The Connection Between Trauma and Nervous System Dysregulation
Whilst a history of trauma leaves a footprint on your nervous system, it doesn’t mean that you’re broken. Experiencing dysregulation means your nervous system has learnt to become more efficient at shifting into survival states.
Chronic and traumatic stress results in a re-organisation of your physiology. It re-tunes your nervous system to shift away from a state of safety and connection, into a state where your physiology is mobilised. This can leave you feeling anxious, agitated, overwhelmed, and destabilised. The vagus nerve becomes less efficient at bringing you back to regulation when you face challenges and meet demands. It’s no longer able to down-regulate threat responses - this drop in vagal efficiency means there can be prolonged stress, anxiety, shut down, depression and dysregulation long after something that was stressful for you has ended. This impacts both your physical and emotional health.
It’s understandable you may feel anger or aversion towards your body and nervous system for the way they quickly move into states of protection. You may blame yourself for these responses. From what your nervous system learnt, it’s become more prepared to fight off threats, or to run away from them, when maybe there isn’t one. This process happens outside of conscious awareness and is not your fault.
You may also find yourself frequently suppressing your feelings or becoming numb to your body as an adaption to traumas footprint. This makes sense - it stops you from feeling overwhelmed by powerful sensations and emotions. Anxiety and numbness may be the automatic states that you move into today when you face stressors, despite the context. The ways that you respond to adversity today is not who you are, it’s simply what’s been learnt from the people in your life and the environments you were in.
Through nervous system re-education, you can actively influence these states and teach your physiology to respond to what’s happening in the here and now. It brings an emotional, relational, physical, and psychological transformation. Whilst adverse experiences are painful, building enough vagal efficiency to return to regulation after challenges, is the key to resilience.
Learning to shift out of the states of anxiety and shut down not only brings relief in the short term, but each time you practice you build vagal tone and neural flexibility that stays with you for the long term. You re-tune your nervous system so that it’s more efficient at moving into the state where you feel safe, connected to your body and to other people.
Welcoming yourself back into your body without the overwhelming sensations that flood your mind-body system, increases your regulatory capacity, and allows you to meet life’s demands in a more resilient way. Life also becomes meaningful, and you feel at home inside of yourself when you’re not trying to suppress sensations or numb your feelings.
There is so much potential to change automatic responses when you learn something new. There can be room for both past traumas and a present moment with new possibilities. There’s room for new chapters of your story.