This is a section from my free e-book - Trauma & the Polyvagal Paradigm. Make sure you're signed up for my email list to get access to this and future ebooks. There's a signup at the top and bottom of this page.
Hope you enjoy the read!
Paradigm to Self-Narrative
This is what this paradigm-building has been leading up to. You understand the Polyvagal Theory on a cognitive level. The biology, trauma, the importance of connection. Knowing is not good enough though. A nostalgic phrase from my childhood speaks volumes here - Knowing is half the battle (G.I. Joe). It's not enough to simply know, you also need to apply that knowledge. When you apply the Polyvagal paradigm to your own life, it builds a narrative.
A narrative is the story that you have around yourself. Who you are, how you are, why you are. Your worth in life - to yourself and others. Your potential in life. Your responsibility in making change in your own life. The role of your parents then and now. Why events in your life unfolded or did not unfold. How lovable you are or are not. The answers to these things are all narratives, for better or worse.
I can't answer these for you, but I invite you to journal around these when you can. I do have one more piece I would like to offer you, hopefully a new narrative that you can take on...
Stuck Not Broken
You're stuck. You're not broken. I know it can feel that way, but really, you gotta believe me on this - you're just not broken. You're stuck. This is the central idea of the Stuck Not Broken podcast.
And the great news is that being stuck means you can get unstuck. It means that your momentum is still moving forward, but there's something blocking that from happening. The momentum, the potential to get unstuck is there within you. The momentum might be to release the freeze energy that you've got stuck inside of you. Or the momentum could be allowing the sympathetic energy to return, getting unstuck from your shutdown state.
The body is ready to make this happen. Your body knows exactly what to do. It's just stuck. And what's keeping it stuck? You are. Okay, it's not that simple, because maybe you're in an environmentally unsafe place. But for the most part, you're stopping this unstuckness from happening.
From the bottom up, from the body to the brain, the change is ready to take place. That energy is ready to discharge or to come back. But from the top down, from the brain to the body, that's where things get more difficult.
There's probably something(s) you're doing to keep yourself stuck without even realizing it. Here's a short list:
escaping your internal feelings somehow
distracting yourself from the inner stuff somehow
dismissing or minimizing your pain
Basically, you're doing some sort of behavioral or cognitive adaptation to your stuck defensive state. When we do these things, it just serves to keep the energy stuck inside or to prevent it from returning. It's like putting a cap on a bottle before tipping it over. Or if the internal momentum is like rolling a bowling ball, then these thoughts/behaviors are like placing a wall in the middle of the alley.
So what happens is the internal stuff that you're ignoring/avoiding/minimizing/squishing festers and worsens. It doesn't just sit there patiently. You know that already though. It tends to grow and get worse. It infects other facets of your life, like your relationships or work.
The pain that you're going through - the anxiety, panic, fear, depression... it's telling you something. And it's your job to listen. Not to ignore the pain. Not to dismiss it. Not to squish it down or fight it off. To listen. Calmly and curiously. Not judging or evaluating it. But to listen in moments where you're actually safe. And look inward at what your body is telling you. Just a little bit at a time.
It's hard work, I know. You might be cut off from your body in a major way. I do a lot of therapy work with clients who have survived abuse and are left in a numbness or fog. When they look inward, they find nothing (at first). Or they've been left with a ton of anger or anxiety. And when they look inward, they don't like what they find and escape in one form or another (at first).
So looking inward and expecting to deal with all of your stuff all at once isn't always practical or doable. You come face to face with the energy that wants to get unstuck; that's ready to come back to life and do it's thing. And it's too intense. And with that intensity, memories pop into your mind that aren't very comfortable. Which makes things worse. At first.
The good news is - you don't have to do any of that. You don't have to. You may want to. That's your call. But to get unstuck, you can basically do the opposite. Focus on the positives; focus on what energizes you safely. Things like art, dancing, music, singing, cooking, playing sports - whatever it is. It doesn't matter. As long as it brings you some energy, some joy, some connection or being a bit more in the present moment. If you’re really struggling with identifying safety, my course Building Safety Anchors can be helpful. It helps you to identify what brings you to safety.
You do these things, but do them mindfully. Listen to your body while you draw. Let it speak to you through your artwork. Or listen while you're running, listen to your muscles as they carry you. Do something safe, which will allow you to listen safely. Little by little, you may notice that the pain isn't as intense. And you might be ready to go inward and listen more directly. But at first, it helps to have a positive energy resource.
Or even a safe person. Not necessarily someone to talk to about your pain. But someone you feel safe with. Not protected. Safe. Someone you can smile around. And be a bit vulnerable. This could be a club, a yoga class, being with family or a friend. When we're with safe people, we can become unstuck. But again, bring some mindfulness to the experience of being with a safe person and hold it while it's there. Build the capacity to be able to handle the stuckness.
And obviously find a safe place. Might be home or a certain place in your home. Might be a church, might be at the gym or even grocery shopping. Somewhere you feel safe, comfortable and more at ease. A place that helps your energy to return without being overwhelming.
You could also do the more direct route of looking inward and allowing the stuck energy to discharge or to return. This can be done through meditation, in therapy with someone who is incorporating somatic skills or through yoga, among many other options.
There is so much hope it's ridiculous. That momentum is inside of you, ready to take off. Once it gets safety and permission to do so.
Your Next Polyvagal Steps
Don’t let this be the final step on your Polyvagal journey. There’s a lot more to get into, including applying the PVT into different areas of your personal and professional life. I have more free resources for you to learn more from, many of them linked to in this eBook. I also have my two courses, one for the Polyvagal Theory and the other to help you build your safety system.
My courses built on the Polyvagal Theory
Polyvagal 101 - https://www.justinlmft.com/pvt101
Building Safety Anchors - https://www.justinlmft.com/bsa
My Polyvagal Freesources:
Website - https://www.justinlmft.com
Blog - https://www.justinlmft.com/blog
Podcast - https://www.justinlmft.com/podcast
PDF Downloads - https://www.justinlmft.com/fileshare
There are also a number of paid Polyvagal books you can purchase. Here are my recommendations and who I think they are for.
For therapists - The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy
For those building their self-regulation - Anchored & Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection
The Polyvagal Theory applied to various professions - Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory
For a deeper level of Polyvagal reading that’s still digestible - the Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory
For serious Polyvagal nerds that want the primary source in all the academic jargon - The Polyvagal Theory
Read more by downloading the entire book. And to do that, you need to sign up for my email list at the top or bottom of this page.
Thanks for reading!