May 21, 2024

Peter A. Levine, PhD – Healing Through Connection

Thomas is joined by the founder of the Ergos Institute of Somatic Education and the developer of Somatic Experiencing, Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. They discuss how trauma affects our physical bodies, and how the bottom-up approach of Somatic Experiencing helps to heal trauma by addressing the body first. Peter shares fascinating anecdotes from his own personal and professional history and explains how trauma is transmitted through generations, along with important information about survival and spirituality.

He and Thomas focus on connection as a crucial, if not THE most crucial element of trauma healing, and how grieving and witnessing pain together can bridge massive cultural divides.

Peter’s new book, An Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey is available at:
Ergos Institute, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Amazon UK, Inner Traditions, Books A Million, and Bookshop.org

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“Connection tunes the part of our nervous system that gives us the greatest resilience. “

- Peter A. Levine, PhD

Guest Information

Peter A. Levine, PhD

Peter A Levine, Ph.D., is the developer of Somatic Experiencing®, a naturalistic and neurobiological approach to healing trauma. He holds doctorates in both Biophysics and Psychology. He is the Founder and President of the Ergos Institute for Somatic Education and the Founder and Advisor for Somatic Experiencing International. Dr. Levine is the author of several best-selling books on trauma, including Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma (published in over 29 languages). He has received Lifetime Achievement awards from Psychotherapy Networker and from the US Association for Body-Oriented Psychotherapy. He continues to teach trauma healing workshops internationally.

Learn more at somaticexperiencing.com.

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • How our unresolved traumas affect our families and communities
  • Understanding intergenerational trauma, and how it relates to systemic trauma
  • Serving communities traumatized by war
  • The connection between what happens in our physical bodies and symptoms we see in society at large

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit 2023. My name is Thomas Hübl. I’m the convener of the summit, and I have the deep honor and pleasure to be sitting here with Peter Levine. Peter, welcome again to the summit.

Peter A. Levine: Sure. Thank you.

Thomas: I mean, Peter, you inspired many of us with your work. I think you brought a lot of energy and attention and power behind the word trauma deeper understanding in society. Your work opened many doors in this society. So first of all, thank you for everything you have done so far. I think you’re a pioneer in this field, and I want to honor everything that you did so far. Maybe for our listeners, since you also kind of coined the term to some extent, maybe you can save a little bit of a definition how you would define trauma or a trauma response, just for that our listeners understand, the people that are new to this, what that means.

Peter: I can do that. Well, let me just go back some years when I first developed or started to develop my work, trauma wasn’t yet known as PTSD, and then it wouldn’t happen for another 11 years or at least another 11 years. So I was fortunate, unfortunate, fortunate, probably more fortunate that when I began my work, there was no definition of trauma as PTSD as an incurable brain disorder, even a brain disease that could only be somehow managed with medications and also with trying to change people’s thoughts. So it was very clear to me from the very beginning that trauma is something within the person happens in the body. So for example, we see something horrible and our guts go, ugh or our shoulders are like this protecting us from being hit. So this is a logic that the body has to defend and protect itself. So like I was saying, so if something horrible happens or you see something horrible, your guts go, ugh.

And then if that continues, it gets amplified and it’s then finally, ugh, ugh. And then it often becomes a physical symptom like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, and so forth. So again, like I was saying, this was not something that was known at the time nor would it be another several decades before it became known more that they are physical components of trauma. And then as you were saying before, again, trauma is not just something that happens in the individual, it happens in the individual’s body, happens in the individual, happens in the family. If somebody’s traumatized, the whole family is affected. I was going to say infected, but it’s both. It’s infected and affected.

And then our whole communities can become traumatized. I mean, here in the United States, it makes me sick even to talk about this, but almost every week, there’s at least two groups of children like schools that somebody comes up with a gun and just starts killing people. The whole` community is affected and is affected for many, many, many years for decades. So again, and then I say in a way, the entire communities are affected. It was an interesting talking about the individual to the society.

