The Puppeteer and the Puppet – Reenacting Trauma

You know inside that you are great. So why do you keep doing things that undermine that greatness?  You know you deserve more, but there you are–stuck, same old same old. You know you are special and have talents to share, but again and again, accidents, assaults, injuries–for some reason, always dreams thwarted.

Do you know about re-enactment? The process of repeating a trauma in order to try to finish it and bring it to a close. At the time of the threat, you were helpless and could not escape; ultimately though, you did survive. And this fact is what the brain, the body, and the emotions have to be convinced of so you can find freedom.

Think about it: injuries to the same area of your body where you were originally traumatized; a negative experience when you return to the same place where you were assaulted; another car accident and whiplash. Do you know you are like a puppet, old trauma pulling the strings?  I should know. I have been the puppet, like you. I am the puppet. And like you, I am the puppeteer.

What I’ve come to learn about re-enactment is this–until one completes the first trauma, the earliest trauma; until one is convinced that the trauma was survived; until one comes out of or begins to address the freeze one’s been encased in since the trauma, one is captive. Reenactment in one form or another will occur. And there’s nothing that one can do about it until one wakes up–until one finishes, or at least begins to in one way or another, the early trauma.

In the past, early trauma often made me a walking mummy, caught in unconscious webs. I’d been drawn to this situation or that without knowing why. I’d lived in a dream, sometimes eerily not sure if I was alive or dead. In my teens, I joined a gang and carried a switch blade wherever I went. I didn’t know that I was protecting myself from those who cut me in surgery. I didn’t know that my explosive anger dated back to that earliest violation. I just knew that at this challenging transition time in my life, I needed a knife. My body, brain, and mind were poised for attack. It was a horribly painful time and when one beloved teacher pulled me aside and asked me what I was doing to myself, I could not answer. I was flummoxed. Someone was pulling my strings and I didn’t know who.

I am not a professional psychologist or doctor. I am an artist, a writer, and a teacher. I have an MFA after all and taught writing and English for over 30 years. My credentials regarding trauma are that I myself have experienced it and have discovered ways to stop pulling my trauma strings. I have used writing, drawing and painting, bodywork, and meditation to emerge from paralysis. I started this blog to reach out to others who’ve experienced early trauma in the hopes of finding community, clarity, and comfort. And I wanted to shared what I’ve learned.

What I’ve discovered is that many are re-enacting trauma but don’t know it. We have chosen certain careers, jobs, people as friends, lovers, and spouses, and engaged in certain activities because of past trauma. Maybe these choices do not express who we really are but are rooted in a need to seek protection, in a need to find closure for a trauma that separated us from ourselves.

It is possible to free ourselves from re-enactment and become more of who we really are.  With awareness, it is possible to put down the strings activating the puppets. We can let go of unconscious behaviors, beliefs, and decisions meant to unknowingly deal with an early threat to our life. We can become more of the people we were meant to be, able to access the strengths, intelligence and gifts we were given at birth. The first step is accepting that we are both the puppet and the puppeteer. Then, let’s find our way to freedom.

(This post relies heavily on the ideas and work of Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Louis Tinnin, and Dr. Robert Scaer.)

0 Responses to The Puppeteer and the Puppet – Reenacting Trauma

  1. Hi Wendy, thank-you for this piece of writing. I too feel “captive” still to some things that happened to me in the past. Thru meditation and therapy and reading and writing, I too have sought and seek to heal. I sometimes realize how far I have come. Other times, i wonder? I am much more at peace than I used to be.
    I still have friends who suffer so much, who are physically or other wise unable to heal.
    if i want to send someone your website , what exactly is it?

    • I’m so glad you are more at peace. That’s very important. Lots of times, I feel grateful for how far I’ve come but when I have set-backs, such as getting caught in the same old same old reenactment or body posture, I can get discouraged. But I’m much more compassionate with myself these days, which is a sign of growth, yes?!

      Yes, there is still lots of suffering. My blog can be reached by going to and clicking on the BLOG menu item or page. Thanks for sending folks my way. I’m hoping to help people with my writing, as you know. And of course, it helps me to to be communicating with them.

  2. I have just finished Dr. Louis Tinnin’s book, it is good to find someone who have put the right names on what’s in my head. Next book now is Dr. Levine’s book. Thank you for sharing Wendy. At last I feel I am on the right track. Tinnin’s book was like a revelation.

    • I am SO very glad! Isn’t what Tinnin and Gantt are talking about awesome? Have you read his blog? Do if you haven’t––read the comments, too. They are wonderfully rich. So great to be in touch. Can’t wait to hear about what you think of Dr. Peter Levine’s work. Are you reading his book Waking the Tiger?

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