Tag Archives: Peter Levine

Recovery From Complex PTSD

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According to Peter Levine, an expert on the adverse effects of childhood trauma on our adult lives and the complex post traumatic stress disorder that can result, typically there develops various signs in victims that may indicate the recovery process is underway. The main signs of recovery that Levine identifies are as follows :

1) A REDUCTION IN THE NUMBER, AND INTENSITY, OF EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS THAT WE EXPERIENCE (an emotional flashback is when an event occurs in our lives that triggers similar painful emotions to those we experienced as a child in relation to our traumatic experiences – such flashbacks may result in regressive behaviour such as extreme, uncontrollable, childlike tantrums. For example, if we had a cold and rejecting father who was always denigrating us, we may over-react when we are criticized by our boss at work).

2) WE BECOME LESS SELF-CRITICAL (those who have suffered childhood trauma very frequently, and erroneously, blame themselves for their terrible childhood experiences and/or internalize the negative view parents/primary carers had of them when they were children – to read my article on how a child can falsely come to see him/herself as ‘bad’ and how this inaccurate self-view may be perpetuated, click here).

3) WE BECOME LESS ‘CATASTROPHIZING’ (many who suffer childhood trauma develop into adults prone to extremes of negative thinking, often referred to as cognitive processing errors.’ One such cognitive processing error is that we may be prone to ‘catastrophizing’ which means we tend to always expect the worst and to interpret situations in their worst possible light. Often, too, we attribute the worst possible intentions and motivations to the behaviour of others. As we begin to recover, this tendency diminishes).

4) WE START TO FIND IT EASIER TO RELAX (one of the worst aspects of my illness was a perpetual, tormenting feeling of the most intense agitation making anything even vaguely approaching relaxation utterly impossible, every medication was tried – and failed; even electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) was tried on several different occasions over the years – again, utter failure. When we finally do start to recover, however, the ability to relax gradually returns).

5) WE BECOME LESS DEPENDENT UPON OUR LEARNED DEFENSE MECHANISMS (it is very common for those of us who have experienced childhood trauma to develop into adults who feel very vulnerable to being hurt or exploited by others if we ourselves were hurt and exploited by our parent/s or primary-carer/s during our early lives. In order to protect ourselves, we may have unconsciously learned to develop certain defense mechanisms such as aggression  or avoidance. As we recover, however, we find we become less reliant on these psychological defenses, according to Levine.

6) OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHERS START TO IMPROVE AND WE BECOME LESS INTIMIDATED BY SOCIAL SITUATIONS (another common outcome of significant childhood trauma is that we can find, in adulthood, that we are quite inept when it comes to forming and maintaining relationships with others. We may, too, find social situations very intimidating, and, even, develop social phobia. A sign of recovery, however, is an easing of such interpersonal difficulties).



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Levine states that the main steps to recovery are as follows :





Let’s look at each of these in turn :

1) The first step of recovery from complex PTSD, according to Levine, is psycheducation (which is sometimes referred to as ‘bibliotherapy‘. This involves learning about our psychological condition and becoming aware of how it is linked to our adverse childhood experiences. Levine also emphasizes the usefulness of learning about mindfulness).

2) The second step of recovery from complex PTSD is to, in Levine’s phrase, shrink our inner critic.’  In other words, we need to gradually learn how to stop taking such a negative view of ourselves and of everything we do – one effective therapy which can help us to achieve this is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). (To read my related article, entitled :‘How The Child’s View Of Their Own ‘Badness’ Is Perpetuated’, click here).

3) The third step of recovery from complex PTSD, says Levine, is to grieve for our childhood losses. These losses may include our missing out on feelings of safety, security, simple childhood happiness and a care-free state of mind as well as a loss of any self-esteem we may have once had. To read my article about coming to terms with childhood losses, click here). Levine suggests that this process may take up to two years.

4) The final step of recovery from complex PTSD is to address what Levine calls the core issue, namely our ‘abandonment depression.’ An important part of this step is also to learn how to be self-compassionate. (To read my article about abandonment issues which may we may develop as a result of childhood trauma, click here).

