A picture of a nerve connection taken from the video

The Hidden Language of Our Nervous System: Unmasking the Polyvagal Theory

There may be no better tool to help us to understand navigating through the maze of our nervous system than the Polyvagal Theory. It unravels the intricacies behind both our emotional and physiological responses. The video below, presented by Teresa Lewis on the Lewis Psychology YouTube channel, reveals the complexities of our autonomic nervous system and how it can be understood through a three-tiered hierarchy of states, the concept of neuroception, and the imperative of co-regulation.

Through the illustrative example of Sarah, we are taken through a journey of the workings of the autonomic nervous system. Sarah’s system, like ours, transitions between three distinct states in response to external cues – the ventral vagal state of safety and connection, the sympathetic branch that triggers the fight or flight response, and the dorsal vagal state that signifies shutdown. So, while singing in the car, Sarah feels safe and connected (ventral vegal). Yet, the sound of a police siren suddenly shifts her into a state of anxiety, activating her fight or flight response (sympathetic). Conversely, in the presence of her abusive mother, Sarah’s system shuts down entirely (dorsal vegal).

This Polyvagal theory, founded by Stephen Porges, introduced the concept of “neuroception,” where our autonomic nervous system constantly scans our environment for signals of danger, safety, or threats. Essentially, before our conscious mind reacts to a situation, our nervous system has already assessed it and prepared a response. This intricate system connects our brainstem to vital organs such as the heart, lungs, digestive system, and more. As such, a perceived threat in one organ can quickly affect others.

Interestingly, while healthy individuals can transition freely between these states, trauma survivors might find themselves trapped in either the sympathetic or dorsal vagal state. Using the story of Stephen, Teresa illustrates how trauma can distort one’s ability to interpret environmental cues accurately. Consequently, healing for trauma survivors involves re-establishing a sense of safety and trust, often through the safety modelled by a clinician in a therapeutic relationship.

Central to the polyvagal theory is the concept of co-regulation. Co-regulation is a biological necessity where our nervous system seeks connection with other nervous systems for both physical and psychological well-being. For therapists or anyone in caregiving roles, it’s essential to be grounded in a ventral vagal state, ensuring a foundation of safety and connection for others.

The polyvagal theory’s foundational principles revolve around a three-tiered hierarchy of states, the concept of neuroception, and the imperative of co-regulation. If you’re keen on diving deeper and understanding practical strategies related to this theory, watch the video below.

School of Life Graphic of inner voyager reaching the depths of the true self

Accessing Your Inner Truth: A Journey to Self-Discovery

In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to lose touch with our innermost feelings and beliefs. Surface thoughts often eclipse our deepest convictions, leading us away from our authentic selves. How do we reconnect?

The School of Life, in their thought-provoking video “How To Find Out What You Really Think And Why”, dives into this very paradox of the mind: the inability to access our true feelings about pivotal matters.

It’s quite a phenomenon: the genuine sentiments about a close friend, career choices, or even childhood memories can remain concealed within us, invisible to our conscious awareness. Instead, what we grapple with are superficial, sometimes misguided snapshots of our desires and intentions. Quick judgments made out of fear or haste become our go-to narratives.

“Our childhood was fun,” we proclaim, even when shadows lurk beneath the surface. “Our new friend is nothing but kind,” we tell ourselves, ignoring any gut feelings of unease. Why? We’ve grown in a world that stresses rapid action, which often means overlooking the layered nature of our consciousness.

It’s not just about speed. Diving deep can be unsettling. Uncovering the truths from our subconscious might challenge the image we’ve built of ourselves in the broad daylight. The revelations may not always align with societal norms or even our own expectations. Hence, many of us opt for the comfort of feeling ‘normal’ rather than facing the startling truths of our innermost selves.

However, connecting with our inner sanctum isn’t as complicated as it might seem. All it requires is:

  1. Time: Daily moments of solitude, perhaps lying in bed or soaking in a bath, or sitting comfortably in a quiet place.
  2. Attention: Close your eyes and focus on pressing issues or feelings that demand reflection.
  3. Genuine Inquiry: Ask yourself – “What do I truly feel about this? What’s the real issue here? What is my heart whispering?”

Treat this exercise as a journey, not a destination. What you’ll likely discover is enlightening. The answers, much like stars hidden during the day, have always been there. They simply await the quieting of the sun—our daily distractions—to shimmer in the night sky. The truth is, deep down, we often already know our feelings about friendships, our purpose, and what truly benefits our well-being. All we need is the courage and patience to tune in.

To dive deeper into this enlightening journey of self-discovery watch the full video below and take the first step towards uncovering your inner truths.