If You Want To Improve The World, Start By Making People Feel Safer

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D, Distinguished Scientist, Professor of Psychiatry, founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium, developer of Polyvagal Theory, the art and science of human connection.

“The [Polyvagal] theory forces us to question whether our society provides sufficient and appropriate opportunities to experience safe environments and trusting relationships.”

“Let’s start off by forgetting that we have all these complex diagnostic categories. If we use diagnostic categories, we end up describing comorbidities and using other terms that are not helpful in understanding the underlying functions and processes.”

“To switch effectively from defense to social engagement strategies, the nervous system must do two things: (1) assess risk, and (2) if the environment looks safe, inhibit the primitive defensive reactions to fight, flight or freeze.”

“Polyvagal Theory proposes a neurophysiological model of safety and trust. The model emphasizes that safety is defined by feeling safe and not by the removal of threat. Feeling safe is dependent on three conditions:

1) the autonomic nervous system cannot be in a state that supports defense; 2) the social engagement system needs to be activated to down regulate sympathetic activation and functionally contain the sympathetic nervous system

and the dorsal vagal circuit within an optimal range (homeostasis) that would support health, growth, and restoration; and 3) to detect cues of safety (e.g., prosodic vocalizations, positive facial expressions and gestures) via neuroception.”

The Polyvagal Theory. #YouBelong

“In everyday situations, the cues of safety may initiate the sequence by triggering the social engagement system via the process of neuroception, which will contain autonomic state within a homeostatic range and restrict the autonomic nervous system from reacting in defense.”

“This constrained range of autonomic state has been referred to as the window of tolerance (see Ogden et. al. 2006; Siegel, 1999) and can be expanded through neural exercises embedded in therapy.”

“Playing nice” comes naturally when our neuroception detects safety and promotes physiological states that support social behavior. However, pro-social behavior will not occur when our neuroception misreads the environmental cues and triggers physiological states that support defensive strategies.

After all, “playing nice” is not appropriate or adaptive behavior in dangerous or life-threatening situations. In these situations, humans – like other mammals – react with more primitive neurobiological defense systems.

To create relationships, humans must subdue these defensive reactions to engage, attach, and form lasting social bonds. Humans have adaptive neurobehavioral systems for both pro-social and defensive behaviors.”

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“Therapies often convey to the client that their body is not behaving adequately. The clients are told they need to be different. They need to change. So therapy in itself is extraordinarily evaluative of the individual. And once we are evaluated, we are basically in defensive states.

We are not in safe states. Dr. Buczynski: And teaching is, as well. Dr. Porges: Yes. I have given a few lectures on mindfulness, and in these lectures I state that mindfulness requires feeling safe.

Because, if we don’t feel safe, we are neurophysiologically evaluative of our setting, which precludes feeling safe. In this defensive state, we can’t engage others and we can’t recruit the wonderful neural circuits.”

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D, Distinguished Scientist, Professor of Psychiatry, founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium, developer of Polyvagal Theory, the art and science of human connection.

“This is why people who have experienced severe abuse and trauma often have difficulty explaining their experiences. They have a problem because clinicians, friends, and family often don’t have the concept of an immobilization defensive system in their vocabulary.”

“Once we recognize that the experiences within our societal institutions such as schools, hospitals, and churches are characterized by chronic evaluations that trigger feelings of danger and threat, we can see that these institutions can be as disruptive to health as political unrest, fiscal crisis, or war.”

“Perhaps our misunderstanding of the role of safety is based on an assumption that we think we know what safety means. This assumption needs to be challenged, because there may be an inconsistency between the words we use to describe safety and our bodily feelings of safety.”

Bayo Akomolafe is globally recognised for his poetic, unconventional, counterintuitive, and indigenous take on global crisis, civic action, activism and social change. He is an international speaker, poet and activist for a radical paradigm shift in consciousness and current ways of living:

“Might I venture to say that our most compelling imperative today—if one is permitted to speak in those ways—is to reclaim the thickness of our tongues and learn the names and faces of our neighbours;

it is to realize that our worldview is just a tittle in a never-ending sentence; it is to see that there are more ways to learn than school and polished degrees could ever accommodate and more ways to live than could be captured in a Facebook post.

The imperative is to recognize that our theories of change have to change and that urgency is not always a function of increased effort and logical coherence. We must reacquaint ourselves with allies that cannot be seen, too subtle for the modern eye,

and forgotten human capacities that are wondrous beyond compare, too outrageous for rational thought. We must recognize that our crises emerge from clinging too tightly to a single story, from drinking out of a single drying wellspring while others flow unattended.

