Developed by Dr Stephen Porges, polyvagal theory explains the vital importance of the vagus nerve in our understanding of trauma, and how to effectively treat it.
Prior to his discovery we used to think that the nervous system had two main responses – activation and relaxation.
Porges discovered that we actually have three well defined neural circuits that follow our evolutionary history. These circuits support:
- Social engagement ‘feeling safe and happy to connect’ (ventral vagal responses)
- Mobilisation (fight/flight/excitement – taking action)
- Immobilisation (dorsal vagal freeze & disconnection)
Mammals use the new ventral circuits contained in the face/heart connection convey to others we are safe to approach. This separates our circuits from those of reptiles.
When we are challenged (frightened/upset) we mobilise or shut down and it turns off this ventral vagal connection.