The Biological Nature of Trauma

biology-of-trauma-copy.jpgIn his work, Healing TraumaPeter Levine, Ph.D., writes:

Human responses to threat are primarily instinctive and biological, and secondarily psychological and cognitive.They comprise three innate action plans: fight, flight, and freeze-common to all mammals. When we sense threat, our bodies and minds enter the first stage of what is called the ‘arousal cycle’. Our muscles tense, and we begin to search for the source of possible danger. If we locate this source and perceive it to be a real threat, then we enter the second stage. Mobilized, our bodies and minds begin to produce adrenaline and cortisol, the two primary chemicals that energize us to fight or flee. In the third stage, we discharge this energy by completing the appropriate defensive actions (namely, fighting or fleeing). The fourth and final stage ensues when the nervous system, no longer aroused, returns to a state of equilibrium. If are overwhelmed by a threat and are unable to fight or flee, we instinctively employ the third action plan the "freezing response". This defensive maneuver serves two purposes:1.) It may fool the attacker into losing interest, allowing us a chance to escape and 2.) We will not suffer any pain if we are injured or killed while in this state, because in immobility, consciousness seems to leave the body (dissociation). 



Here’s the Problem: Even though we are immobilized, our nervous system is still highly aroused. Since we have been unable to discharge any of the fight-or-flight energy that our body has mobilized, we are left us in a state like that of a car whose accelerator and brakes are being floored at the same time. It is impossible to complete the arousal cycle if one can't move!  Animals who survive an attack by using the freezing response simply allow for the biological discharge of excess energy and completion of the arousal cycle. Instinctively, animals tremble in a way that restores spontaneous breathing and allows the nervous system to regain its balance.....

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