Resource :

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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‘Incest Panic’

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In his immensely helpful book, ‘Healing Trauma’, Peter Levine, PhD., describes a phenomenon that he terms ‘incest panic’.

Levine proposes that it is not uncommon for parents to start to feel an awkward attraction towards their opposite gendered off-spring around about the time the child enters early adolescence (i.e. the father may develop an attraction towards the daughter or the mother may develop an attraction towards her son).

Whilst Levine does not broach the subject, it is also, of course, possible for the parent to develop an attraction towards his son and the mother towards her daughter.

I mention this because a highly qualified and respected therapist once told me (and he was far too responsible a professional to have said this lightly) that he thought it overwhelmingly probable that my father, during my childhood, had behaved inappropriately towards me but that I had repressed the memory of it.

At first I dismissed this out of hand, and he did not pursue it the matter (obviously he would have been aware of the danger of creating false memories through repeated suggestion which, I imagine, is why he let the subject rest).

However, what my therapist had said made me re-appraise certain interactions I had had with my father as a child.

First, when I was about four, I remember I had misbehaved in some way whilst standing with my father by a tall wooden back gate. In order to reprimand me, my father warned : ‘If you do that again I will take down your trousers and pants and lift you over the gate so the neighbours can see you!‘ Obviously, I’d always thought that was a bizarre way for a father to discipline his son, and obviously wrong. But, perhaps naively, I had never, up to that point, believed there may have been some sexual motivation at work. I’d assumed he ‘just’ wanted to deeply humiliate me. (Now I think about this more deeply, my possible ‘denial’ was perhaps related to the idea that, when young, we find it hard to face up to the fact our parents could actually want to hurt us (click here to read a related post about how children idealize their parents).

The second relevant memory is that when I was about nine or ten years old my older brother and I were staying at my father’s maisonette (my parents were divorced at this time and my brother and I stayed with my father every-other weekend). It was quite hot weather and, just before I went to bed, my father said to me, apropos nothing : ‘When it’s hot like this I sleep naked on top of my blankets with nothing covering me.’ At the time, I remember, this struck me as an odd remark (a non-sequitor, in fact, though I wouldn’t have known that phrase at the time, as you’ll no doubt understand). However, after my therapist’s comment, this memory, too, took on a rather more sinister complexion. Was my father encouraging me, in a devious manner, to copy his own liberated nocturnal behaviour for his own nefarious purposes? The simple answer is : ‘I don’t know’).

Thirdly, and this memory most compels me to believe my therapist was might have been right, one night (around the same time, so, again, I would have been nine or ten, I was lying on the top bunk (my brother sleeping on the lower bunk beneath) in the bedroom my father provided for us during our weekend stays with him. I did not have on a pajama top and my father came in  to ‘kiss me goodnight’ and then went on to lower my bed sheets to about the level of my navel and began to not just kiss, but slobber, over my chest and stomach. Again, I remember thinking this odd. However, I don’t remember anything else, including how the incident concluded. It is, I admit, quite possible nothing else happened. It is However, the evidence in support of my therapist’s opinion, when considered as a whole, cannot, I think, be lightly dismissed.

But back to Levine. I think the third memory I describe above at least suggests my father harbored incestuous feelings for me which, at best, he could only just control. Indeed, he may have suffered from the ‘incest panic’ that Levine describes. What further evidence do I have for this? Well, when I reached puberty, my father became extremely cold and distant towards me, as I have written about elsewhere. And, according to Levine, this kind of emotional withdrawal is typical of the parent who suffers from the aforementioned ‘incest panic’ ; feeling deeply uncomfortable with his/her feelings of sexual attraction towards his/her young adolescent offspring, the parent withdraws their affection from the child as a psychological defense mechanism – a kind of shame-based overcompensation.

Having said that, my father was, putting it mildly, not an emotionally demonstrative man in general, so I remain wholly unenlightened.

The book I refer to above is called ‘Healing Trauma‘ by Peter Levine PhD.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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Copyright 2017 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery