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Autonomic Nervous System, Neuroception & Evolution / SNB101

Updated: Mar 19, 2023



INTRO -

  • In this episode, we begin to revisit the foundations of the Polyvagal Theory!

  • My name is Justin Sunseri.

  • I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist obsessed with the polyvagal theory.

  • Welcome to Stuck Not Broken.


EPISODE MAP -

  • Foundational Polyvagal Theory elements to begin this series: the ANS, the Polyvagal Ladder, the Vagus nerve and neuroception

  • Resources to go along with this and all parts of the upcoming Polyvagal 101 series in the File Share on justinlmft.com


DISCLAIMERS -

But before I get into things -put yourself first. I keep every episode as safe as I can, but just by the nature of the topics, you may experience some stuff come up. Take a break if you need to. This episode is probably going to bring up some stuff for you.


This podcast is not therapy, nor intended to be a replacement for therapy.


The Autonomic Nervous System

The Autonomic Nervous System controls the body’s internal environment.

  • breathing

  • heart rate

  • hormone release

  • sweating

  • pupil dilation

  • digestion

  • salivation

  • lots more…

2 main branches: sympathetic & parasympathetic

  • Unconscious

    • We don’t shift ans state due to choice

    • Like you’ll probably shift your state right now when you realize there’s a spider hanging right behind your head

    • Or you won’t react, also out of your choice

  • Every autonomic response is in service of survival

    • Supposed to happen

Why the ANS is important

  • Makes daily living and surviving possible

  • Otherwise we would have to think about all these processes in real time

    • How much to tense our muscles, sweat, increase heart beat and adjust our breathing

    • Moment to moment


Primary ANS States

  • Either Safe & Social, Flight/Fight or Shutdown

  • Mixing these states is possible

    • More on this in a future episode

  • A reaction to the outside environment

    • Dangerous environment or person

    • Sounds, sights and sensory inputs

  • internal environment

    • Chronic illness, pain, hunger

  • Interpersonal environment

    • Also environmental, but worth differentiating

    • Between two or more people

    • Cues of danger in big and small

      • Aggression or looking at a cell phone

    • More on this in co-regulation later on

  • perceptions

    • A football fan’s reaction to something is much different than a non-fans’, like the 49ers losing their past two Super Bowl appearances

      • One group of men scoring more points than another might mean nothing to you, but it’s devastating for others

    • A Star War’s fan is much different than a non, like in the sequel trilogy that is awful and genuinely upsetting due to its awfulness

    • Gunshots in a neighborhood example

  • The filter that we experience the world through

  • Possible to become stuck in defensive states


The Polyvagal Ladder

  • From Deb Dana

  • Metaphor for ANS hierarchy stacked in body

  • Top - Ventral vagal Safe & Social

  • Middle - Sympathetic Flight & Fight

  • Bottom - Dorsal vagal shutdown

  • Not a menu of options

    • Often how a survivor’s bx is evaluated


The Vagus Nerve

  • A conduit

    • Porges quote from 15

  • Not thing we’re addressing in and of itself

    • Porges quote from 15

  • But the brainstem is really the key to all of this

    • This is the key point that triggers the ANS into different bx and the brain into different possibilities

    • Porges quote(s)

    • Through neuroception


Neuroception

  • Created by Dr Porges to explain the phenomenon of hardwired autonomic shifts within the mammalian organism

  • Information comes in through the five senses

    • Then primitive parts of the brain evaluate for safety, danger or life threat

    • Responses are unconscious and biologically hardwired

    • Not a choice

    • We are hardwired to respond to some stimuli in certain ways, but won’t look the same for everyone

      • Prosodic voices bring us a neuroception of safety

      • Monotone voices are a neuroception of danger

    • Thought experiment -

      • Wide eyes, stiff muscles, a head that is looking straight ahead will be…?

      • A baby that is cooing and smiling and giggling and looking at you in the eyes will be…?

  • Social or defensive behaviors are triggered

  • The body’s ability to detect risk outside of conscious awareness

  • Shifts the body up and down the polyvagal ladder to the different states

  • As the body moves down the ladder, we lose access to the behaviors higher up the ladder and defensive behaviors are unlocked in order to survive

    • Like a key

    • Need example


Healthy Neuroception

  • The body detects and shifts to the appropriate State based on environment

  • The body uses safe & social behavior in a safe environment

  • The body does not use defenses like fighting or fleeing unless in danger

  • Accurately identifying red flags and safety

  • Feeling safe with safe others, but also mobilizing when needed

    • Feeling safe on a date with your spouse, mobilizing if there is danger on the date


Unhealthy Neuroception

  • The body does not accurately detect or shift State based on environment

  • The body does not flee or fight when in unsafe situations

  • The body does not use safe & social behavior in a safe environment

  • May be at the core of many mental health disorders

  • Missing red flags in the moment

  • Sexually abused mom that allows short-term b/f to move in

  • Stillness examples - yoga and kids in class


“Story follows state”

  • Deb Dana

  • Might not be reality

  • Example of a child watching a parent sleep?

  • Example of Jay walking into my room in the middle of the night, saw shadow movement first, neuroception of danger and tense muscles while holding breath, image/story of burglar in mind, then realized it was him


Takeaway from all this -

Polyvagal Theory as a new Paradigm

  • PVT brings a new paradigm vs DSM

  • State vs disorder

  • Roadmap of change

  • More utility with less judgment

PVT as a new Narrative when applied to the self

  • Apply it to the self


Polyvagal Patrons, let me know what you thought of this episode and the Member’s episode in the Patreon comments.


ANNOUNCEMENTS -

  • Polyvagal resources on my website

    • One pagers

    • Polyvagal 101

    • Blog with short articles


THANKS SO MUCH FOR LISTENING!

  • I hope you’ve learned something new to help you climb your polyvagal ladder.

  • Bye!

  • This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only. More resources are available in the description of this episode and in the footer of justinlmft.com.


Intro/Outro music & Transition Sounds by Benjo Beats - https://soundcloud.com/benjobeats


National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline -1 (800) 799-7233

LGBT Trevor Project Lifeline - 1 (866) 488-7386

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1 (800) 656-4673

Crisis Text Line - Text “HOME” to 741741

Call 911 for emergency


This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.

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