My life sometimes feels like a remembering rather than a living.

At times I feel like I’m being guided by something that already knows the song of my life — like my lived life is my future self remembering me.

My research into trauma has brought this feeling back.

As I begin to grasp her principles and her methods, I’m seeing how my childhood, academic interests, and dharma have all colluded in constructing the being that is ‘me’ to understand trauma, and to be transformed by it.

My childhood was a tour de force in witnessing beautiful humans struggling with undiagnosed and untreated trauma.

I think most of ours were.

And then there was the branches of the tree of my academic passions. First there was my pull to mythology, which led to a love for psychology and dreams. In college, as I pursued my Bachelor’s of Science in Cognitive Psychology, I became obsessed with Pragmatic Philosophy, Evolutionary Biology, Ethology, Phenomenology, and the modern revolutions in Neuropsychobiology.

My childhood, and my academic explorations have been weaved together into a beautiful tapestry by my dharma.

Our dharma is our ‘sacred task’ we are born into the world to fulfill.

Mine is to help people heal themselves, and sitting at the feet of the Spirit of Trauma has taught me:

We all have trauma inside us, and we all have the inner resources to heal our trauma, and when we do, we will be transformed by it.

A Story of Psyche and Entropy
Before ‘Once upon a time,’ there was the one — The Void.

Out of the void arose the first lovers.

From the One came The Two.

Psyche and Entropy.

Psyche was the birth of life.

Entropy was the birth of death.

Psyche looked upon The Void and said:

“Wouldn’t it be beautiful for something to be?”

And on the magic of her pneumatic words, life began to expand into The Void.

Entropy looked upon the beauty of his love’s creations and committed to her:

“Before The Void I vow to serve the becoming of your creations, to make them as beautiful as possible.”

And on the magic of his pneumatic words, a fate was bound.

As Psyche made life, Entropy transformed life.

This was there love-making.

Through their dance they gave birth to Growth.

The Two became the Three, and from the Three came the 10,000.

The dance of Psyche and Entropy sparked the beginning of every Once Upon a Time.


I imagine Psyche as a goddess unfolding through The Void of the universe like a great cosmic tree spreading her roots.

Trauma are points where the roots collide with the love of Entropy.

Each encounter of Entropy is an opportunity for Psyche to grow, and Psyche wants nothing else but to grow.

Each trauma healed teaches Psyche how to create something more beautiful.

Each of us are a tendril of this great living tree, and each of us updates the collective as we process and heal our trauma.

To heal your trauma is to add fruit to the grand tree of Psyche.

Trauma and its symptoms, and how it is healed, is understood when we understand that the ultimate will of Psyche is to grow.

Psyche seeks, constantly, to reestablish order in the being that has been traumatized.

What heals trauma is the physical or symbolic completion of adaptive action that would have ‘solved’ the original traumatic experience.

The details of this will be explored throughout this article, but the gist is that trauma is essentially a question to the psyche;

“What is the adaptive response to this experience?”

The question unanswered creates traumatic symptoms.

The question answered creates transformation.

The gift of trauma is that, if the question can be answered, the wound of trauma becomes the womb through which the organism is transformed, is reborn.

Trauma is a cocoon.

Traumatic symptoms are the birth pangs of the butterfly.

Trauma healed are our wings.

Article Overview

1) What is Trauma?

2) The Animal and The Artist

3) The Animal’s Response To Trauma

4) The Three Types of Trauma

5) The Symptoms of Trauma

6) How To Heal Trauma

7) Medusa Rising: Interpreting the Myth

Let’s go.

What is Trauma?

The 4-Dimensional Being

The etymology of trauma is ‘wound.’

Trauma was first recognized as a wound to the physical body, but recent research is helping us remember that we also have an emotional body and a narrative body.

This has to do with the different types of memory humans are capable of.

All three bodies can be traumatized.

To understand this, we need to reframe what a human being is.

Because of memory, humans are 4-dimensional beings.

If we could see someone’s fourth dimension, we would see their emotional and narrative history extending backwards behind them.

Our memories are alive, now, in the same way our entire 3-dimensional body is alive, now.

If we could see someone’s past, they’d look like a long snake-like creature with their head being their ‘present’ selves, and their tail being the moment their mother’s egg and father’s sperm merged to create a zygote.

The key here is that their narrative and emotional history are built by memory; all of us have this 4th dimensional body (the ‘emotional body’ and the ‘story body’), and it’s limbs and joints and muscles are not created by what actually happened to us, but how we remember what happened to us.

Trauma is a kind of memory.

There are two primary memory systems that make up our 4th dimension;

1) Somatic Memory (The Emotional Body)

2) Narrative Memory (The Story Body)

(We’ll cover this more in the next section).

Trauma is a wounding at some point on this 4-dimensional creature’s ‘body.’

If we adopt this 4-dimensional model of the human’s emotional body, we will understand that our entire history is alive and potentially active in the present moment.

People bring their histories with them wherever they go.

And in the same way our physical body has a natural healing response to a physical wound, our psyche has a natural healing response to an emotional wound.

But in the same way the body cannot heal unless the wound is cleaned and the object removed, our psyche cannot heal if the wound is not cleaned or if ‘the object is not removed.’

To remove ‘the object’ of trauma, we must complete the actions our body knew needed to be done in the moment.

To exist is to receive woundings. As a finite being embedded in infinity, there is no escaping it.

To live is to know trauma and knowing trauma does not make you broken, unworthy, unloveable, dirty, or damaged.

Trauma is a sacred wound, and cleaning this wound is a sacred task.

The Animal and The Artist

The woe of Western Civilization is that we’ve decapitated our minds from our bodies.

We’ve cut the story body off from the emotional body.

We’ve dubbed the intellect divine, and the body foul.

If we look to ancient civilizations; the Egyptians, the cave paintings of Mesoamerica, and nearly every shamanic linage we have record of, we see the gods as half-human half-animal.

There is deep wisdom here…we are animals and artists.

And when we look at the foundational Western myths, our heroes are killing the animals.

First we have the story of Gilgamesh, the oldest hero myth. He is ‘The Master of Animals.’ He slays the snake in the garden of Inanna.

Then we have Hercules, who kills countless animals presented as monsters, and ‘cleans the horse stables’ for King Augeas.

And later, there is Moses, who condemns the worship of the golden cow.

Embedded in Western Culture’s hero myths is the archetypical denial and repression of our animal nature.

These myths were the precursor to Descartes, who declared:

“I Think, Therefore I am.”

And thus, the beginning of the modern dissociation from the animal body had officially acquired its anthem.

The first famous heretic was Darwin and his blasphemous book On The Origin of Species, then Jung came with his ‘archetypes,’ and finally the Russian neurologists discovered the empirical and biological foundation of the archetypes.

What these heretics discovered, really rediscovered, is that humans are animals first, story-tellers second.

We instinct first, feel second, and only lastly, think.

To understand trauma, we must re-member ourselves. We must bring the severed head of modern man back its body.

We must remember we are duel natured;

We are both The Animal and The Artist.

The Animal houses our instincts and our emotions.

The Artist is the part that ‘thinks,’ that tells stories.

And this is critical for understanding trauma.


The first step to healing trauma is to connect our minds back to our bodies. To connect The Animal to The Artist.