I was just reflecting back, actually, I was teaching this class, must have been about 25 years ago in Jerusalem. I did this under the agreement that they would also invite and find ways to bring people from Palestine also to my workshop, to my training. Somebody asked the question, “If you don’t know what the person’s trauma is, can you treat it? How can you treat it?” And I said, “Well, you just need to have a symptom of some kind or some kind of a haunting, something that kind of follows. You can’t quite shake like a cloud.” So this one man, I can mention his name, I don’t think he’s alive anymore, a man named Haim Dossman. He volunteered and he said he’d had severe back problem, back pain for 30 years. So he came up and I worked with him.

After a short period of time, we were able to help him find that underneath the pain, there was a tension, and the tension was more on one side than the other, and then he could feel his body turning, and then he felt himself falling backwards. So I put my hand here on his head so he would feel some support. And then just waves of sweat of shivering and trembling happened. The story, which actually didn’t say then was that when he was an army doctor and they were traveling in a convoy in a truck and they were ambushed, he fell backwards and landed in a ditch on his back, and everybody else was killed. Everybody you could see, of course, was deeply touched.

I mean, it doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, who you identify yourself with when you see something like this. Well, like we were talking, it affects us all. At the end of the session, I asked, “Well, is there anybody who just wants to stand up and just say something about what they experienced when I was working with Haim?” And this one woman stood up. I have a very, very enduring image of her, woman from the Gaza Mental Health, very elegant woman in a business suit. She said, “Haim, when you volunteered to do the session with Dr. Levine, I was praying that something bad would happen to us and that you would know what it’s like for my people when you kill my people, when you murdered my people, when you humiliate my people.”

And she said, “But something happened. I can’t explain it. All of a sudden I felt this wave come through me. I realized, Haim, that until we find peace within ourselves, we’ll never find peace with each other.” So I think again, that connects what’s going on in the body. It connects to the society, it connects to hope, the conflict in areas that just seem to repeat regularity, that it seems like nobody learns anything, and then it just goes on and on and on. I’m sure, of course, you’re very well aware of that, and until we’re able to do something to turn it around.

I think like we were talking about before, it has to come, of course, at the individual level, which the therapist from Gaza Mental Health said, but also how we respond to each other, because when we’re traumatized, where we become reactive, everything becomes threat. So anything that the ‘other’ does, we react as though our lives are being threatened. So this is not an easy task, but I think it is a task that we all must hold in our minds and our bodies and our hearts to begin to help find ways to heal again, not just individuals and families and communities, but entire regions and then wherever it goes after from that.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s amazing. There are two strands I want to follow. Let’s stay a little bit with the trauma, because many people might think trauma is a biographical story, it’s individual, but you are speaking to, oh, there’s intergenerational trauma, there’s systemic trauma. Maybe you can speak a little bit to that dimension more what happens intergenerationally and what happens systemically. How can we see then?

Peter: Yeah. Okay, intergenerationally. What would be a good example? Oh, when I first started working with people and started trying to teach what I was doing to some of my students, this was back in 1970, 1971, 1972, and I’d been working with some clients, and some of them, a few of them had experienced something like the smell of burning flesh. And this seemed really strange, and probably because of my own intergenerational trauma. I asked them to check with their families where their family background was from. And also, a number of these people were vegetarian so they weren’t smelling food cooking. It turned out that they had parents and grandparents that were in the Holocaust. So somehow this memory just permeated through generation. At first, I wouldn’t say anything about this because it seemed too strange that people would lose credibility. I would lose credibility.

But not so long ago, there was an interesting study done, forget someplace in, I think, in Atlanta in the U.S. where they took a mouse and exposed the mice to the smell of cherry blossoms. So at least it’s neutral. Mice don’t get upset by that scent. And then they paired that with an electric shock. So the scent of the cherry blossom, then the electric shock, and then of course, the mouse would freeze and shake and defecate from the fear not just from the shock, but also from just the scent of the cherry blossom. There’s nothing surprising about that because that’s just simply a Pavlovian condition reflex. It’s nothing more. I don’t know where they got the idea, whether they read something I wrote. But anyhow, they then bred those mice for five generations, and when the great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren were exposed to the scent of cherry blossom, they would shake and tremble and defecate even stronger than their great-great-great-grandparents.

