Stephen Porges On the Polyvagal Theory

Why and how some individuals are more resilient and others more vulnerable, is a question that has perplexed me and other scientists who study trauma and the clinicians who work with the survivors. Coincident with my acknowledgment that there were variations in responses to stressful and traumatic events, Polyvagal Theory emerged. The theory was a product of a consolidation of the information I had gained from decades of questioning about how bodily state influenced our interactions with others and at times distorted our perspective. Polyvagal Theory provided a conceptualization of how physiological state and the regulation of physiology were intertwined in both resilience and vulnerability. The theory helped fill a gap in our understanding of human behavior and provided an understanding of the mechanisms that determine vulnerability to traumatic events.

Upcoming 4-Module Course with Dr. Stephen W. Porges:

The course will elaborate on how Polyvagal Theory provides a neural foundation for a brain-body medicine that would lead to insights into the treatment of trauma and chronic stress-related mental and physical health challenges. The theory describes how, via evolution, a connection emerged in the brain between the nerves that control the heart and the face. This face-heart connection provided the structures for the “social engagement system” that link sociality with autonomic regulation and explains the important mediating role of physiological state in facilitating either connectedness and intimacy or defense such as fight/flight, hypervigilance, dissociation, collapse, shutdown, and even syncope. The theory leads to better understanding of the relationship between mental and physical illnesses and provides the therapist with a better understanding that calming their client’s autonomic nervous system will foster emergent spontaneous social behavior, more optimally regulated autonomic functions, and reduced hypersensitivities.


Stephen Porges