The Animal

There is a story where a father takes his son birdwatching. The child has never seen a bird before and is in awe at the amazing movement, shape, and agility of these dancing aerial creatures as they flutter through the sky.

After some repetition, the father teaches the son that these creatures are called ‘birds.’

And the moment the boy learns the word ‘bird,’ he never sees the creatures again. The mystery has been replaced by a word, and the boy now only sees the linguistic category ‘bird.’

The word ‘body’ is like this.

We say the word all the time; we have a vague low-resolution concept in our mind about what a body is — but if we step out of the word, and contemplate the mystery for a moment, the body is absolutely incomprehensibly baffling.

Our bodies are the result of a multi-trillion year process that began inside the big bang. Our core materials were forged in the furnaces of stars exploding.

The genetic code that build and maintain our bodies everyday has been churning, learning, and transforming through hundreds of thousands of different bodies — our ancestors — generation after generation, combining and recombining their materials constantly seeking greater adaption to the world it finds itself in.

Our bodies are the result of the love-making of Psyche and Entropy for aeons.

We are living inside the most sophisticated spacesuit for embodying consciousness on planet earth.

Understanding the nature of the human animal body is a fundamental part of the modern mental health revolution and for understanding trauma.

Our bodies have evolutionary histories, and the imprint of those histories come with us when we are born. These histories are our instincts and the archetypes.

If we use a computer metaphor, instincts are your hardware, and archetypes are the default programs that come installed on your computer that you can’t delete.

Instincts and archetypes are evidence that the will of the intelligence that animates all life is always seeking to learn how to act more adaptively.

Our instincts and the archetypes that guide us are the current accumulation of adaptive actions psyche as body has learned through our evolutionary history.

And the function of our lives, as far as our bodies are concerned is to continue this learning.

The life force that animates our animal bodies is trying to learn how to respond adaptively to all life experiences.

Traumas are experiences that require the animal to adapt. Traumatic symptoms are messages from the body that we have yet to ‘complete the learning.’


You are an animal first, ‘human’ second. This animal has lived thousands of lives, and has brought its memories with it into our body. The animal’s memory are instincts and archetypes.

One of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself is to understand the instincts and archetypes that animate you.

The Artist

The Artist is the part of our psyche that can use language.

Connect to the fact for a moment that I’m guiding your thoughts right now. I can make you think of a tree by simply typing the words “Imagine a tree. Feel it’s bark on your hands. Smell its scent. Watch the way the sun shines through her leaves.” We are engaged in telepathy right now. My psyche (and my voice if you’ve heard it before), is in you right now.

We are also time-traveling. As I write these words, you are reading them in my future, and as you read these words, my now is your past.

With language, we can put our minds into other minds, and we can move our minds backwards and forwards in time.

Language allows the psyche to space and time travel.

Language also allows us to tell stories, and stories may be the most powerful technology in the known universe.

Humans can only wage war with stories. Humans can only build cities with stories. Humans will only be able to save this planet from ourselves with stories.

Our individual lives are founded on stories. Our families, cities, states, nation, and civilizations rest upon stories.


And this divine power is held by the youngest and weakest part of our brains…


One of the popular metaphors psychologists currently use to describe the relationship between The Animal and The Artist is what is called ‘The Elephant and The Rider.’

The oldest and most powerful parts of the brain are powered by instincts and emotions. This is our elephant.

The newest and most easily over-powered part of the brain, The Cortex, is where we language-make and story-create.

And the most important part of this metaphor to understand is:

The Artist has evolved to tell stories that justify the feelings and actions of The Animal.

As it applies to trauma — if your Animal is wounded, your Artist is going to be compelled to tell stories about the world that justify the wound to the animal and the subsequent coping behaviors the Animal chooses to protect itself.

To liberate The Artist to be free to tell beautiful stories, we first must heal The Animal.


The story-telling part of you is one of the most powerful aspects of your psyche. If The Animal is wounded, our stories about ourselves and the world skew towards darkness.

The Biology of The Animal and The Artist

For the context of trauma, it is useful to imagine the brain’s primary function is to learn adaptive behaviors for the body to survive on this planet.

The oldest part of the brain, called The Reptilian Brain in the Triune Brain Model stores the oldest adaptive behaviors our bodies have learned through thousands of lifetimes.

These are our instincts.

All organisms on the planet share the instincts that live in the reptilian brain.

The next eldest part of the brain is called The Mammalian Brain, or The Limbic Brain, and this is where most of our emotions are stored.

We are social mammals. Over millions of years of living in groups, our brains developed a set of emotions specifically adapted to guide our behavior in groups.

This is why you feel emotions — to guide your adaptive social behavior.

The Reptilian Brain and The Mammalian Brain make up The Animal.

Instincts are our memories we’ve inherited for individual survival.

Emotions are our memories we’ve inherited for social survival.

The youngest part of the brain, the cortex, is called The New Brain or The Primate Brain, and this is the The Artist.

This is the part of the brain that uses language, focuses conscious attention, and performs what we call our ‘higher executive functions.’

Trauma is a question from Entropy to Psyche;

“What is the adaptive response to this experience? How do we grow from this? How do we transform from this into something more beautiful?”

First, our instincts attempt to solve the question.

If our instincts can’t answer the question of trauma, our emotions attempt to cope with the unanswered question of trauma.

If neither our instincts or our emotions can solve the question of trauma, the story-teller unconsciously justifies the coping behaviors of the unanswered trauma.

Trauma becomes traumatic if the question is not answered.

To understand how this happens, we first need to understand our instinctual response to trauma.

To understand how trauma becomes traumatic, we first need to understand how The Animal tries to solve trauma through instincts.

The Animal’s Response To Trauma

The Animal is an ancient being who has lived thousands of lives on this planet, and everything it has learned is engrained into you as the wisdom of the body — as instinct.

A part of this wisdom of the body is to create your perception of reality.

It is beyond the scope of this article to get into the details, but you don’t see objective reality as it is, your animal automatically categorizes the swirling atomic dance that is reality into evolutionarily adaptive categories.

‘Enemy,’ ‘friend,’ ‘mate,’ ‘object I can hold and throw’ (phone, book, etc), ‘object I can eat,’ ‘object that could kill me’ — these are constructs our Animal creates for us so we can engage the world through action.

Your Animal has evolved to try to predict the meaning of all the evolutionarily adaptive categories in your environment in each moment.

Your Animal is constantly comparing its expectation of your environment, with the signals your Animal receives from the environment.

And every animal with a spinal cord on the planet as a set of instincts that are activated when the expectation of the environment doesn’t match the signals received from the environment.

When something appears in your reality that you don’t understand, the Animal needs to determine as quickly as possible whether this anomaly is a threat, and thus, a set of instincts are activated.

There are three stages of The Animal’s instinctual response to anomalies:

1) The Orienting Response

2) The Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

3) Discharging The Fight-Flight-Freeze Response

Step 1) The Orienting Response

Imagine you’re in a crowded cafe reading this article and you hear a loud shatter.

Every mammal in the cafe, even your dog, will perform the same set of behaviors all in less than a second.

First the vibration of the shatter will enter your ears and the difference in time between the vibration entering both ears will guide your eyes to the source of the sound.

