I can agree with)
4) Condescending attitudes about lived experiences, rape, and individual struggles
5) Various newspaper headlines and vignettes of trauma, news, and patient experiences
6) No depth into any particular idea

His perspectives on trauma and lived experiences is dismissive at the very least, and harmful at worst.

I can't imagine any of the sessions he describes are actually that helpful. I would love to see the long term outcomes of all his patients.

He dismissed the actual depth and variety of traumatic experiences. He bundles trauma into an easy to digest little package, laced with pathetic metaphors, tiring generalizations, and wholly unempathetic condescension.

Honestly, this can be a great resource for someone just starting to learn about trauma (either to broaden your insights of others or of yourself). But once you're done with this, there are certainly better resources to promote actual healing. There are a lot of great insights here that people general may not think about when it comes to trauma (like bodily reactions, flight/flight, nervous system). But there is so much more that he just misses.

To be fair, it was published quite a while ago. Psych research and literature has come a long way since then. It's been shown that trauma (especially at a young age) will literally affect brain structure development and brain chemicals which affect behaviors, problem solving, impulsiveness, emotional reactions, and so much more. It takes so much to understand and process trauma in a way that this book doesn't even scratch the surface of.

If you want to learn more, take your journey elsewhere. Because all of this author's content is just the same smut over and over.
Profile Image for Alex.
113 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2022
I cannot stop thinking about this book. I listened to it on a drive back from Texas and was so immersed in it. I thought I knew a lot about trauma, but this book explained how trauma is held in the body and how it can cause pain years and years down the road if not addressed.⁠

I learned so much about why people act and feel certain ways, even if unexplainable to the outside observer. It made me think a lot about my own "medical trauma," which I feel unjustified even saying that since my experiences weren't that bad. In 7th grade I unexpectedly fainted after getting a shot, and ever since then any sort of medical situation makes me uneasy, nauseas, extremely anxious, and prone to blacking out. I've passed out from multiple shots and blood drawings since then, and even at an urgent care visit. I hate getting my vitals taken and have to focus on breathing deeply the whole time I'm in a medical office, even in the waiting room. After my wisdom teeth surgery, I wasn't loopy and saying dumb stuff, I just cried the whole way home.⁠

This book helped to explain so much of why I'm having these seemingly irrational reactions to medical situations. That initial fainting experience was so traumatic for me at the time that I continue to react the same way over a decade later. Clearly I still have some healing to do!⁠

It's hard for me to recommend books to ~everyone~ but this one may just be it. I think everyone could benefit from reading this since everyone has trauma, big or small.⁠
Profile Image for Phil J.
726 reviews56 followers
July 31, 2020
First of all, check out Rachel's review for a better explanation of the problems with this book: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

My personal experience with this book:

I read the intro and prologue first. Here are some red flags:

*Levine says his approach blends science with "oriental" wisdom. I prefer my science to be blended with more science. How do I assess the quality of the science? I check the works cited. This book has none. This is an entire "scientific" book with no works cited section. If you look carefully, though, you can find some footnotes.

* p. 5 starts with "If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember." This is the first sentence of every predatory quack-therapy pitch ever.

*p. 7: "Somatic Experiencing(TM) is new and is not subject to rigorous scientific research at this time." Anytime somebody begins their advice by saying, "I'm not a scientist, but I'm an expert," there's no grain of salt big enough for what they're about to say.

I skimmed some of the rest of the book, especially the chapter on children. It seemed like a mix of common sense and questionable unlicensed psychoanalysis.

Not recommended.
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