Polyvagal theory and coping

Polyvagal theory states that we have three ways of functioning, linked to our autonomic nervous system. The first and ‘least elaborate’ one is the dorsal vagal (freeze), then comes the sympathetic (fight or flight) and finally the ventral vagal (social engagement). 

This is an interesting theory, that we will come back to in the future, to see it more in depth, but for now, let’s see what it teaches us about coping.

It is, in fact, tightly interconnected with it, because as we experience trauma, we tend to move from the last one (that is allowed by a feeling of safety and protection) to the second one (motion, reaction, survival) and then, if that does not alleviate distress, we move on to the first one (our conservation mode, numbing and dissociation).

The quality of our coping, and ability to move across states, is learned thanks to a supportive system and responsive caregiver (as always, this doesn’t imply that it can’t be learned later) that allows a fluid return to an optimal state. But regardless of this restorative ability, all of us shift to some form of survival and conservation when something difficult happens. 

Coping is what we choose to do to move up the ladder, to reach a state of growth, restoration and sociality again.

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