As your head instinctively turns to locate the source of the sound, your heart begins to pump more blood to your muscles, your eyes widen to take in more visual information, and you will hold your breath as you gauge the situation.

This is the orienting response, and it is hardwired into your nervous system to activate before your conscious mind even begins to respond to the potential ‘threat.’

The Animal has had to survive in the presence of lunging snakes and stalking cats for thousands of years and this instinct has been honed over millennia to protect you.

Once we have oriented, The Animal accesses what actions it needs to perform.

PS. Next time you walk in a room where some friends are talking, drop something loudly on the ground and watch their bodies. You’ll see the orienting response in action.

Step 2a) The Fight-Or-Flight Response

Once we orient towards the anomaly, we instantly begin to assess it’s danger and how we should respond to it.

In our cafe example, most organisms in the room will have a memory of what glass breaking in a cafe means.

They will see an embarrassed waitress cleaning up the mess and will know it is not dangerous. The Animal will return back to the biological baseline it was at before the sound.

But imagine, instead of an embarrassed barista, you see a man with a gun. A waitress is laying unconscious on the floor, and the man is waving his gun in your direction.

Before your conscious mind is aware of a thought, your heart-rate will elevate drastically. Your digestion will shut down as the majority of your blood is powerfully pumped to your muscles for potential action.

You may flip the table over and use it as cover (a form of fight).

You may bolt for the closest exit (a form of flight).

Whichever you choose, the instincts coursing through your body in these few critical moments are some of the most powerful sensations a human can feel.

If standing one’s ground or escaping is not felt by The Animal as a viable solution, the body will choose our last survival option; the ‘freeze’ response.

(Here is a video reviewing the fight-or-flight response.)

Step 2b) The Freeze Response

Because the Freeze Response is so important to trauma, it deserves its own section.

Humans have an interesting evolutionary history; throughout our development we have been both prey and predators, and so, we have both the fight-or-flight response (predator instinct) and the freeze response (prey instinct). The Freeze response is an instinct most prey animals have.

The evolutionary benefit of this instinct is four fold:

  1. The predator may drop it’s guard thinking the prey is dead, allowing for escape.

  2. Freezing appears as ‘dead’ to predators, and unless they are very hungry, they tend not to eat ‘dead’ meat.

  3. Most predators require movement from prey to trigger their chase and kill instincts.

  4. The Freeze response numbs the prey; which reduces pain.

Imagine we are back in the cafe, and the gunman starts shooting. People are screaming and running. Some are bleeding.

And instead of running, you freeze.

You would feel your heart pumping so hard you’d feel your ribcage may crack, yet you couldn’t move. You’d notice you are barely breathing. Outwardly you are frozen, inwardly your entire body is on fire.

And it is the Freeze response that is the critical factor for most people’s experience of PTSD.

The freeze response can create PTSD symptoms if the ‘fight-flight-freeze cycle’ is never completed

Step 3) Discharging

If fight or flight is chosen, the body will release a powerful mixture of chemicals and hormones to perform whatever action The Animal has deemed adaptive.

As the energy is used through running, lifting, fighting, etc; the expenditure of the energy is the signal to the body that it can relax again, that the threat is gone.

This is worth repeating.

The fight-or-flight response knows it is out of the presence of life-threatening danger once it has completed the action The Animal felt was an adaptive response to the threat.

Completing the behaviors that were instinctually demanded in the presence of the trauma is the indicator to the body that it can relax again.

However, the splinter of trauma wounds the emotional body of the animal if the instinct cycle is not completed.

The absence of the ‘discharging’ tells the animal that the threat has not been solved.

If the freeze response is chosen and not ‘shaken out’ or if our fight-or-flight response is blocked, this powerful instinctual response to a life-threatening stimulus stays activated — for weeks, months, years, or decades.

This leads to the seemingly weird and ‘random’ symptoms associated with trauma (more on this in the symptom section).

This video may be one of the most important videos someone who has gone through trauma can watch.

The bear is being chased and then in tranquilized. The tranquilization interrupts the flight response.

As the bear comes out of the sedation, it instinctively knows how to discharge the powerful instinctual energy that seized it.

It trembles and convulses.

Then it begins deep energy-clearing breathing.

Your Animal knows how to do this.

Watch this video and let your conscious mind see what this looks like. You will likely have to do your own version of this at some point to clear shock trauma.

The trauma healing pioneer Peter Levine discovered people holding trauma have to go through this discharge - the trembling and deep breathing.

The subtle yet revolutionary discovery is that the ‘tremors’ are really micro-movements of the actions the organism needed to take during the traumatic situation in order to survive.

On the bear video:

“When the bear’s response is viewed in slow motion, it becomes obvious that the seemingly random leg gyrations are actually coordinated running movements. It is as though the animal completes its escape by actively finishing the running movements that were interrupted at the moment when it was tranquilized. Then, the bear shakes off the ‘frozen energy’ as it surrenders in spontaneous, full-bodied breaths.”

All mammals have a set of instincts to respond to danger. If the danger triggers the freeze response, or psychologically/physiologically inhibits the fight-or-flight response, humans will tend to show symptoms of Post-traumatic stress.

And if we learn how to allow the body to ‘complete the action,’ we will see our symptoms fade away.

‘Traumatic symptoms’ are messengers from the Animal to the Artist that we have not ‘completed the learning.’

The Animal is asking The Artist to help it complete the learning experience.

To understand what actions need to be taken to complete the learning experience, let’s look at the three major types of trauma.

Types of Trauma

There seems to be three types of trauma, and understanding them will help in the healing process.

The Three Types of Trauma

  1. Narrative Trauma (Artist Trauma)

  2. Shock Trauma (Classic PTSD)

  3. Developmental Trauma (Complex PTSD)

1 - Narrative Trauma

Deriving from the Latin 'narrativus’ meaning ‘telling a story,’, Narrative Trauma is when one is unable to understand and integrate the meaning of the traumatic experience into the story of their lives.

Exploring the depths and subtleties of how humans build a personal illusory world through language is one of the most fascinating aspects of psychology, but it is beyond the scope of this article.

The gist that is important here is that humans use unconscious and conscious stories to reduce the infinite complexity of the world to manageable ‘chunks,’ and narrative trauma is when an event happens to us that destabilizes a ‘critical mass’ of our overall story - which destabilizes the meaning of our lives.

Narrative Trauma is a wound to The Artist.

Here are two examples:

The Solider That ‘Commits Evil’

A solider believes he is fundamentally a good person. While at war, a child carries a bomb towards his platoon and our solider shoots the child. Not only does he kill a child, but he feels in his body, at the moment of the kill, a kind of animalistic pleasure that completely destroys his story of himself.

He now has to integrate the truth that he not only killed a child, but a part of him enjoyed doing so.

He did not freeze, and his fight-or-flight response was not inhibited, but he now does not know who or what he is.

He lives with a shame and guilt that eats him.

The Wife That Is No Longer A Wife

A married woman of 13 years comes home to find her husband has left her a note saying he has had an affair for the last 7 years and is moving out to marry this other woman.

Our protagonist’s past, present, and future are all changed in this single moment of note-reading. Who she thought she was is now a lie, where she thought her life was going is now wrong, and she is no longer a married woman; she is now a single woman heading towards divorce.