So then I realize, and of course, this makes complete sense. But I think it’s not just trauma that gets transmitted, but a lot of survival information and also spiritual information. So for example, I was working- there was an airplane that was flying from Denver to Chicago. And halfway there, it was a DC-10, and the rear engine exploded. There was a defect in the metal, and that severed the hydraulic line. So there was no way to control the plane. So the pilots, the two pilots tried to maneuver the plane by increasing the thrust in one engine, then in the other engine, something that almost impossible to do. It did land that had a crash landing, and it broke up into pieces, and there were fires in some of the pieces. And ultimately, actually, half of the people did survive, which is amazing in itself.

Anyhow, I’m working with this woman, this young woman who was in that flight, she was from Boulder. When I start to work with her in somatic experiencing, we don’t just go for the trauma. One of the things we’ll do is go to when the trauma was over and the person knew that they were safe. So working with Katie, we came to the place where she was sitting in the cornfield, the sun was on her back, and she knew that she was safe. Then the work goes back to where she’s now upside down in the plane, the fuselage is crushed, and she’s able to just open the seatbelt and let herself down into what was the top, which was the roof, and everything’s black.

She then hears these words, her name is Katie. “Katie, go, go, go to the light, go to the light and escape.” So at first, she thought it was because she was a Buddhist practitioner, but it turned out when we investigated this further, that both her father and her grandfather were in airplane crashes. One was in a commercial, the other was in a military flight. Both of them. And the words that came from her were the words that they used to escape. So she saw this pinpoint of light, and she was able to move there, and there were twisted wires and everything, but she was just able to get out and then goes back to the cornfield where she’s sitting in the sun is coming from her back. She would say, “Well, maybe they told you this story.” It’s possible, but why did it come at that very moment that saved her life?

So in any case, you think, okay, this is really that saved her life. I also remember working together at a workshop we did at some from years ago with a man who was in the American Indian tribe, the Crow, and the same time working with a woman who was from the Navajo Nation. And as the session goes on, the prayer, the chant of his grandfather comes through, and it just really heals the whole group. There may be 90 people in the group, everybody felt deep healing, again, talking about collective healing, not just collective trauma. So I mean, to me, this is both ordinary and miraculous, both miraculous and ordinary, and it’s something that I see in my work. And now of course, I’m going to be doing a workshop with the polarity centrum in September, I think, and it’s called War and Peace. This is mainly, of course, where number of the people that I’ll be working with are from Ukraine. How do we stop this? How do we keep repeating these things when nothing ever is accomplished?

Thomas: Yeah, that’s powerful. First of all, from my work, I can underline everything you said also about the intergenerational trauma. I really believe strongly that what you said about the spiritual transmission is equally true than the traits of the trauma in the family system. So this sounds very powerful. And also what you said now, and also what you said already before is when the men in Jerusalem had a healing, it kind of affected the group. And you said when the man was singing his chant, it affected the group. So that’s something I think is actually a very powerful aspect of the healing working groups, so that the collective actually gets healed by witnessing trauma healing. And I want you to expand a bit on that, because I think that’s a very powerful impact in the collective field is when collectives heal together. And maybe you can speak a bit about your experience, how you experience this in your groups.

Peter: Oh, interesting. Well, I think basically you said it and like the Palestinian woman said it until we find peace with ourselves or not find peace with each other. And the way I came to it, of course, is through the individual and then going to collective. And my understanding is that you really come from the collective and how to work together with groups. So it’s working with the same thing, but coming from a different direction. It is like we have to heal the individual, but we also have to heal the collective, the group. And when we do this, and when more and more people are touched by each other’s pain, then we can make a change. I’ll tell you something since I… A little difficult me to say, because it still brings up feelings for me. But when I started teaching in Germany, it was 1982 or 1984, something like that, I felt tremendous anxiety. It was almost like a panic attack. And I wasn’t consciously aware that on my father’s side, all of his relatives were murdered by the Nazis.

