Much of what we learn as therapists is about trauma being held in the body and how to release that trauma, how to broaden and build our capacity for positive emotion. Dr. Stephen Porges Polyvagal Theory[1] describes his research in to people being held in their stress response for long periods and what could help calm them to feel better. While studying our vague nerve, Dr. Porges identified a third type of nervous system response (we used to think we only had two: activating or calming); this third response that he identified was the social engagement system. Dr Porges found that rather than our nervous system being either more activated and less calm or calmer and less activated, it could do both.  We can be activated through social interaction while also calming our system down. It’s the safety we find in positive connection with others that helps us manage and more quickly calm the stress response. This means that the best way to overcome the hypervigilance or stress we can feel from our adverse childhood events is to have safe, nurturing relationships.  I love Barbara Fredrickson’s work in this area, particularly the research into using Metta/Loving Kindness meditation to self-generate feelings of warmth and connection.

[1] PORGES, S. W. (2009). The polyvagal theory: New insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine76(Suppl 2), S86.

Categories: Trauma Healing