Again, she did not freeze in the presence of a threat, and she did not have her fight-or-flight instinct suppressed.

She lives with a sense of confusion and self-hatred that eats her.


These two stories or examples of trauma to our Artist. When one of our primary stories about who we are die in the presence of a new truth, we tend to enter a kind of depression or grief.

This is Narrative Trauma.

If you are interested in exploring how to heal Narrative trauma, read my article on Expressive Writing.

2 - Shock Trauma

“Traumatic memories are fundamentally different from the stories we tell about the past. They are dissociated: the different sensations that entered the brain at the time of the trauma are not properly assembled into a story, a piece of autobiography.” 
-Bessel can der Kolk

Shock Trauma is what most of us understand as classic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This was first called ‘Shell Shock’ after World War I.

This kind of trauma is a wound to The Animal.

It occurs when the threat is so massive that we enter the ‘Freeze Response,’ or when we attempt the ‘Fight-or-Flight Response,’ and it is inhibited either physically or psychologically.

TRIGGER WARNING: This section may be triggering to veterans and those who have endured sexual abuse.


The classic example is when the solider hears and feels a bomb explode next to him. His friend, who he had spent nearly every waking minute with the last 18 months, who was just standing next to him, is gone in the wake of the explosion.

He sees pieces — a leg, a partial torso. His body instantly imprints the smell of burning flesh and ammunition. The sound of the incoming bomb, the dead stillness right before impact, the burst of wind, and the sound of the explosion itself sear into his somatic memory.

He is frozen.

His comrades have to come rescue him. One of them is injured, and another dies trying to save him.

At some point, if he is lucky, his body will feel safe again, and he will tremble and shake. He may scream. He may weep.

But until he does, the terror, guilt, and shame will live in his emotional body and will slowly eat his health.


A woman is out at a bar. She meets a man who buys her a drink, as she begins to drink it, her awareness fades out.

She comes to with this man on top of her raping her. In her mind she is screaming, she is trying to push this man off of her, but her body is not moving. A combination of the freeze response and the drugs he put in her drink keep her from being able to defend herself.

The alcohol on his breath, the sound of his grunts, and the smell of his cologne sear into her somatic memory.

Once he finishes, and her body is able to function again, in a daze, she gets dressed and stumbles out of the apartment.

She doesn’t tell anyone. She refuses to believe this has happened to her.

At some point, if she is lucky, she will feel safe enough to revisit this traumatic moment, she will tremble and she will shake. Her arms and feet may begin to punch and kick the air above her, she may begin to scream “NO” or scream for help.

But until she does, the guilt and shame and terror of this moment will live in her emotional body and slowly eat her health.


A much less known, but prevalent, type of shock trauma comes from surgical procedures.

A child has to get surgery for her appendicitis. As the anesthesia rolls into her body, she is terrified. She feels alone as she looks up at looming figures in masks. She wants to run and scream, but she can’t.

Although her conscious mind is offline, her Animal still experiences the cut being made on her body, feels her insides being moved and manipulated.

When she wakes up, if her parents are not there, and if the bed-side care isn’t impeccable, she may experience dread, abandonment, and a feeling of having been violated.

At some point, if she is lucky, she will feel safe enough to revisit this experience and process her terror, her loneliness, and her abandonment.

But until she does, these emotions will live in her emotional body and will slowly eat her health.


A Note of Hope: These things happen every day, our responses to them are natural, and we are designed to heal them when we learn how to get out of the way of the healing process.

3 - Developmental Trauma

Developmental Trauma is when a human, as a child, repeatedly experiences trauma from a caretaker in childhood. This can be emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

The fundamental difference between narrative/shock trauma and developmental trauma is that developmental trauma destroys humans natural attachment bonds.

As social animals, we are hardwired to seek security, safety, protection, and nurturance from our caretakers. Our relationships with our caretakers mold The Animal and The Artist in how the organism builds relationships.

If the caretaker is also the source of trauma, The Animal and The Artist find themselves in an impossible situation:

“How can I learn to love what hurts me?”

This kind of trauma is the hardest to heal. It is called ‘Complex PTSD’ for a reason.

It will get its own post in the future, and the current best resource I have found for people who either believe they have it, or are curious to learn more about it is Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD.

Shame, Guilt and Fear are the Gods that Trap Trauma

The Gods that trap trauma in our emotional body is Shame, Guilt, and Fear.

The most important aspects of trauma I want to make as clear as possible is:

There is nothing shameful about how you responded to your trauma, and you are not worthless, broken, bad, dirty, useless, evil, or any other adjective you can think of.

You are a human being who has been injured, and you likely have not been properly diagnosed, haven’t been given effective healing tools, and have been raised in a culture that fundamentally does not understand trauma.

And it can be healed. There are answers, and a growing community of healers, therapists, researchers, and policy makers are beginning to understand trauma and how to heal it.

The next section is going to explore one of the most interesting aspects of trauma — the symptoms it creates.

Symptoms of Trauma

“The healing of trauma depends upon the recognitions of its symptoms." -Peter Levine

To understand the symptoms of trauma, let’s review what we’ve covered.

The will of Psyche is to grow.

Memory makes us a 4-dimensional animal. Memory creates our emotional body.

Trauma is a wound somewhere along our emotional body.

Trauma is a question, and traumatic symptoms are the ways The Animal continues to ask The Artist: “What is the adaptive response to this?”

Traumatic symptoms are evidence we have yet to answer the question.

If our instincts attempted to answer the question trauma asked by activating the fight-flight-freeze response, and it didn’t ‘complete’ the response, our animal is still living as if the trauma is happening now.

This is what causes most of the symptoms we see associated with trauma.

Disclaimer: Our symptoms to a traumatic experience, and our journey of healing, is specifically unique to each of us. The symptoms below are not diagnostic, but they can help bring awareness. They have been collected by Peter Levine, a leading expert on trauma.

There are roughly four stages of traumatic symptoms:

1st Tier - Moments to days after

2nd Tier - Weeks to months after

3rd Tier - Months to years after

4th Tier - Years to decades after

1st Tier Symptoms: (Minutes to days after)

When The Animal experiences a threat, there are four ‘symptoms’ that all humans exhibit, and these four symptoms are referred to as the Core Four responses to trauma.

They are as follows:

1) Hyper-Vigilance

2) Constriction

3) Disassociation

4) Helplessness

1 - Hyper-Vigilance

This is the bulging, scanning eyes.

This is The Animal ‘on edge,’ anticipating a threat.

Hyper-vigilance, when it occurs directly after the presence of trauma, is completely adaptive, however, continued hyper-vigilance after the traumatic experience is one of the core roots that create most the symptoms we see manifest over the weeks, months, and years that follow a traumatic experience.

Hyper-vigilance is The Animal at max alert, it is a nervous system that feels it is in the presence of potentially life-ending danger.

Hyper-vigilance elevates the heart rate, it tells our sensorium to look for danger. When in this state, we anticipate threat.

And if we get stuck in this high arousal state, neutral human faces feel threatening, our digestion system doesn’t work properly, we have a hard time breathing deeply, our sleep is disrupted, we experience nightmares and night terrors, we startle more easily, and we will have a hard time concentrating, learning, and forming new memories.

