Understanding Trauma through Polyvagal Theory: The Importance of Safe Relationships

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Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory suggests that our autonomic nervous system has three distinct branches, each vital in regulating our body’s responses to stress and trauma.

The oldest branch is the dorsal vagal complex, responsible for immobilization and dissociation in the face of overwhelming danger. You’ve probably heard it referred to when people speak of the “freeze” response. The sympathetic nervous system is activated in response to moderate to high stress. It prompts the body’s fight-or-flee responses. The newest branch is the ventral vagal complex. It activates when we engage with safe and supportive people.

People who have experienced trauma often have a dysregulated autonomic nervous system, which can lead to chronic stress-related conditions and dissociation. But when we work through our traumas with the help of wise and kind others, we can use them to help us regulate our nervous system. Co-regulation helps a traumatized person to feel his or her feelings and heal safely.

The Polyvagal Theory helps people understand the importance of safe and supportive relationships when working through trauma. I’ve said a thousand times, “It’s almost impossible to heal alone.” Because of the Polyvagal Theory, you now know why.

Wishing you abundant health, happiness, and prosperity,


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