And at that time in Germany, nobody spoke, nobody spoke about the…Hitler and the war that was verboten. So was I worked with people because in somatic experiencing, we worked from the bottom up, from the body, from the sensations, not from the content. I think you alluded to that at the beginning. So what came up for a number of these students was that they had parents and grandparents that were in the SS and they felt tremendous shame and grief about that. Then there were also some members of the group that had parents or grandparents that were in the resistance, and they were murdered and tortured, and they shared their grief. It wasn’t that one was bad and one was good.

It was what was bringing people, uniting people was the grief, and it’s interesting. After that one session, I really mostly lost that anxiety, that fear of Germany. And many of my teachers now, several of my teachers are from Germany. I really learned to respect the German people, the German culture, because they really were so well, so precise in their work and so dedicated to learning. And so that really began letting that go from me, that transgenerational fear. I think, again, we have to grieve together and we have to grieve together. We have to grieve with the enemy, but we have to grieve, we have to grieve.

Thomas: No, I completely agree. I mean, we did over two decades work on the Holocaust and the Israel German connection. I can see that that’s very, very powerful. So let’s take for example, Germany and the Holocaust, if you want to prevent, because I think what happened in the second World War is inherently connected to what’s happening now in Russia and Ukraine. I mean, so many of our grandfathers, and I’m coming from Vienna, kind of in the war in Russia, so there were millions of people died there. So it’s a kind of systemic trauma that connects everybody together. In such a collective field, how can we work on releasing in a way the repetition compulsion of that recurrent trauma field? How can we work on that? And we talk about also in this summit, about the collective healing movements, so it needs a collective healing dimension. How can we go about it to stop the recurrent-

Peter: I wish I had an answer for that. E.M. Forster, in one of his books, he writes connect, only connect. I think that’s what we have to do. We have to find this way to connect. Just as one example, I have some friends, some colleagues, some students from Norway, and she has a school for children and babies and children called Pinocchio. They work with the parents and with music and movement in a very, very lovely way. You can see how the children then reach towards each other, and then the parents reach through the children, through the other children, through the other parents. So we thought, wouldn’t this be a good thing that we could do if we could bring mothers and fathers from Israel and Palestine together and do this with the children?

Because when the children connect, you can’t desire violence and war. You only want to protect the children and let the children connect and connect to the other mothers and fathers through the children. Unfortunately, just when we were trying to raise some money to do this, there was another [foreign language] and everything went kaput So again, if we use our minds and our hearts, our creativity, I think there are many things that we can do and then we can share with each other.

Thomas: And maybe now that you’re saying that could be something we could maybe collaborate on to establish something like this again here in Israel, Palestine, maybe we can do this together and put our forces together and see what we can create together. Maybe we can think about it outside of this conversation.

Peter: Yeah, we talk about it. We’ll continue to talk. No, I think I agree, I felt that really. I mean, I think if not now, when?

Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. And now it’s needed, right. So when we talked about intergenerational trauma, also, we look at situations. I know you’re going to work on war trauma, like traumatized people from the war in Ukraine and Russia right now, how can we see or go into this heavy traumatization of a war? What do we need to pay attention to when we work with many people that got traumatized so freshly by extreme violence?

Peter: Well, we’re doing, trying to support people who are therapists, working with anybody there, and especially children. So we made a booklet for parents, for therapists, for other people who are working there to help the children because the children are the worst traumatized and experienced the worst of the trauma. And for me personally, I have to tell you the truth, if I see on the television the images of the buildings that are destroyed, of the people trying to escape or staying there, because that’s the only home they’ve known, people who are in their 70s, I have to go away. I can’t look at it.

But anyhow as I said, at least one of my students… Actually, one of my students is living in Ukraine and working there. So I’ll be working with her in that workshop to see how we can best serve the traumatized people, especially the traumatized children through different activities like play, like art, like drawing, but also helping them get unstuck. When we went to the very beginning of this talk where they’re stuck in their bodies, I mean, you can see their bodies when they’re walking, they’re just like this. They’re really overwhelmed and shut down. We’re talking about five generations. If we don’t do anything to change that, it will go on for generation to generation to generation. And there will be another war. It would be another something like a war. I don’t know what it will be.