We are in a constant state of fear. We are living as if the traumatic threat is still present…because to our emotional body, it is.

If this system is activated in the trauma holder, it is the first thing that has to be restored for healing to begin.

2 - Constriction

Hyper-vigilance tells the animal it must be prepared to fight, flee, or freeze, and so, our bodies constrict.

Our muscles tense, our breathing, vision, posture, blood vessels all constrict; even the way we literally perceive the world constricts.

Again, if this happens in the moment of threat, this is completely adaptive. It prepares us to fight or run from the threat, but if this becomes a chronic state, we will likely have body pain (usually low back or shoulder/neck), our posture will ‘fall into itself,’ we will hyper-focus on what what we fear, our breathing will be shallow, and this may give way to panic attacks.

3 - Dissociation

David Livingstone describes being attacked by a lion:

“I heard a shout. Startled, in looking half round, I saw the lion just in the act of springing upon me. I was upon a little height; he caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both came to the ground below together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of the cat. It caused a sort of dreaminess in which there was no sense of pain nor feeling or terror, though quite conscious of all that was happening. It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife. This singular condition was not the result of any mental process. The shake annihilated fear, and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast. This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivore; and if so, is a merciful provision by our benevolent creator for lessening the pain of death.”

Dissociation is a perfect response to life-ending threats, but it can be radically disruptive if it becomes chronic.

At its lowest volume, it will feel like a kind of spaciness. We feel removed from our lives, like there is a thin wall between ourselves and our sensations, thoughts, and emotions.

We forget our keys, we tend to be clumsy, accumulating small or major injuries frequently. We have gaps in our memory, parts of our bodies may feel numb or disconnected from our awareness, and we may black out when stressed or drinking alcohol, and use drugs that help us aid in the continued dissociation.

At its most severe, it can lead to multiple personality disorder. Some people can’t even recognize their bodies in a mirror.

There are four kinds of dissociation:

1 - Between consciousness and body

2 - One part of body from the rest

3 - The self from emotions, thoughts, and sensations

4 - The self from the memory of the event

Dissociation deserves a special note. It is not shameful — it is a natural response to threat. It does not make you weak. It does not mean you wanted what happened to you to happen to you. And dissociation is also the root that causes memories to be repressed.

I’ve observed a natural intelligence in the psyche where it will withhold certain memories until it feels the ego is sturdy enough to hold it.

There is nothing shameful or wrong about repressed memories. When you are ready, the Animal will reveal them to The Artist.

4 - Helplessness

The core spiritual wound of trauma is the felt sense that we are helpless, that we do not have the power to face the reality of life.

At its lowest volume, this is procrastination, avoiding commitments and obligations, seeking to be rescued by others, and a general feeling of apathy towards life.

At its highest volume, this is a chronic ‘frozen’ response to life. We may refuse to drive or leave our homes. We are convinced that nothing we do matters, that life is not worth trying to improve, and we seek, through inaction, to die.


Only if these 4 ‘symptoms’ become chronic and habitual do the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier symptoms arise.

These symptoms become chronic when we don’t ‘complete the adaptive action’ our instincts attempted to perform in the moment of trauma.

“These four symptoms comprise the core of the traumatic reaction and are the surest way to know that trauma has occurred — if you can recognize how they feel.

As the constellation of symptoms grows increasingly complex, some combination of these four components of the core of the traumatic reaction will always be present. When you can recognize them, these components will help you distinguish between symptoms that are due to trauma and those that are not.”
-Peter Levine

Overview Video

2nd Tier Symptoms: (Few days/weeks to months after)

All of the following symptoms are the result of the organism continuing to feel it is in the presence of danger. This arouses the nervous system and costs energy. These symptoms are actually adaptive responses from the nervous system to ‘let off steam.’ They are not shameful. They are natural.

  • Hyper-vigilance

  • intrusive imagery or flashbacks

  • extreme sensitivity to light and sounds

  • hyperactivity

  • exaggerated emotional and startle responses

  • nightmares and night terrors

  • abrupt mood swings; e.g., rage reactions or temper tantrums, shame

  • reduced ability to deal with stress (easily and frequently stressed out)

  • difficulty sleeping

3rd Tier Symptoms: (Months to years after)

How the traumatic symptoms unfold is unique to each person, and some of the previous stage’s symptoms may not appear until later.

As the animal continues to stay in hyper-vigilance, the months and years of hyper-arousal, disrupted sleep, and chronic fear continue to tax the body.

  • panic attacks, anxiety, and phobias

  • mental “blankness” or “spaciness”

  • exaggerated startle response

  • extreme sensitivity to light and sound

  • hyperactivity

  • exaggerated emotional responses

  • nightmares and night terrors

  • avoidance behavior

  • attraction to dangerous situations

  • frequent crying

  • abrupt mood swings: e.g. rage, temper tantrums, shame

  • exaggerated or diminished sexual activity

  • amnesia and forgetfulness

  • inability to love, nurture, or bond with others

  • fear of dying, going crazy, or having a shortened life

  • reduced ability to deal with stress (easily and frequently stressed out)

  • difficulty sleeping

4th Tier Symptoms: (Years to Decades after)

Again, how the traumatic symptoms unfold is unique to each person, and some of the previous stage’s symptoms may not appear until later.

As the animal continues to stay in hyper-vigilance, the months and years of hyper-arousal, disrupted sleep, and chronic fear continue to tax the body.

  • excessive shyness

  • muted or diminished emotional responses

  • inability to make commitments

  • chronic fatigue or very low physical energy

  • immune system problems and certain endocrine issues

  • psychosomatic illnesses; headaches, neck and back pain, asthma, etc

  • depression, feelings of impending doom

  • feelings of detachment, alienation, and isolation

  • diminished interest in life

  • fear of dying, going crazy, or having a shortened life

  • frequent crying

  • abrupt mood swings

  • exaggerated or diminished sexual activity

  • amnesia and forgetfulness

  • feelings and behaviors of helplessness

  • inability to love, nurture, or bond with others

  • difficulty sleeping

  • reduced ability to deal with stress and to formulate plans

The Daimonic Symptom: The Compulsion to Repeat

“Frequent re-enactment is the most intriguing and complex symptom of trauma.” -Peter Levine

Re-enactment may be the most important symptom in all the traumatic symptoms because it reveals how we heal trauma.

Re-enactment is the unconscious compulsion to repeat behaviors that allow the original trauma to play out again because the psyche is seeking resolution by giving the organism another opportunity to choose a new adaptive response.

There is a story Levine shares of watching two tiger cubs that were chased up a tree by a hyena. Once the hyena left, the cubs slowly climbed down and began playing. All mammals demonstrate play behavior. The insight Levine saw was that the cubs were re-playing the chase-down they just survived. They each explored new evasive maneuvers, ran up different trees, and explored some defensive attacks on each other.

Children who experience trauma will do this too. If you give them toys to play with, they tend to re-enact the traumatic experience.

Levine proposes that the evolutionary function of ‘play’ is to practice survival skills, and when it comes to trauma, ‘play’ is an insight into the function of the Daimonic Symptom.

Psyche is seeking growth.

It seems to be that the ultimate function of life is to constantly seek to learn new adaptive behaviors.

