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Polyvagal Theory and Hope In Healing from Childhood Trauma


May 3, 2021

Those who live with the after-effects of severe childhood trauma understand well how it feels to be continually on the lookout for danger. Some experience this as hypervigilance feeling unsafe no matter who they are with or where they are in life.

Polyvagal theory does a wonderful job of explaining these responses as well as defining some ways survivors who live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder can help themselves heal.

This article attempts to conquer this enormous yet important topic and put it into perspective.

A Revisit to What Polyvagal Theory Is

The Vagal Nerve is the longest cranial nerve controlling a human’s inner nerve center, the parasympathetic nervous system. It oversees a vast range of vital functions communicating sensory input from outside triggers to the rest of the body.

Polyvagal theory emphasizes the evolutionary development of two systems: the parasympathetic nervous system which is ultimately connected to the vagal nerve and the sympathetic nervous system. Each has its own function, and cause the body to react differently before, during, and after a traumatic or stressful event. If these two systems become damaged from excessive and recurrent trauma, a break down occurs and mental illnesses such as CPTSD and anxiety disorders may result.

The sympathetic nervous system gets the body ready for the fight/flight/freeze response. With the fight or flight response, the sympathetic nervous system begins revving up the heartbeat and blood pressure and stealing blood from the body to make muscles ready to run. If there is nowhere to run and no hope of escape, the sympathetic nervous system will cause the person to freeze or collapse (both forms of dissociation).

The parasympathetic nervous system is a calming force, that when kicked in, allows the heart rate and blood pressure to lower, calming down the body after a traumatic event.

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