“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
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
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:
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