My Favorite Bit of Information From The Week:
The Polyvagal Theory
Please check out my previous posts on the vagus nerve, and it’s connections to touch, because this week I want to introduce you to the Polyvagal Theory and how it connects to trauma. You have probably heard the term “fight or flight” and how it kicks in (without our control) when we respond a dangerous situation. We use something called neuroception paired with our autonomic nervous system in order to decide when to activate fight or flight response. Said simply, our brains are hard-wired based on our experiences and how we have been raised (or the biology/memories we have inherited) to experience the world and perceive danger. It is a completely INVOLUNTARY thing that we do.
The Polyvagal Theory states that there are NOT just two ways of reacting to danger (fight or flight) but three ways. The third is “freeze”. There are two branches of the vagus nerve (where we get the term “polyvagal”) one that is only present in modern mammals and is responsible for our ability to socialize without killing one another, as well as our ability to enjoy things. The second branch of the vegus nerve is a more ancient part of us (found in lizards), which is responsible for our “freeze” state, and it kicks in when our nervous system believes we are about to die. Some experts think this is in place so that (should you be caught by a bear or other predator) your body stops feeling and reacting so you don’t feel pain as you die. As humans, it is still possible to have this response when we are placed in a dangerous situation we cannot get out of. The freeze response can happen in many different types of situations; when patients awaken in surgery; when you are a part of a natural disaster that feels hopeless to escape; when physical violence is enacted upon you and you cannot move. The freeze response is very common for rape survivors. The larger part of society does not understand that the freeze response is something unavoidable and totally out of our control as humans, as well as the feeling of guilt associated with “freezing”, because they didn’t “fight” back or try to “flee” the scene. The phrase, “well, she must have wanted it” is still used in our culture when humans have a freeze response to acts of sexual violence. You can check out my previous posts on sexual assault awareness, domestic violence, and Consent, for the statistics and more information.
With the majority of our culture experiencing sexual assault or trauma (at various levels) at some point in their lives, it would be really helpful for us to understand this third natural response from our nervous system as a culture. We could heal easier as survivors if the response is normalized, and we could grow as a culture and community. It’s also helping to heal trauma survivors. When the body goes through trauma, the whole system changes. We hear things differently (the ability to truly hear and understand the human voice is actually muted when we are in a state of danger, so that we can better perceive other more threatening sounds), we taste things differently, and our whole system is put into shock and it can be hard to awaken back out of it. When something dangerous happens out of our control it rewires the body’s neroception and how we respond to every day life events, as well as how we perceive dangerous situations. Understanding this is helping counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists heal and help guide their patients back to living from a place of safety, as opposed to consistent feeling shut down (which can look very much like depression) or consistent fight/flight (which can look very much like anxiety/aggression). This happens because the vagus nerve starts at the brain stem and connects to every major organ in the body, and alters them accordingly so that they respond to danger. This means that trauma is not only a psychological problem, but a physiological problem.
Nerd Nite Explanation Of The Polyvagl Theory: If you only have time for one resource this week, I recommend this one. It’s an incredibly succinct explanation of the polyvagal theory as a whole and also how our body processes danger and react to trauma. It’s funny, memorable, and expertly given. It’s only 30 minutes and is given by Seth Porges, the son of Dr. Stephen Porges who introduced the polyvagal theory in 1994. Stephen is on staff at University of Chicago (shout out for those living in Illinois). Seth really hits home the point that trauma is not just a psychological problem, but a physiological one. For more on this topic, check out my previous post on Historical or Intergenerational Trauma, specifically the bit that mentions Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps The Score.
Stephen Explains The Polyvagal Theory: A short description of the polyvagal theory by Dr. Stephen Porges himself. I think it pairs best after watching the above Nerd Nite Video personally.
Stephen’s Website: If you are interested in more detailed accounts of the theory, you can check out Stephen’s personal articles on his website. I recommend starting with this one. It is dense, but very informative.
Counseling Today Article: This article is written specifically to an audience of counselors, but I think everyone could benefit. Especially if you process information better by reading as opposed to listening or watching. The breakdown of the theory is approachable, and she mentions the work of Stephen Porges, as well as the world of Peter Levine who created an approach to healing trauma survivors called Somatic Experiencing (or SE). It began when he realized that animals of prey would experience near death experiences in the wild all the time and heal, which led him to ask the question: why can’t we as humans? You can find more on Peter Levine and Somatic Experiencing on the SE website, or through his award winning book Awaking The Tiger: Healing Trauma.The Breathe Network: I have mentioned this network before, but they bear repeating. My trauma yoga mentor and instructor Molly Boeder Harris specifically trained with Peter Levine and created this network for trauma survivors, after overcoming the trauma of an attack herself. It’s an incredible resource for those interested in SE or other forms of healing from trauma.
Breathe Network Mission Statement: The Breathe Network connects survivors of sexual violence with trauma-informed, sliding-scale, holistic healing arts practitioners. We provide training and education for healing arts practitioners in understanding the impacts of sexual violence and how to provide trauma-informed care within their practice.
Update On My Show:
Thank you again from the bottom of my heart to all who were able to make it out to the One Woman Fundraiser. Please check out the Past Show/Event tab to download your photos from the puppet photo booth- or if you are curious to see how the event went down!
Pay What You Can Yoga: Come and join me for a pay what you can all levels yoga class at Metro Yoga in Andersonville this Saturday Nov. 9th. from 1:30-2:30 Metro has graciously offered to match what we make! This is truly pay what you can, if you need some free yoga in your life please join us! If you are able to donate at this time, any amount is greatly appreciated.
Space is limited, so please reserve your spot on the Metro Website if you are interested.
Ways to Support: If you would like to donate to my show, share this project with a friend, or find out more about it please check out my gofundme here: https://www.gofundme.com/one-woman-hamlet
Thank You: Thank you VERY much to all who have donated thus far, making this project possible.