I was listening to Deb Dana on Episode 100 of the AAMFT Podcast explain how we can apply Polyvagal Theory to the way we improve our relationships with ourselves and with others.

At around minute 12:00 Deb says:

The nervous system is at the heart of every lived experience we are having. The nervous system moves us into a state of regulation and open for connection, or one of the survival states… and into a pattern of protection. And from that nervous system movement… energy and information gets moved up to the brain. There are these bidirectional pathways and 80% of these pathways go from the body to the brain, and that information gets sent up to the brain, and the brains job is to make up a story to make sense of what’s going on in the nervous system, in the body. The brain then takes that information and then creates a story. Think about the stories your brain creates. My brain can create some pretty fantastic and also catastrophic stories.

And my thoughts flowed from there…

There is so much information coming up from the body. The vast portion of it is filtered out by the unconscious brain and a small portion is selected and let through for the conscious mind to deal with. Your brain forms a story based on that small portion of information. Often that story works well for you in taking that small amount of information about your experience and making sense of it so you can carry on your life in a pleasing and productive way. But sometimes that story does not work well and you feel distressed by the experience and restricted in how you can respond or move on.

Photo by Andra C Taylor Jr on Unsplash

It is then helpful to realize that the story your brain created is not the only possible truth about your experience – it was a story based on a very small portion of the available information. If you were able to take in a different selection of that available information that was filtered out by the unconscious mind, your brain could form a different story, possibly one that is more useful to you.

It can be said that the quality of your story determines the quality of your life. The story you accept not only makes sense of what you just experienced, it also is highly influential on shaping how you experience the next situation like it – and your subsequent experiences begin to reinforce the strength of this story for better or worse. But if you can change your story, you can change your experience.

There are more options, potentially many, for what kind of story your brain could form to make sense of your experience. When you take in more information from your body, just as when you take in different perspectives from other people, your understanding of the situation changes, and possibly improves, setting you up for a more pleasing and productive response to that situation.

When you find yourself not so pleased with your response to a situation, taking time with someone who can help you slow things down and consider the quality of the story your brain has too quickly provided you with can be helpful. You can consider more of the available (but suppressed) information already there in your body as well as consider the perspectives of others to help you take a more circumspect view of your situation. Then you may consciously choose from a new selection of better story options that now feel as ‘true’ as the one you first had, but can possibly serve you a lot better.


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