This recognition also implies that there are no convenient ‘others,’ no convenient enemies, and that we are the systems we oppose. It means admitting that we don’t know the answers, talk less of the questions — and that’s okay.”

“We can cluster both PTSD and autism together, because from a Polyvagal perspective, the pivotal point is whether we can help another human feel safe. Safety is a powerful construct that involves features from several processes and domains, including context, behavior, mental processes, and physiological state.

If we feel safe, we have access to the neural regulation of the facial muscles. We have access to a myelinated vagal circuit that is capable of down-regulating the commonly observed fight/flight and stress responses. And, when we down-regulate our defense, we have an opportunity to play and to enjoy our social interactions.

I wanted to introduce into this discussion the concept of play. An inability to play is a characteristic of many individuals with a psychiatric diagnosis. Yet, we do not find an inability to play with others or to spontaneously and reciprocally express humor in any diagnostic criteria.”

“Polyvagal Theory defines interactive play as a “neural exercise” that enhances the co-regulation of physiological state to promote the neural mechanisms involved in supporting mental and physical health.

Interactive play as a neural exercise requires synchronous and reciprocal behaviors between individuals and necessitates an awareness of each other’s social engagement system.

Access to the social engagement system insures that the sympathetic activation involved in the mobilization does not hijack the nervous system, resulting in playful movements transitioning into aggressive behavior.”

Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D, Distinguished Scientist, Professor of Psychiatry, founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium, developer of Polyvagal Theory, the art and science of human connection.

“I am not talking about curing; I am talking about reducing some of the symptoms to make life better for people with disorders. If we understand that physiological state provides a functional platform for different classes of behavior,

then we are aware that when a client is in a physiological state that supports fight/flight, the client will not be available for social behavior. If the client is in a physiological state of shutting down, the client is functionally immune to social interactions.

An important treatment goal is to provide the client with the ability to access the physiological state that enables social engagement. In developing this capacity, the client is informed that access to this physiological state is limited, due to our neuroception processes, to safe environments.”

“With that knowledge, we need to structure settings to remove sensory cues that trigger a neuroception of danger and life threat.”

“Only when we are in a calm physiological state can we convey cues of safety to another.”

“Thus, to fulfill our biological imperative of connectedness, our personal agenda needs to be directed toward making individuals feel safe.”

“If you want to improve the world, start by making people feel safer.”

Source: A collection of Quotes by Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D, Distinguished Scientist, Professor of Psychiatry, founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium, developer of Polyvagal Theory, the art and science of human connection. https://www.stephenporges.com

Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong

Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist

#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #YouBelong

Iosh Groban – You Raise Me Up (2003):

“When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until You come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.
You raise me up to more than I can be.”


“The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation from First Nations to all Australians to realise a better future. Learn more and help us educate other Australians.”



“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
“Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of support we received overnight! We’re able to fund one more Indigenous Psychology student for a full three year Psychology degree from just a 10 minute appearance on ABC #TheDrum.” – Dr Tracy Westerman AM

If you would like to donate, please visit:

My partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic who taught me do not let anyone control your life. #YouBelong

Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo

Kopika (left) and Tharnicaa (right) were kept at Christmas Island Detention Centre for nearly two years despite trauma informed calls to return them to Biloela, Queensland. Tharnicaa has spent most of her life detained by the Australian Government and is still in community detention to this day. #YouBelong


***Since the creation of this website the Biloela family were released from detention, returned to Biloela and granted permanent protection in Australia. However, hundreds more people still remain stuck in a system that requires urgent reform.***

Welcome to the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law. Join us to make positive changes for refugees around the world.


New Kaldor Centre policy brief proposes reforms to Australia’s temporary protection system | Kaldor Centre:


You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:

Trauma Informed World acknowledges and respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which this educational resource was inspired. I acknowledge and respect Elders past, present and emerging. I honour the continuation of educational, cultural and spiritual practices and celebrate the extraordinary diversity of people and relationships worldwide. This website contains images of deceased persons. There are also swear words in some of the songs presented that portray intense emotions. This website is not intended to trigger people who have experienced trauma. However, if you do find any of the content triggering, each page has a link to Australia’s National Helplines and Websites for immediate mental health support. These are my own personal views and comments and may not reflect the views of my employer.

Australia’s National Helplines and Websites:


To provide the best information possible, Beyond Blue has listed national helplines and external services. All services linked to Beyond Blue are reviewed before they are posted.

Published by Dr Louise Hansen

This is a free educational website on Trauma Informed Care for survival and wellbeing. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. Let’s break the cycle of injustice and trauma together one day at a time. The byproduct of clarity is peace. Joy is peace dancing. Trauma is disconnection. Empathy fuels connection. Knowledge is power: “Love is the absence of judgment.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. #YouBelong

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