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How to reduce your shame, blame & judgment

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

I think when people first get interested in the Polyvagal Theory, they're looking for answers. They want to know what to do with their trauma. They want relief and they want to make change. They find the theory and see there is some avenue for learning and applying new knowledge. They want to identify their stuck defensive state and then climb their Polyvagal ladder into their safety state.

And yeah, I totally get it. Of course.

And yes, the PVT can provide some insight into these things. It can, but it's also not prescriptive. It's science, not therapy. It's knowledge, not medicine. It's research, not technique.

The real benefit to learning the PVT

Really, the immediate and potential lasting impact of the PVT is applying it to yourself. When you do that, it opens the potential for you to create a new narrative for yourself. A new story of your past.

Before PVT, you might be looking at past events and blaming yourself. Saying, "Why didn't I do this" or "Why did I have to do that?" After learning PVT, you might instead be able to realize, "Oh, I was stuck in a freeze state and that's why I didn't do that."

Along with that blame, you might be shaming and judging yourself. "I'm so stupid, why didn't I..." and "I knew it, I'm unlovable and not worth anything, that's why..." After learning the PVT, you might realize that the people in your life - even your parent(s) - are working from their own stuck defensive state and were not able to care for you the way that you needed and deserved.

And maybe that's still true for them.

Allow the learning to settle

I know you might be wanting to recover from trauma and ready to take the next steps. I've got you covered through my Polyvagal Trauma Relief System.

But before that, allow your Polyvagal learning to really settle. And by that, I mean to take your time, learn it as deeply as you can and don't try to do anything with it quite yet. Besides learn and sit with your learning.

Once you think you understand it well enough, what you can do next is apply the knowledge to yourself in your present moment. Not the past; not yet. Just focus on the here and now and apply this knowledge to yourself with as much curiosity as you can.

When you're ready to, then apply the PVT knowledge to your past as you can handle it. Build that new narrative of yourself through the lens of the Polyvagal Theory. I have some prompts for you below. Don't answer these unless you think you can handle it. It's totally okay to come back to this point when you are ready.

New past narrative prompts

Here are some prompts to help you develop that new narrative of your past:

  • How much access did you have to your safety state?

  • Was it realistic to be able to develop your safety state in that context?

  • How much access did other people have to their safety state?

  • Is it possible that you had to exist in a defensive state in that context?

  • Is it possible you existed in a defensive state to get your needs met?

  • Do you think your body actually did its job by putting you into a defensive state in that context?

  • Do you think that you had an impulse to connect with others in safety that maybe could not be returned by them?

For all this to really click, you must have a clear understanding of the Polyvagal Theory and how it connects to trauma. My Polyvagal 101 course gets you from Polyvagal confusion to Polyvagal clarity. With my simple but solid Polyvagal education in place, you can then begin to apply it to yourself and build your new, judgment and shame-free narrative.


Yvonne Posey
Yvonne Posey
Jan 16, 2023

Super awesome post! I talk about blaming and shaming with my dental patients AND colleagues a lot. When we aren’t able to access our own safety state it’s impossible to be understanding of those in a stuck defensive state or even a freeze state. Thank you for all of the excellent questions for self reflection👏👏👏

Justin Sunseri, LMFT
Justin Sunseri, LMFT
Jan 16, 2023
Replying to

You're very welcome, Yvonne. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment :)

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