The autonomic nervous system is at the heart of daily living powerfully shaping experiences of safety and influencing the capacity for connection. Polyvagal Theory, through the organizing principles of hierarchy, neuroception, and co-regulation, has revolutionized our understanding of how this system works. We now know that trauma interrupts the development of autonomic regulation and shapes the system away from connection into patterns of protection. For many clients, states of fight, flight, and collapse are frequent, intense, and prolonged while the state of safety and connection is elusive. Their autonomic nervous systems now respond in characteristic post-traumatic patterns of hyperarousal, hypervigilance, disconnection, and numbing.
A Polyvagal approach uses an updated map of the autonomic circuits that underlie behaviours and beliefs so clinicians can reliably lead their clients out of adaptive survival responses into the autonomically regulated state of safety that is necessary for successful treatment. Polyvagal Theory gives clinicians a guide to help clients safely tune into their autonomic states, reshape their nervous systems, and rewrite the trauma stories that are carried in their autonomic pathways.