I mean, in places, we see things are starting again like in the Balkan’s when the war was going on, and we’re seeing now rising of some of those same forces that were happened then that they’re starting to repeat and repeat and repeat. It kind of reminds me, and I hate to say this, but maybe the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. I think that’s something we have to really change. I think that the consciousness of the world is at a different level now where this becomes more possible than it was some years ago.

Thomas: I think also, I mean, I see you as a pioneer in this work of trauma that really brought something new and a new understanding. I think that the understanding of trauma and systemic trauma can really be a game changer in the way how we maybe be able to stop the repetition compulsion of some of these massive retraumatization that are going on. I think in our NGO, we also working on, okay, what can we do in order to create structures to serve hundreds of millions of climate refugees that are going to come because of the global warming, it’s already pre-programmed that there will be much more massive challenges that are coming right now.

So let’s talk a little bit about, because in my understanding, we need to be able to work on systemic trauma to work, for example, on stuff like COVID. We saw how polarized suddenly we were in societies, how democracies are super challenged at the moment because of the fragmentation, the othering racism and skepticism. So when you look at COVID, maybe what’s your take on the impact of the pandemic on our societies, and maybe also long COVID maybe you do work-

Peter: Yeah. Okay. Well, that’s interesting that you asked because I just taught a class in San Francisco in the U.S. I’m working with long COVID. And a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been a similar class here in Switzerland on working with people who had long COVID. And these people, I mean, they’re literally hundreds of millions of people worldwide that are suffering from these conditions. They just never come back. They have all kinds of physical symptoms. They’re shut down. They’re depressed. And when I started to see some of the symptoms that people had with post COVID, I was astonished at how similar it was to people I’d been working with for many decades, people who had chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, those kinds of things. And well, there are differences from one disease to the other, I think, to some degree but there are more similarities. And it’s how the body gets it is again, it’s what happens in the body.

The body gets shut down. And if you’re sick, you can’t fight the illness by fighting or fleeing because there’s nothing to fight. There’s nothing to flee from. It’s something that happens inside. Also, another thing, because this is happening to people all over, then we begin to see other people as threat. But anyhow, now I’ve worked with, say, like a few dozen people with long COVID, and now my students are starting to do the same. The hope is that we can help some of these people who are suffering. But also, COVID was a possibility of coming together to deal with a common enemy. But instead, in many cases, not all cases, but at least in some cases, it turns people against each other, which is very unfortunate, because if we’re going mount a good response to this, we have to have cooperation.

So again, if we have the fear of being infected and that anybody could be the source of that infection, I mean, of course we don’t want to expose ourselves thoughtlessly to possible danger, but at the same time, it’s not everybody is going to infect us. And again, people are almost polarized, for example, in terms of vaccines. So I don’t try to answer this. I think it’s an individual choice that people make, but I see that people hate, are hating, people who had vaccines or people who hadn’t vaccines and so forth. So that has more deleterious effects, more damaging effects than the illness itself.

So again, how do we come together? How do we participate? In a book I just finished, there’s one chapter, it’s called, what is it called? Right now… Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yes. Many cultures, one race, the human race, and that is our commonality. It’s species, but it’s greater than just species. It’s something, again, it’s universal. So how do we evoke those universal instincts to care for each other? Mammals and primates especially, we care for our young. You see that not only in chimps, but in other mammals. We have those same instincts that can be evoked with each other to help each other by taking care, by tending, by helping. So I think that COVID has given us, again, an opportunity to do something differently, but also something that causes a great amount of fear. When the lockdown was happening, there was this wonderful theme, I think it was in Italy, in one of the access where somebody comes out, and this is with the social distancing.

