Many EMDR therapists use polyvagal theory to help someone understand that their body and mind are responding in a certain way because it is biologically built to do this. Your nervous system is responding to cues of danger or safety, and so symptoms of anxiety, depression, and trauma responses, are easier to understand when we view our nervous system as a ladder (as shown in the diagram below).
At the bottom of the nervous system ladder, in response to cues of danger, our nervous system can shut down. Here we can feel numb, blank-minded, even depressed. Think of how we might be caught by the saber-tooth tiger; our nervous system cleverly shuts us down so we do not feel the pain of the bite of the tiger. This is the work of the part of the parasympathetic nervous system that is known as the dorsal vagal response.
In the middle of the nervous system ladder, in response to cues of danger that we have a hope of escaping, our nervous system will respond by increasing our heart rate so we can fight or flee the danger. Here we can find outbursts of anger and anxiety, and this is the work of the sympathetic nervous system.
Finally, at the top of the nervous system ladder, we find the most evolved response, in response to cues of safety, when we can connect with ourselves and others. Thanks to our parasympathetic nervous system, this is the ventral vagal response.
Together, we will help you to notice and name the different states, and you can use this awareness to flex in and out of the various states as appropriate.
I hope you found this useful. Please get in contact if you need to discuss any of this.
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Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Explore Transform LLC
Counseling and Psychotherapy in Bergen County, New Jersey
+1 (201) 779-6917