“Potentially traumatic situations are ones that induce states of high physiologic arousal but without the freedom for the affected person to express and get past these states: danger without the possibility of fight or flight and, afterward, without the opportunity to ‘shake it off,’ as a wild animal would following a frightful encounter with a predator. What ethologists call tonic immobility – the paralysis and physical/emotional shutdown that characterize the universal experience of helplessness in the face of mortal danger – comes to dominate the person’s life and functioning. We are ‘scared stiff.’ In human beings, unlike in animals, the state of temporary freezing becomes a long-term trait. The survivor … may remain ‘stuck in a kind of limbo, not fully reengaging in life.’ In circumstances where others sense no more than a mild threat or even a challenge to be faced, the traumatized person experiences threat, dread and mental/physical listlessness, a kind of paralysis of body and will. Shame, depression and self-loathing follow in the wake of such imposed helplessness.
Trauma is not a disease, but rather a human experience rooted in survival instincts. Inviting the full, if carefully graded, expression of our instinctive responses will allow the traumatic state to loosen its hold on the sufferer. Goodness, the restoration of vitality, follows. It springs from within. ‘Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.’
In our suffering lies also our salvation. … the same psychophysiologic systems that govern the traumatic state also mediate core feelings of goodness and belonging.”
Levine PA. "In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness." North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, 2010.
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