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Why Do We Suffer from Trauma?

This article describes how we develop symptoms and suffer from trauma as a result of our adaptive survival response (the Autonomic Ladder).

The Adaptive Survival Response

As humans evolved, we developed an adaptive nervous system to help us survive.  Dana (2018) has conceptualized this adaptive survival response of autonomic nervous system as moving up and down the “autonomic latter".  On any given day, we move up and down on this latter in response to even the slightest perceived threats.  When this system gets stalled, we suffer from trauma.

Suffering from Trauma and Our Adaptive Survival System

Safety and Social Connection

Our nervous system adapted so that humans would naturally be drawn to connect socially with others.  Chances of survival were very low if you were not associated with a group.  As such, humans are wired to feel their best when the ventral vagal nervous system is activated.    In this state, we feel safe, peaceful, and generally desire to be connected to others.  Other traits of having the ventral vagal system active are listed in the graphic above.  Sounds like paradise.

Fight or Flight

As we know trouble is not far from paradise and our nervous system adapted accordingly.  When there is a threat or trigger, the sympathetic nervous system engages and we become ready to fight or flee.  In this state we feel fear or anger and we become ready to take action. Other traits of having the sympathetic nervous system active are listed in the graphic above.

Freeze or Faint

If it appears that we will be unsuccessful in fighting or fleeing, our most primitive response is engaged.  When the dorsal vagal system, is activated we freeze or faint.  In this state, we become immobilized and numb.  This reaction is designed in the hopes that predators will leave a body appearing dead.  At the very least, the freeze and faint response reduces suffering in the face of death or injury. Other traits of having the dorsal vagal system active are listed in the graphic above.

We Get Stuck and Suffer from Trauma

When we experience a traumatic event or repeated traumatic events, the nervous system’s ability to efficiency engage, dis-engage, and then re-engage these survival responses is impaired.  Traumatized people have a reduced ability to inhibit the fight, flight, or freeze response.  As a result, they live in a continual state of having the fight, flight, or freeze responses activated to some degree.  They also suffer the associated symptoms above.

(2018, Dana, D.) The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation

Counseling Can Help

Trauma counseling can help re-regulate the nervous system and help you heal.

It's time to heal...

Please contact Suzanne at (720) 443-1480 or email me to schedule an appointment.