The SSP framework provides a fantastic, straightforward, and very-low-risk way to help regulate our nervous systems, which, for many of us, have had an onslaught of stimuli over the course of our lives. The SSP is based on Porges’ Polyvagal Theory (PVT), which is made up of 3 core pillars: Co-Regulation, Connectedness, and Reciprocity. We are looking to effectively stimulate our vagus nerve – the longest of the 5 cranial nerves, and running from our brain stem into our abdomen – in order to make a state of calm and safe become increasingly accessible. This is our ideal state, though many of us have a difficult time accessing it – let’s discuss…
PVT is fundamentally a science of safety. PVT places emphasis on feelings (versus on events and objects). Thus, the issue becomes not WHAT happened to us, but our body’s response to it. PVT takes an optimistic perspective and retunes our autonomic nervous system (ANS) by rewiring it. The ANS sends cues to our conscious brains regarding safety – when we are safe, we can then use higher-order structures (i.e., thinking and planning) more readily and effectively.
The three vagal pathways can be described and understood as follows:
· VENTRAL VAGAL STATE: This is our parasympathetic branch. In this state, we feel safe and ready to engage with the world around us. This branch of the vague nerve is involved in social communication, growth/restoration, and mitigation of our threat reactions.
· SYMPATHETIC STATE: This is when the world feels dangerous, as a result of perceived or actual threat. We become prepared to defend and mobilize (this is commonly known as Fight or Flight).
· DORSAL VAGAL STATE: This is when we perceive a threat to our safety. Our sympathetic state is not adequate to protect us. This is where we become immobilized – we shut down. This state – Freeze – is supposed to be reserved as a last resort. For some of us, it has become a habitual and chronic response. What can result is what Hans Selye coined as learned helplessness – why bother trying.
BEING SAFE IS NOT THE SAME AS REMOVING THE THREAT! Re-experiencing – a core component of our trauma reactions – occurs after we’ve experienced profound shutting down in response to unmanageable life circumstances.
Relationships regulate our physiology. Mammals evolved to co-regulate as a biological imperative. The body has a need to co-regulate through engagement with others. Trauma, in turn, re-tunes our autonomic state. Thus, the ways in which we are (dys)regulated are not aligned with what is actually happening in our world. Though this does optimize our biological states of defense when required (yes, we were originally primed to run away from the slobbering lion), this is not a great plan in the long-term. What can result is a chronic disruption of connectedness – distortion of social awareness, promotion of defensive reactions, and overall chaos in our neurophysiological regulation.
Intimacy is the collective result of immobilization without fear; it is in this state that we are healthy, grow, and restorative. We experience trust, safety, and love. We can rest, relax, sleep, digest, and perform basic bodily processes. Following trauma, these are compromised, which results in our physiology being in a state of threat. Trauma also lowers the threshold required to trigger defensive behaviours. This is why we might become hypervigilant, hypersensitive, and hyperreactive.
Since our organs are regulated by/in our nervous systems, dysregulation can result in a variety of troubling ailments, such as migraines and IBS. People may feel “numb to/in their bodies.” The adaptive consequences of being in a defensive state are multifold – disruption of ventral vagal processes, depression of SES (Social Engagement System), increase in sympathetic excitation, greater inflammation and hypersensitivity, and asocial behaviours.
The SSP uses music, with a customized titration of frequencies (attuned to the frequency of safety – originally, a mother’s voice), in order to rewire our ANS. This training allows us to more readily access our state of safety, and to respond appropriately to information from the environment.
The SSP has been shown to help with the following:
- Inattention and Focus
- Auditory sensitivities
- Behavioral Regulation and Resilience
- Coordination and Balance
- Reading and Auditory Processing
- Speech and Language
- Social and emotional difficulties
- Trauma and PTSD
- Stressors that impact social engagement
For more information on Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory (PVT) and the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP), you can visit: https://integratedlistening.com/polyvagal-theory/