Picture by Sasha Gorin on Unsplash
Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, polyvagal theory is a theory around how the nervous system works. More recently it has been applied to psychotherapy as its descriptions of the different states of connection or activation that we all go in and out of, seems to intuitively make sense to many people.
I like the metaphor or the traffic lights, sometimes green, when we feel calm and connected, safe even. Then amber, associated with danger, when our sympathetic nervous system kicks in mobilising our energy. This is when we feel anxious, hypervigilant, angry, wanting to run away, either physically, in our mind or through addictions. The brain shouts 'Don't just sit there, do something!'
Then red, associated with life threat or when the threat feels inescapable. This is when we are in a state of shut down or immobilisation, not quite there, dissociated or just without energy, depressed or ashamed. We all move in an out of these states all the time but chronic exposure to trauma or stress can make us stuck in survival mode and can make it hard to regulate ourselves back to the green, what Stephen Porges calls the Social Engagement System.
I integrate an awareness of polyvagal theory in my practice and I am currently in training as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. In practice this can sometimes mean paying attention to the nervous system and the body in session and introducing some exercises to be able to move more freely between different states of activation.
If you would like to know more, feel free to get in touch.