So he’s playing his guitar, then somebody else on another balcony, they play the guitar or drums, and it just goes around and everybody in the whole community is making music and singing together. So it should be about social connection and physical distancing because they were physically distant, but they weren’t socially distant. They were socially connected and connect, only connect, again, E.M. Forster, connect, connect, connect. Because again, that tunes that part of our nervous system that gives us the greatest resilience. My very dear friend and colleague Stephen Porges call this the social engagement system, and that is meant to be our default system. So instead of going into freezing, fight or flight or freezing, this should be the way we deal with conflict. We deal with issues, is through connecting, is through working things, through working things out.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s very powerful. I’ll come back to your book in a moment. Maybe just circling back, I would love to see more specifically what you found when you worked with people with long COVID. What did you find in the process work with them? What did you see?

Peter: Yeah, these just maybe are my observations. Again, there’s a lot of conflict around this, but that many of these people, maybe even most people had experienced early trauma and abuse and those kinds of things. So it really downed their immune response, their immune system. At least that’s my experience. And often when I work with somebody who has long COVID, what comes up is something that happened just before they had the illness, and it was some kind of a shock, an emotional shock, or a physical or physiological shock. So together those with trauma histories and those who experienced shock at the time when they were infected, I think those are the ones that have the most likelihood of having long COVID.

It’s not a hundred percent. And it’s, again, it’s not just the virus, but it’s this toxic load that we carry with us from our childhoods. And again, until we see trauma as being both systemic, but it’s something that also calls for more enlightened approaches, people will be more susceptible to these diseases, to these illnesses. And there, in the 1949, there was a definition or a designation of an illness called dysautonomia. And this was in ’49 and there were no viruses, no unordinary viruses, and the symptoms were virtually the same as the symptoms of long COVID.

And then going back even to 1900, there was a designation called vagotonia, disruption in the vagus nerve, which is exactly what’s going on with people that have long COVID. And again, there was no virus. This was already 15 years before the Spanish flu occurred. So this is something that again, when we don’t have resilience, we’re not able to bounce back, then we’re more susceptible to many of these future illnesses that will be occurring, especially because they’re going to be accelerated by the temperature warming. I think right now, it’s not warm. I mean, yesterday it was like 36 here. Today, it’s much nicer, much cooler, and I slept for about 12 hours. But really what’s going to happen when this becomes more and more frequent and more and more people, again, the response to heat is not to fight or flee, but again, to shut down. And when we shut down, we lose our capacity for resilience, we lose our capacity resilience, then we are much more affected by all kinds of illnesses that can occur.

Thomas: Yeah, that’s very powerful. I’m very much a bit of what you’re saying to me, it seems very similar. And okay, this was very powerful. I think it brought a lovely correlation between COVID, but also the history that we have and why maybe certain people respond in one way or the other way. So this is very strong. And now when we circle back to your new book, I heard you’re coming out with a new book, maybe you want to tell us a little bit about it.

Peter: Well, I did a crazy thing. I was talking to a friend of mine and she was saying, “You know, you should really write a book about this.” So I started writing about my life and my discoveries. And for me, it was just going to be a personal excavation. I had really no plans whatsoever to publish it because it was too personal. But then I had the following dreams that are important to me. They often really tell me what my next direction is. So in the dream, I was standing in front of a large meadow, a grass meadow, and I had in my hands, papers in both of my hands, and I was just standing there. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.

All of a sudden, a wind came from behind me and took all of the pages and took them into the air, and they scattered everywhere where they would land. And then after some time, I realized, yeah, because I think my story can help other people with their own healing. And so when I put the pages out to anybody who wants to read them, but it was not easy. Again, it caused a lot of anxiety because I would be exposing a lot of very, very personal things about myself, but I’m ready. And the title of the book is An Autobiography of Trauma, A Healing Journey. I think the book comes out. I think it can be pre-ordered soon. But anyhow, it was very difficult to write it. I had apprehension. And then finally when the publisher said, look, if you can give us the manuscript within two weeks, we can publish it in the next round, which would’ve been early next spring. And again, I felt like, ugh.

