intuitiv richtig – Psychologische Beratung
Dr. phil. Peter Flury-Kleubler, Psychologe FSP, Einzel- und Paarberatung, St. Gallen

The Polyvagal Theory

According to Stephen W. Porges polyvagal theory, the autonomic nervous system does not only consist of two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. On the basis of neuroanatomical findings, it assumes that the parasympathetic nervous system consists of two parts of different origins from different ages. These are the phylogenetically old dorsal vagal system and the younger ventral vagal system, first existing in mammals.

The three parts of the autonomic nervous system constantly work together and influence one another.

Sympathetic nervous system: The sympathetic system prepares the organism to cope with external challenges by muscle activity. If the organism evaluates a situation as unsafe on the basis of (conscious or unconscious) sensory information, it puts itself in readiness to fight and flee. The sympathetic nervous system is also activated in situations of sexual arousal. In this case, simultaneous activation of the ventral and dorsal vagus is a prerequisite for intimacy and sexual union.

Ventral vagus: Activation of the ventral vagus is a prerequisite for the ability to communicate and socialize, combined with facial expressions, gestures, prosody and the ability to distinguish human voices from background noises. The ventral vagus is therefore also known as the social vagus. The ventral vagus also has an important function as a brake on the heart rhythm. The vagus brake reduces the heart rate compared to the unbraked basic rhythm.

Dorsal vagus: The dorsal vagus immobilizes the organism. The effect of activating the dorsal vagus depends on whether the organism assesses a situation as safe or dangerous. If the organism feels safe, moderate activation activates body processes that serve regeneration, defense against disease or sexual union. However, if someone experiences a situation as overwhelming, a state of dissociation (depersonalization, loss of consciousness, freedom from pain) or immobilization (paralysis, inability to act, resignation) arises with a very strong activation of the dorsal vagus. If it is not possible to reduce the activation of the sympathetic nervous system by trembling, a post-traumatic stress disorder emerges.

The following book examines the polyvagal theory from different perspectives:

Stephen W. Porges: The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory. The transformative power of feeling safe. Norton.

The Polyvagal Theory is one of the many bases of my work.

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intuitively right – Psychological Counselling

Dr. phil. Peter Flury-Kleubler, Psychologist FSP, St. Gallen, Switzerland