There are many ways to describe trauma, and so many more ways to feel the effects of it. Trauma has taken center stage nationally and internationally as there is progress into understanding more, collectively, about how bodies and minds work under the influence of trauma. There are many theories and many modalities focused on treating trauma. This is an important issue and one that has the potential to change human existence.
To fully address trauma, taking into account the nervous system is a must.
To better understand the nervous system, I think of Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory and contribution to the field. The field of trauma treatment shifted when he shared his research with the world. The theory gets it’s name from the anatomical structures of the vagas nerve and how it functions within the nervous system. One of the most important components of the theory is showing us that the most regulating event for our nervous system is human connection. This in the face of feeling the need to be alone when stressed out. He shows how our physiology has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to support our ability to connect with others. His theory posits the idea that connection is our greatest survival strategy by how our physiology supports, through form and function, safety as being with others. The Polyvagal Theory breaks down survival mechanisms that make it easy to understand behavior and how to address trauma from a nervous system perspective. This theory has helped and continues to help so many people with trauma.
When I bring the Polyvagal Theory into practice, I rely on insights of how systems work from a complex systems’ approach. In essence, a survival mechanism becomes better or attempts to become better at working through reiteration and self-organization. It’s easy to see how that manifest as symptoms when the fight/flight strategies get overused.
Anxiety, panic, inability to relax, chronic pain, hostility are all examples of how this manifests when the short term survival strategies of fight and flight get relied upon long term.
The same is true for the shut-down and freeze responses. Behaviors like depression, exhaustion, dissociation, poor digestion, syndromes are all examples of what happens when this survival mechanism of shutting down gets over used.
Fortunately, human bodies have evolved over time to become better at survival through living in groups. Human physiology has changed over hundreds of thousands of years to support survival through connection. This is an important factor in the trauma treatment field. The social engagement system will become self-organizing just like the other system can.
The nervous system heals the symptoms of fight,flight, and shutdown when the social engagement system becomes reiterated and self-organizing.
This is putting the Polyvagal Theory in action. It’s not that the survival responses of fight, flight, freeze, or shut down are inherently wrong. They just take a physical, biological, and psychological toll when active for any length of time. If you’d like to learn more about the nervous system and how I can help, I encourage you to reach out for a complimentary consult.