The Polyvagal Theory explains the relationship between the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and social behavior. The ANS is the neurological architecture of the mind-body connection. Through its sensory and motor components, it provides the physiological foundation of embodiment and the neural basis for feeling.* It regulates our internal milieu and assesses safety or threat internally, in our relationships, and in our environment. This ability to detect degrees of safety is known as neuroception. Neuroception selectively engages specific neural circuits (Ventral Vagal, Sympathetic, Dorsal Vagal) that shift depending on whether we feel safe, in danger, or under life threat. The Polyvagal Theory maps these circuits and the ways that they combine into neural platforms of behavior. It affirms that human well-being is largely social in nature, and it holds significant implications for improved understanding and treatment of our physical and mental health.
*Immediately we encounter a limit of the English language, which does not possess reflexive verbs. In a Romance language, the construction would be ‘I feel myself.’ This includes interoceptive awareness, as well as tactile sensations.