So I sent it in, and again, I was in like I wouldn’t call it terror, but it was like a kind of terror that I had no way, it was now out of my hands, so literally in the dream, it was out my hand. And we’ll see. And the person, one of the people from the… who’s now with the company said, when I first told him about the possibility, he said, “Well, I don’t know if you can do that. That would be very, very difficult.” So I wrote the first 40 pages, 40, 50 pages, and I sent it to him. His name is Richard Grossinger. He’s with Inner Tradition. He’s a really good U.S. publisher, [inaudible].

And he said, “I’m surprised, but I think you’re doing it. Not that you can do it, but you’re doing it.” So I left that in a way that, not just talking about what happened to me and how I survived, but also about how other people can make their own stories, write their own stories. There’s a saying, I forget where it comes from. I think it’s a Jewish saying, “What is truer than the truth answer the story.” And I think we all have important stories to tell, and I think as we begin to tell them, even if it’s only to ourselves, we begin to heal not only ourselves, but those around us. So while it was really a difficult thing to do, I feel relief that I did it. So now, instead of having anxiety, every time I get an email and they’re showing the cover or whatever, I say, oh, this is interesting. I take a look at this and see how it feels.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. I think it’s a very courageous step, but I think it’s a very, as you elaborated right now, it’s a great teaching. Also, it’s another way of teaching through your own story and then revealing your own story. Peter, how do you see your own trauma background or intergenerational trauma background? How do you see it correlated with your work? How did your own story teach you about or even motivate you to do what you do in life? Because I think that’s an interesting correlation.

Peter: My grandmother, my paternal grandmother, she was very sick with cancer. My parents took me to the hospital. They shouldn’t have done that because in that time, the treatments for cancer were just horrific. They didn’t tell me when it happened. I learned sometime later, I think from one of my brothers that my grandmother pulled up her 15 kilo body up to the window and then jumped six stories down her suicide. And what happened is, after the war, the Red Cross with fine people and try to connect them with their families. So there was this man, he’s a very distant, distant third cousin, and he escaped one of the camps and hit out in the woods for some years, living on berries and barks in the trees and plants and little animals, that kind of thing.

So they connected him with my grandparents, so he came to visit the family. I remember seeing on his arm all of these numbers, and I was fascinated, but again, nobody talked about it, what it was. And then it was shortly after that, that my grandmother had her suicide. And I think it was something like delayed survivor’s guilt, maybe that… Okay. So at the time, I didn’t make the connections, but when I look back, it’s really pretty clear. It’s also pretty clear why I experienced such anxiety when I was teaching in Germany at the beginning.

Thomas: Your own story also was kind of a motivation to look deeper into trauma. And also your work helped you to understand your own story. It’s like it’s a both ways.

Peter: That’s right. Yeah. I think nothing I really could have, really just accept that we… I mean most chiros or people who really do healing come from their own healing, their own wounds, their own deep wound. I’m not talking necessarily about somebody who’s doing cognitive therapy or something like that, although it’s even possible. But anybody who’s doing something like deep healing, I think they all come from some trauma and that we are wrestling with that.

Thomas: Yeah, I agree, kind of the archetypal pathway.

Peter: Chiron, which is the wounded healer, and Chiron had to heal himself.

Thomas: Exactly. As I said, the summit speaks about what’s the collective healing movement. So maybe if you can give us a little bit for our listeners here, like a few hints how we can all participate in a collective orchestra, because as we said, like wars, climate change, pandemics, whatever we need to solve together, we can solve kind of alone. And so how can we become part of an orchestra? How can we play a symphony together when we have all these legacies in between us?

Peter: [inaudible] the question. I think first, again, we have to work with our own promise and become more resilient, more buoyant, more resilient. Because when we’re working with these issues, we can easily become despondent, make despair, and just resignation, just give up. So I think we have to, with each other, become more and more resilient and then to work together to facilitate not only each other’s healings, but the issues that are now coming up. And I think I’m talking to mention about global temperature change, global warming. I think this is maybe a time when people are a little bit more serious about looking at it because it becomes almost unlivable because of the heat. And again, that’s something that is going to be changing and being more and more. I think about this girl, this teenage girl with Asperger’s, with autistic tendencies.