Trauma is Entropy embracing Psyche so that Growth can be born.

The force that animates your being wants to learn what the adaptive behaviors would have been in the presence of the trauma, and it will unconsciously seek the situation again and again until it can find the new adaptive behavior.

I call this the Daimonic Symptom because the Greek idea of the Daimon is that each of us are born with an inner ‘guide’ who’s purpose is to help us become who we are meant to be…and to become who we could be, we will have to face, process, and integrate all the traumas we have experienced along our life path.

These re-enactments are often played out in intimate relationships, work situations, repeated accidents, ‘bad luck,’ and through psychosomatic or chronic diseases.

There is a famous story from the renowned trauma researcher Bessel van der Kolk, who helped a man with a dramatic re-enactment pattern.

“On July 5th in the late 1980s, a man walked into a convenience store at 6:30 in the morning. Holding his finger in his pocket to simulate a gun, he demanded that the cashier give him the contents of the cash register. Having collected about five dollars in change, the man returned to his car, where he remained until the police arrived. When the police came, the young man got out of his car and, with his finger again in his pocket, announced that he had a gun and that everyone should stay away from him. Luckily, he was taken into custody without being shot.

At the police station, the officer who looked up the man’s record discovered that he had committed six other so-called “armed robberies” over the past fifteen years, all of them at 6:30 in the morning on July 5th! Upon learning that the man was a Vietnam veteran, the police surmised that this was more than coincidence. They took him to a nearby VA hospital, where Dr. Kolk had the opportunity to speak with him.

Dr. Kolk asked the man directly: “What happened to you on July 5th at 6:30 in the morning?”

He responded immediately. While he was in Vietnam, the man’s platoon had been ambushed by the Viet Cong. Everyone had been killed except himself and his friend Jim. The date was July 4th. Darkness fell and the helicopters were unable to evacuate them. They spent a terrifying night together huddled in a rice paddy surrounded by the Viet Cong. At about 3:30 in the morning, Jim was hit in the chest by a Viet Cong bullet. He died in his friend’s arms at 6:30 on the morning of July 5th.

By staging the robberies, the man was recreating the fire-fight that had resulted in the death of his friend. By provoking the police to join the re-enactment, the vet had orchestrated the cast of characters needed to play the Viet Cong. He did not want to hurt anyone, so he used his fingers instead of a gun. He then brought the situation to a climax to be able to elicit the help he needed to heal his psychic wounds. That act helped him resolve his anguish, grief, and guilt about the death of his friend and the horrors of war.”

This is an extreme example that reveals the essence: trauma presents a question to the organism. Traumatic symptoms are messages from psyche to the organism that the question has not been answered.

Let’s explore how to answer the question.

Healing Trauma:

Awareness + Agency = Alchemy 

“It is important to understand that any or all of these symptoms can appear no matter what kind of event caused the trauma. And these symptoms can and will disappear when the trauma is healed.

In order to heal the trauma, we need to learn to trust the messages our bodies are giving us. The symptoms of trauma are internal wake-up calls.

If we learn how to listen to these calls, how to increase the awareness in our bodies, and, finally, how to use these messages, we can begin to heal our traumas.”

-Peter Levine

Let’s take a moment to review what we’ve learned again.

There are two universal forces embracing each other that give rise to our lives: Psyche and Entropy.

Psyche is the will to life.

Entropy is the will to death.

When they meet, they give birth to growth.

Trauma is a kind of mini death, a wound, from which, we receive the call from The Gnostic Gospel’s:

"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."

There are three types of trauma wounds:

1 - Narrative Trauma

2 - Shock Trauma

3 - Developmental Trauma

Narrative Trauma are wounds to The Artist.

Shock Trauma are wounds to The Animal.

Developmental Trauma are wounds to The Inner Child (The Young Animal and Young Artist).

Unprocessed Narrative Trauma tends to lead to Depression, and at its most extreme, psychotic breaks.

Unprocessed Shock Trauma tends to lead to classic PTSD symptoms.

Unprocessed Developmental Trauma tends to weave together both narrative and shock trauma symptoms.

All three can be processed by

1) Cultivating Awareness

2) Reclaiming Agency

3) Allowing Alchemy.

Healing trauma begins with cultivating awareness - specifically what is called The Felt Sense (more on this soon).

Once the felt sense is learned, we can explore the traumatic sensations in our emotional body, and this will unlock the natural healing intelligence that will seek physical or symbolic resolution, and this will lead to a new sense of ‘reclaimed power’ that transforms the traumatized person into a new being.

With awareness and a liberated emotional body, we can finally integrate the trauma into the story of our lives, which allows us to, if we choose, to transform our trauma into medicine that will help heal others.

1) Awareness: The Felt Sense

Trauma is inevitable. Being stuck in the trauma response is not.

Recall the polar bear from before. Because it was connected to its instincts, it intuitively knew how to process the powerful energy that seized it during its flight from the helicopter.

Your body has this natural intelligence, and it will heal you when you learn how to not resist what you feel.

The Felt Sense is how we do this.

The Felt Sense is the ability to non-judgmentally witness the raw sensations that are present in the body.

If you ask someone how they are feeling, most people will say something like: “Good/Bad/Scared/etc.”

These actually are not feelings. These are labels for sensations.

Good might mean “I feel an enjoyable lightness in my entire body, and a generally sense of calm in my mind.”

Bad might mean “I feel an emptiness in my stomach and a tightness in my throat, and an unsettled feeling in my mind.”

Scared might mean “I feel an uneasy in my body, like there is a feeling of impending doom, and a constriction in my stomach.”

The first step to healing trauma is learning how to non-judgmentally notice the raw sensations in our bodies.

This is called The Felt Sense and was made famous by Peter Levine.

He created Somatic Experiencing to teach people how to cultivate the felt sense.

Cultivating The Felt Sense Technique:

“For ten minutes or so each day, take a gentle, pulsing shower in the following way: at a cool or slightly warm temperature setting, expose your entire body to the pulsing water. Put your full awareness into the region og your body where the rhythmical stimulation is focused. Let your consciousness move to each part of your body as you rotate. Hold the back of your hands to the shower head; then the palms and wrists; then both sides of your fave, shoulders, underarms, etc. Be sure to include every part of your body: head, forehead, neck, chest, back, legs, pelvis, hips, thighs, ankles, and feet. Pay attention to the sensation in each area, even if it feels blank, numb, or painful. While you are doing this, say:

This is my head, neck, etc. I welcome you back.’

Another similar awakening is to gently slap the different parts of your body briskly. Again, this will help re-establish a sense of a body with skin sensation when done regularly over time.”

For more practices to cultivate the felt sense, check out Peter Levine’s book Healing Trauma.

The goal of cultivating awareness is to bring our consciousness back into our body.

Here are other practices, techniques and therapies that help cultivate The Felt Sense.

Mindfulness Meditation
Tai chi 
Tae kwon do 
Rhythmic Drumming
Therapeutic massage 
Feldenkrais bodywork
Craniosacral therapy 
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
Biofeedback Training

Felt Sense Videos

2) Agency: Completing The Act

Cultivating The Felt Sense allows us to enter the most powerful phase of healing trauma - reclaiming agency by completing ‘the act.’

