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Complex PTSD, the Polyvagal Theory, and Somatic Therapy

Imagine if your day-to-day life involved constant fear and stress, or if you were repeatedly hurt by someone you trusted over months or even years. Over time, this kind of chronic exposure to trauma can affect a person's mental health deeply, changing how they feel, think, and interact with others, simply put Complex-PTSD can leave you disconnected from you SELF, and others around you as a protective mechanism. Here are some ways it might affect someone:

  • Emotional Overwhelm: Feeling intense emotions or, conversely, feeling numb or empty.

  • Trouble with Relationships: Finding it hard to trust others or feeling very distant in relationships, sometimes swinging between extremes of closeness and distance.

  • Negative Self-View: Having a very low self-esteem, feeling ashamed or guilty as if the trauma was their fault.

  • On Edge: Always being on high alert, as if danger is around every corner, even in safe situations.

  • Detachment from Reality: Sometimes feeling disconnected from the world or themselves, like they're watching their life from the outside.

  • Persistent Sadness or Hopelessness: Struggling with ongoing feelings of sadness, depression, or a sense that things will never get better.

Complex PTSD is more than just being stuck in a bad memory; it's like a shadow cast over everything, affecting how someone views the world and themselves. Understanding Complex PTSD is crucial for supporting those who struggle with it, as it highlights the need for specific, ongoing emotional support and professional therapy. Recognizing the signs can help you or your loved ones seek the help they need to heal and lead fulfilling lives.

Would you like more detailed information on how to manage or treat complex PTSD, or perhaps some resources for support and recovery? This is where the Polyvagal Theory comes in to help gain understanding of why the body and mind are affected so long after these traumas have come to an end.

Understanding and shining light on the traumas which may be buried deep in you subconscious and your nervous system along with understanding the insights of the polyvagal theory can help to heal and move from those patterns in our lives, that hold us back and no longer serve us. This combination helps us understand how our bodies react to trauma and how we can reconnect with our physical and emotional selves to foster recovery.

The Polyvagal Theory

The polyvagal theory, created by Dr. Stephen Porges, helps us understand how our body deals with stress by dividing our nervous system into three main parts:

1. Ventral Vagal System: This part helps us feel calm and safe. It's like a built-in peacekeeper that lets us relax and connect with others.

2. Sympathetic Nervous System: This activates the 'fight or flight' mode. It's our body's alarm system, preparing us to either defend ourselves or run away when we sense danger. In this sympathetic state our bodies releases stress hormones, the commonly known ones you may have heard of include cortisol and adrenaline.

3. Dorsal Vagal System: This kicks in during extreme stress. Think of it as the 'shutdown' mode, where our body might freeze or feel numb to protect us from feeling overwhelmed.

Each part plays a role in how we respond to stressful situations, influencing our feelings and actions during tough times.

The image below lists the physical symptoms felt at each stage, you would be quite amazed by how many of us will be in Sympathetic and Dorsal Vagal nervous state.

Physical symptoms of nervous system dysregulation and complex ptsd
Polyvagal Theory Chart

The Whole Body Therapist - Somatic therapy focuses on the relationship between the body and mind, using physical sensations and movements to explore and heal trauma. When combined with the understanding provided by the polyvagal theory, somatic therapy can be particularly effective in treating complex PTSD:

  • Reconnecting with the Body: Somatic therapy helps individuals become aware of their bodily sensations, which can be crucial for those who are often in a dorsal vagal 'shutdown' state. This awareness helps them reconnect with their physical self and begin to heal.

  • Regulating Responses: By focusing on bodily sensations and movements, somatic therapy can aid in transitioning from a state of high alert or shutdown (sympathetic or dorsal responses) to a state of safety and social engagement (ventral vagal response).

  • Expressing and Releasing Trauma: Movement and physical expression in somatic therapy provide alternate pathways for releasing stored trauma and tension in the body, which is often not accessible through traditional talk therapy alone.

Integrating Body and Mind for Healing

Combining the ideas of polyvagal theory and somatic therapy provides a powerful way to understand and heal from complex PTSD. This approach looks at both the physical and emotional effects of trauma, helping people recover in a well-rounded way. Here's how it helps:

1. Whole-Person Healing: This method doesn't just help manage symptoms—it helps change how people react to trauma from the ground up. By working with the body’s responses as well as the mind's, it promotes deep and lasting healing.

2. Body and Mind Together: Healing from complex PTSD is about more than just talking—it involves tuning into how your body feels and responds. This approach respects and uses the connection between your physical sensations and your emotions to help you recover.

Somatic therapy can help you reconnect with your body and manage your trauma in a new way. Book your session today and start your journey towards a more balanced and joyful life. Your healing starts now—let's take that first step together.


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