I mean, anger as a motivating force can motivate us, can propel us, but if all we have is anger, we’re not going to get anywhere. I mean, I just think of recently what we saw in France, first in Paris, and then in other cities. And this is something of course that was happening many times in the U.S. before. But a young man, I think from North African descent, he was pulled over by a policeman driving, and the policeman shot him. And then you see these hundreds of people just burning cars, burning stores in their own neighborhoods.

That doesn’t, in my opinion, doesn’t really change anything. We have to be calm and collective, I don’t mean falsely calm. I mean, we really have to look at what we want to accomplish and how we can support each other in making that. And again, that requires connection with each other, with people who are like-hearted, like heart connection with other, to really think about strategies to work. And again, could be creativity. I mean, that’s I think one of the big forces that humans have is creativity. It’s not just humans. Primates have it too, and probably mammals also have it, but how to solve new solutions in new ways or different solutions in new ways. I think that the summit you’re doing, I think is a really good starting point for people to come together, to look together at some of these issues that are affecting all of us and will be devastating to our children and to our grandchildren.

Thomas: That’s right. That’s right. I also think what you’re speaking to is how can we take responsibility? I like the word responsibility. It’s the ability to respond to the future. So how can we respond to our children’s and their children’s lives already now and create a circumstance? I think that’s a great motivation.

Peter: No, I think so because there aren’t people that… but yes, there are people that don’t love their children, but most people love their children, and they would want a world for their children that is livable. I think if you look at something from the point of love and caring, you’ll do much better than just doing it from rebellion.

Thomas: Yeah. That’s a beautiful sentence. And maybe the last thing, the last question we are living in a time, and you said it a little bit yourself before, where media, social media became a very strong element in conveying sensational news that are not really for the people that are mainly for clicks. So to get more recognition, to get more clicks, to become more successful, versus an information system that’s supposed to inform our social body but not overloaded. I think often there are too many trauma triggers that are circulating around the internet. So in the summit, we also started to talk about trauma-informed journalism and media. So we invited many journalists, so last year and this year, and I’m curious to hear your take. How can we titrate this enough that we don’t need to fully shut down media and not look at news at all, but that we have a kind of regulated version and maybe as our last thing.

Peter: Well, the media, it’s happening, the social media, there’s nothing we can do about that, maybe even or should we? But you think about this, for example, with adolescent, especially with adolescent girls, adolescent boys and girls, to be accepted by others, they destroy their own bodies. They have eating disorders. They’re cutting themselves. I think it’s because of social media that this is proliferated. It’s not just because adolescents and others have been doing these things because they have a lot of early trauma. But at the same time, this really reinforces this kind of dysfunction. And people develop more of a body dysmorphic condition because they see it on the social media. So there needs to be some responsibility there. I don’t think it makes a difference if you just get rid of social media, but there has to be some compassion among the people who are the leaders in that. Otherwise, these kids just, I mean, they’re more and more lost, more and more, their health is taken away from them.

Thomas: Right. So that’s a good call for media journalism and social media to take responsibility for the public health and that they also have an impact on public health. I think that’s very important, and-

Peter: Yeah, and there’s some… Sorry.

Thomas: Go Ahead. Go ahead.

Peter: There are some people I notice in the media, I’m more familiar than ones in the United States, but there are some people that are really, really sincere in how they cover news and they’re really with compassion. I wouldn’t say there aren’t many, many, but there are more and more people like that. And I think this is a beautiful idea to bring some of those people together so they can strategize on what in good ways to support health, not just of the individual, but the societies, and of course, ultimately the planet.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. I think that’s a great way to end our conversation. Peter, this was lovely. I was, when I see you, I feel a lot of resonance. I mean, you’re so aligned. It’s our work and your work. I’m happy to support anything you’re doing and your new book and how we can support you.

Peter: Thank you.

Thomas: I appreciate your pioneering spirit in the field of trauma. You taught all of us a lot, and want to honor you.

Peter: Thank you.