Peter Levine discovered this, and the origin story has become legend.

The Woman Who Ran From The Tiger

In the late 1960s, Peter Levine was treating a woman who was having frequent panic attacks, along with a host of other symptoms her years of prior doctor visits couldn’t make sense of.

As he began to put her through some relaxation techniques, he noticed her heart rate began to drop…and drop…and drop. Her heart rate fell into the 30s and he began to get worried.

“Surrendering to my own intense fear, yet somehow managing to remain present, I had a fleeting vision of a tiger jumping towards us. Swept along with the experience, I exclaimed loudly,

“You are being attacked by a large tiger. See the tiger as it comes at you. Run towards that tree; climb it and escape!”

To my surprise, her legs started trembling in running movements. She let out a blood-curling scream that brought in a passing police officer (fortunately my office partner somehow managed to explain the situation). She began to tremble, shake, and sob in full-bodied convulsive waves.

Nancy continued to shake for almost an hour. She recalled a terrifying memory from her childhood. When she was three years old she had been strapped to a table for a tonsillectomy. The anesthesia was ether. Unable to move, feeling suffocated (a common reaction to ether), she had terrifying hallucinations. This early experience had a deep impact on her. As a result, she had become physiologically stuck in the freeze response.

In other words, her body had literally resigned itself to a state where the act of escaping could not exist. Along with this resignation came the pervasive loss of her real and vital self as well as loss of a secure and spontaneous personality.

After the breakthrough that came in our initial visit, Nancy left my office feeling, her words, “like she had herself again.”

Although we continued to work together for a few more sessions, where she gently trembled and shook, the anxiety attacks she experienced that day was her last. She stopped taking medication to control her attacks and subsequently entered graduate school, where she completed her doctorate without relapse.

I now know that it was not the dramatic emotional catharsis and reliving of her childhood tonsillectomy that was catalytic in her recovery, but the discharge of energy she experienced when she flowed out of her passive, frozen freeze response into an active, successful escape.”

-Peter Levine, Waking The Tiger

This fateful day marked the birth of a revolution in how trauma was understood. Levine, along with a growing tribe of sensitive therapists and healers, are learning that healing trauma is not about ‘reliving’ the traumatic experience, but rather, about helping The Animal discharge the blocked survival energy alive in The Animal who experienced trauma.

Reclaiming Agency

The Daimonic Symptom (Re-enactment) is the key to understanding what heals trauma. It is evidence that what our psyche is seeking is to complete the act.

Nancy’s animal needed to let out that scream, it needed to feel free to run as fast as she could away from that experience that happened when she was three. She needed to feel she could escape, and that she did escape, and once she did, her Animal, for the first time in decades, felt it was safe to rest again.

Below is another example of how The Felt Sense allows The Animal to ‘complete the act’ that liberates the body.

Ray’s Story

The fundamental key to reclaiming agency is to get The Animal into a state where it feels safe to drop back into the fight-flight-freeze response and complete the action.

For most people who hold trauma, this is best done under the supervision of trained professionals.

Here are a list of the best therapies I have found that allow this:

Somatic Experiencing

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Holotropic Breathwork

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy

Ketamine-assisted psychotherapy

Psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy

Each of these experiential practices are powerful techniques that give The Animal an opportunity to re-enter and potentially process the stuck energy.

Again, I repeat, it is vitally important that if you feel called to use any of these modalities that you find a competent and trained professional to hold the container with you.

Here is a full-length documentary that explores MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy and it’s healing effects of PTSD.

3) Alchemy: Transformation

The final stage of healing trauma is to, if you choose, let your healing journey become medicine you share with others to help them heal.

In order to do this, we first must integrate our trauma into a story that fits into the story of our lives.

“While trauma keeps us dumbfounded, the path out of it is paved with words, carefully assembled, piece by piece, until the whole story can be revealed.

As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down.

Meanwhile, stress hormones keep flooding your body, leading to headaches, muscle aches, problems with your bowels or sexual function — and irrational behaviors that may embarrass you and hurt the people around you. Only after you identify the source of these responses can you start using your feelings as signals of problems that require your urgent attention.” 


James Pennebaker’s ground-breaking work on Expressive Writing has found that when we integrate our stories of trauma into our overall life story, we complete the healing journey.

This can only begin once we have ‘brought our animal home,’ by completing the adaptive action explained in the previous section.

Then, we can tell a beautiful story.

When we find the meaning and the blessing in our traumatic experiences, and we articulate them to ourselves, The Animal and The Artist can rest.

To do this, I recommend my journal course or Pennebaker’s book Expressive Writing.

Once this is done, the final step is to share your healing journey with others.

You don’t have to do this, ever, but what I have found through my research, my experience as a coach, and as a student of life is that the ultimate alchemy of trauma comes when we share our story of healing with our tribe.

We are social animals. Wired into the deepest core of our being is to be of service to people we love, and nothing has given me more strength in my darkest moments then remembering that if I make it through this experience, if I don’t look away and I don’t hide or lie, I will be able to share my path back to love with the people I care about, and it can help them.

The final stage of the alchemy of trauma is to do what the people in the videos above have done — share your story.

To end, I want to share the myth I believe best represents trauma, and trauma healed.

The ‘Myth’ of Trauma

“A myth is something that has never happened, but is happening all the time…

“Myths are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being, and the same powers that animate our life animate the life of the world. All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other.”
-Joseph Campbell

Myths are to a culture what dreams are to the individual. 

The are both manifestations of Psyche and Entropy colliding.

Dreams are symbolic representations of specific instincts and emotions that are alive in the dreamer’s Animal.

In most dreams, the characters, environments, and the weird actions performed are not literal. Rather, they are emotion-laden creations by the Animal to communicate to the Artist what is currently being processed in the psyche.

Dreams are The Animal communicating with The Artist.

A dream of you being chased by a murderer is not about your physical life being in danger. It may be that you’ve had a nagging feeling in your gut for months that your current life is a ‘lie’ and you don’t want to face it. If you did face it the ignored truth would ‘kill’ your current life. And so, you dream of being chased by a murderer.

The murderer represents the energy in you that is ‘nagging you — daggering you,’ and that you are running from it.

A dream about a city being hit by an earthquake, people screaming, and the sense that the world is ending is not a prophecy of the apocalypse. Rather, you likely have recently learned something, or did something, that completely changed your understanding of life, and to the psyche, this feels like ‘the end of the world.’

The world ending represents the energy in you that felt like ‘your world got turned upside down’ by the new truth you learned.

Dreams are psyche processing the archetypical energies alive in the individual Animal.

Myths are psyche processing the archetypical energies alive in the collective Animal.

Trauma has been an archetypical energy the collective has been processing for aeons.

The Greek myth of Medusa is the best myth I’ve found that represents what trauma is (if others come to mind please share in the comments).

I thought I knew this myth from my childhood, but I went back to Ovid's Metamorphoses, and discovered her ‘origin’ story. 

Before Medusa was Medusa, she was a priestess at Athena's temple. She was regarded as one of the most beautiful mortals in the Greek world. One night, in Athena's sacred halls, Poseidon came and raped this young maiden. Athena, when she found out, punished the priestess by turning her into Medusa.

