In this week’s episode of Trauma Chat, Laura Reagan, LCSW-C discussed a theory that was created by Dr. Stephen Porges called Polyvagal Theory. Passionate about this theory, Deb Dana, LCSW, has played a vital role in translating the language of this theory into terms that more people will be able to understand. Deb Dana created the concept of the Polyvagal Ladder in order to showcase the different states of the nervous system.
In last week’s episode, Laura discussed the Window of Tolerance, which is a concept created by Dan Siegal. The Polyvagal Ladder and the Window of Tolerance are related because they both help us to understand what is going on in our brains when our trauma responses are activated.
* To listen to the full episode of Trauma Chat episode eleven click here, or keep reading for an overview of episode eleven.
The Polyvagal Ladder is based on the fact that our Vagus Nerve regulates both our trauma threat responses, and the system of our body and brain that calms us down and helps us return to a relaxed state where we can be “safe and social.”
The Steps of the Polyvagal Ladder
Takeaways from the Polyvagal Ladder
The Polyvagal Ladder explains that when we are in a shutdown state, we can’t get back up into the safe and social zone until we go through the sympathetic activation because part of what brings us out of that shutdown state is getting more sympathetic activation. Being in a very angry or very anxious state is uncomfortable, so sometimes we can try to calm ourselves back down to the point that we go back into the dorsal vagal hypoarousal state.
The desire to no longer be anxious or angry can cause us to get stuck between the fight or flight and the numb, “stuck” state. When we are stuck going between the bottom two levels of the ladder, we are never able to reach the safe and social zone at the top of the ladder. Part of the process of coming out of the shutdown state is to move into that activated, anxious, or angry state, before you can move into the calmer state.
Oftentimes we don’t like to feel anxious or angry so we can be more comfortable in the shutdown state, but we can’t be relational from that place. Just knowing that being in the uncomfortable nervous state is on the road to getting you where you want to go can be helpful in pushing through it before turning to something like drugs or alcohol to numb those uncomfortable feelings.
*Listen to the full episode of Trauma Chat episode eleven here.
Resources for further understanding:
- Deb Dana, LCSW and Dr. Stephen Porges
- Deb Dana’s book, Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
- Deb Dana’s book, Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client-Centered Exercises
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