There is something eerie, and profoundly insightful, that the oldest myth in Western Civilization that archetypically represents trauma begins with rape, and that the one raped was punished.

I don’t feel Medusa gets the attention, nuance and care she deserves. I think she is one of the untold heroes of Greek mythology, and to fully understand trauma, her story deserves a retelling.

Medusa Retold

Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden who was one of the priestesses at the temple of the Goddess Athena. She was an innocent child who lived a simple life. She cleaned the grounds, tended the plants, cared for the animals, and prayed to her Goddess.

Our maiden’s beauty was transcendent, and her era tragic. Poseidon, one of the most powerful Gods in the realm, saw her beauty, and on the night that would change her life, raped her on Athena’s temple floor.

In a cruel twist of fate and a function of her times, our maiden was punished by Athena for allowing such an act to happen in her sacred palace. 

The punishment was the birth of Medusa.

Cursed by Athena, our maiden’s hair was turned into a nest of vicious slithering snakes, and her face became the canvas for a rage so powerful, any creature that met her eyes was turned to stone.

Medusa means ‘Guardian,’ and she became the fiercest guardian of Athena's island, and one of the most feared monsters in the Greek world.

In a far away land, there was a young hero who was given an impossible task by a corrupt king;

“Bring me the head of Medusa.” 

Our brash hero, Perseus, agreed, and went on his quest.

Athena came to him in his sleep and provided him divine aid. She gave him her shield, and instructed he only look at Medusa through its reflection, for her gaze would turn him to stone. She also gave him a magical sword that could cut through anything. 

He awoke with this shield, sword, and guidance, and sailed to the island that Medusa guarded. 

As he stepped onto the island, Medusa, remembering what happened the last time she saw a man, rose into ecstatic rage. Her snakes writhed and screamed, and her eyes beamed their cursed power. 

Perseus used his shield to track her movements, and once he was within striking distance, slayed our betrayed maiden, severing her head from her body. 

And out of her body sprung her two children; Pegasus, the beautiful winged-horse, and her brother, Chrysaor, a powerful warrior holding a golden sword.

Perseus stood in awe at the grandeur of these beings. As he held the head of the most feared monster in the realm, he saw her body melt to reveal the sleeping form of our beautiful maiden.

Pegasus and Chrysaor thanked Perseus for freeing their mother as they knelt down to care for her. Chrysaor placed his golden sword in her right hand and lifted her unto Pegasus, who took flight. 

Chrysaor and Perseus followed and all met at the temple of Athena. As the four entered the hollowed hall together, Athena came to Medusa, kissed her forehead, and brought her back to life.

With her son and daughter by her side, Medusa returned to tending to the sacred temple, cultivating the plants and caring for the animals. And she did it with a new sense of peace and power. 

Where before she was only innocent, now she knew aggression, carried Chrysaor’s golden sword, and could fly on the back of Pegasus. She did not fear the return of Poseidon or any like him. 

And one day, after the young Perseus had finished his adolescent need to prove himself heroic, he returned to the sacred island with Medusa’s snakes. He planted them in her sacred garden, and the tree that grew from them bore a fruit that helped the sick be reborn.

Medusa would spend the rest of her life healing those who pilgrimaged to her island by feeding them her fruit, teaching them to garden, and showing them how to wield the golden truth inside each of them.

This is the myth of trauma, and trauma healed.

Interpreting Medusa’s Myth

Medusa is not a monster. She is a heroine of the highest order.

She is the goddess of trauma healed.

Athena is Psyche. At first glance, her punishment of Medusa appears cruel, and maybe, on some level, it is. But as we see the myth unfold, Athena is guiding behind the scenes, always, to bring Medusa to her healing.

Poseidon, the sacred wounder, is Entropy. He is the embodiment of all the forces that will wound us through our lives. He is a God. He cannot be stopped. That the violation happened in Athena’s temple is telling. Something about this act, behind the comprehension of the ego, is sacred.

It is the beginning of a journey.

Athena transforming her priestess into Medusa is what happens when trauma enters our lives.

Her writhing snakes are a symbol for our hyper-vigilance, our rage, our terror, our guilt, and our shame. The snakes are our coping patterns, our addictions, and all the behaviors we manifest when the wound is unhealed.

Her gaze is the hallmark of trauma. It is a manifestation of the freeze response, that ancient primordial instinct that dwells in all of us.

And then there is Perseus. He is a symbol for the heroic journey we each will have to take to face our trauma.

Once he commits to face trauma, Athena — Psyche — comes to guide him.

The commitment calls forward our inner intelligence.

The key is her shield.

This is The Felt Sense. What heals trauma is not to look directly at it, but to look at its reflections.

The reflection of Medusa are the symptoms of trauma that arise in our bodies as raw sensations.

When we cultivate the heroic courage to face the reflection of our inner Medusa, with awareness, we are able to liberate her.

The beheading of Medusa is the liberation. This is Reclaiming Agency.

From this act springs Pegasus and Chrysaor.

Horses are some of the oldest symbols for the majesty of the power of the body. A winged horse symbolizes the vital life energy of the body being freed.

Pegasus unbound is our reclamation of our body.

The sword is one of the oldest symbols humanity has used to represented articulated truth.

Truth cuts through illusion, and liberating our body from the traumatic response liberates our ability to articulate our trauma as a story.

And thus, Medusa is reborn.

In the sacred Temple of Psyche, she is revived, and transformed.

Where before she was an innocent girl, now she is a wise Queen.

As are we when we heal our trauma.

Our body’s vital energy will be freed. We will have our Pegasus.

Our ability to articulate our truth will be freed. We will have our Chrysaor.

And this allows the final scene to become our reality.

If we so choose, we will be able to use our trauma, and our healing of our trauma as a sacred healing place we can share with others as they embark on their healing journey.

Our trauma healed is our fruit he bear on the great tree of Psyche that we can share with our tribe.


This is the first draft by a novice to trauma that will evolve with your help.

I’ve been staring at this article for two months. There will likely be spelling errors, spots that don’t make sense, parts that need elaborating, parts missing, and questions you may have.

You can help make this a more beautiful and effective act of service by commenting. Ask your questions, share your confusion, and let me know of other resources that have helped you, things I may have missed, or anything else that arises in you as you read this.

Trauma is one of the most important aspects of our nature that deserves greater understanding and I am committed to being a voice for this sacred wound and its healing.

Thank you for your awareness, for reading to this point, and for adding to the healing of the collective by learning this information, sharing this information, and saying yes to your own healing journey.

I love you.


Additional Resources


On Shock Trauma

Waking The Tiger - Peter Levine

The Whisper Within - Peter Levine

Healing Trauma - Peter Levine

Trauma and Memory - Peter Levine

The Body Keeps The Score - Bessel Van Der Kolk

Getting Past Your Past - Francine Shapiro (EMDR)

On Narrative Trauma

Expressive Writing - James Pennebaker

Opening Up - James Pennebaker

The Artist’s Way - Julia Cameron

On Developmental PTSD

Complex PTSD - Pete Walker


Somatic Experiencing

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

MAPS MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy

John Hopkin’s Psilocybin-assisted Psychotherapy

Ketamine-assisted Psychotherapy


Tim Ferriss’s ‘My Healing Journey After Child Abuse’


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