Stephen Porges: How to counter the effects of social distancing

Stephen Porges: How to counter the effects of social distancing


Serge: These are really difficult times. Steven Porges: They certainly are, and the- there’s an irony going on, because we have to avoid becoming infected, There’s no question that the Covid-19 virus is a health risk, especially to those of us who are more mature. It- it’s real. The question is- the way that we need to behave to reduce that risk is really through social isolation. And this now creates this amazing paradox in our nervous system, and our needs to interact with other people. Because as humans, our- our need is to connect and to co-regulate with others, But we’re being told that
this is not the right thing to do. So there are priorities,
and the priorities are not to get infected. But there’s also a priority of understanding the needs of our nervous system. And- [Serge Interrupts] Serge: So this- is this a- this is a counterintuitive situation where we cannot trust our instinct, Our evolutionary instinct,
because we have to do something different. Not from coercion, but actually from understanding that social isolation is required at this point. Steven: I think that is really sim- that’s a-
a really concise way of explaining The paradox through which
a nervous system is trying to navigate. And that is we are, and we need to, socially isolate. However, our nervous system says, “Hey, that’s not the way we evolved, that’s not the way we need to be, we need to co-regulate.” So, we need to be smart now. We need to know what the true priorities are;
and the priority of course is- is to stay alive. But how can we mitigate that nervous systems’ demand, or request, or a passion to connect? And we’ll do that, or we have to do that, through telephone and through video chat- chatting are really reasonably good. And email is okay. But the value of hearing someone’s voice or seeing someone’s face is powerful to our nervous system. So we have to reach out. I- I thi- it’s been remarkable over the past-actually past few days, ‘Cause the world turned around in a week.
A week ago I was in New York City, And New York City was elbow to elbow, and I was talking, and I was at a conference that was uh- was overbooked. And my comment was, “I’ll give people hugs, I’ll shake their hands uh- this month,
but next month I will do something different.” And within a few days,
the world changed. And we realized that it wasn’t a – a fear of a virus that was really distal in time, it was there. And we need to really take care of ourselves and to really monitor our body’s need to connect: To give that person a hug, to smile, to be reassuring,
to touch them on their shoulders or on their hands, To let them know that you are there to support them or- or with them. And what I’ve noticed over the past few days, is some of my very close friends have reached out, Through video conferencing,
through phone calls, just to connect. It’s- it’s really a a beautiful moment
when people are reaching out to say, “I’m here. How are you?
What can I do For you?” Serge: Yeah, yeah yeah. So- so, we don’t kill that impulse to connect.
Steven: Mmhmm. Serge: If we re-channel it and savor it.
Steven: Yea-. Serge: As we find ways to do it, through voice and sight: phone, video conferencing- Steven: Yeah, We modify because we are, youknow,
a s- a relatively intelligent species-
at times we’re not so sure about that. But we’re reading our bodily feelings, and
our bodily feelings- want to be held, Want to be embraced, want to be safe-
with the people with whom we trust. And that’s basically a neural circuit that’s reaching out, And we’re really saying to that neural circuit,
“We can’t do that.” Now, if we don’t engage people for a period of time,
we go into another state. And that is we become marginalized, and we start-
in a sense- becoming too isolated, And this is really very, very bad for our nervous system, and our body will react to that with a bias of negativity. And this is the other issue. That as we separate the notions of being overly concerned, or neurotic, Or paranoid about the situation will increase, because we are not getting sufficient opportunities to co-regulate. So, being smart, we need to reach out
and use the tools that we have. The internet is a [Clears Throat] is a useful tool. We can u- do video conferencing, and we can talk, and we can hear each other’s voices, And we can feel connected again. It’s not equivalent to being in the room with a person,
but it’s a lot better than not having any contact. Serge: But so, then when we connect,
when we communicate this way, There is an intentionality that the communication
is not just about the content. Steven: Mmm! Serge: But the communication is about the co-regulating, Serge: Is about that essence of connection that we crave
[Steven Attempts to Interrupt] Steven: Absolutely. Because it’s not the words, it’s the intentionality of feelings that we’re communicating with each other. We’re creating a capacity to co-regulate each other’s physiological and emotional and behavioral state. And as we co-regulate that– each other, we feel safer in the space and time that we’re in. And we become more generous to others,
more welcoming, and more accessible. As we isolate and separate our bodies,
our nervous systems become more defensive. So it literally uh uh- continues this uh- the feelings of isolation and defensiveness. So we have to be smart and we have to recali- or reframe what isolation is in this situation. It’s a defense, but we don’t want it to blend or bleed into becoming defensive of our interactions with others. And so we need to really reach out, use the tools that are available to us and engage others. Use our voices, use our facial expressions.
Uh- with video chatting, it’s a lot better than texting The issue of texting and email is that you’re stripping the voice and the face from the words. And our nervous systems evolved to detect intonation. And it’s only through long- a long period of evolution that our nervous system was able to create language, And to create syntax,
and to extract meaning from symbols. So we want to relate to each other
on a very- almost a primitive level, And that is facial expressivity
and intonation of voice. And we have the telephone for the voice, and we have video- video chatting for voice and facial expressions. Serge: And so maybe we can even go one step further than simply chatting on the phone or video conferencing, Is- As we are in communication, uh- maybe consciously pay attention to what’s happening in our body, And maybe communicating
with each other that what we’re doing, Serge: Is not just exchanging content, exchanging news,
but that the process of co-regulating-
Steven: Mmm. For instance, as we talk, I am feeling my energy coming down a bit. I’m feeling settl- more settling, a sense of settling and grounding. Serge: And notici–ing that.
Steven: You’re– you’re feeling a connectedness.
Serge: Yeah. Steven: And what you’re really emphasizing is that it’s not show and tell-
Serge: Yeah. Steven: It’s a co-regulation.
Serge: Yeah. Steven: And we have term- terms that we use.
Um- mirroring or tuning or synchrony, But really it’s all about co-regulating. And what you were emphasizing was to acknowledge one’s own feelings. I would go a step further, And that is to monitor and acknowledge the feelings
of the one that you’re talking to. Serge: Yeah.
Steven:So -so you’re you’re reaching, leerily, Steven: Into their sphere,
their consciousness, their nervous system. And you really say,
“I’m present, I’m there– with you.” Serge: Yeah, yeah. So that’s a very- that’s a, it’s a- it’s a good step we’re talking about reaching out, Steven: Mmhmm.
Serge: Reaching in and reaching out. Serge: Reaching inside, reaching out to the other person. Monitoring myself, monitoring each other, And having a sense of, “This is what connection is about, and this is how we’re experiencing as we’re connecting.” Steven: Yes, I think that’s a
very good summary of the message. Serge: Thanks, Steve. Steve: Oh, you’re quite welcome, sir. And it’s- it’s good to connect during this time with you.
Thank you.

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8 thoughts on “Stephen Porges: How to counter the effects of social distancing”

  • Hi, friends Could I contribute to translate this video into Spanish. In my language, there are few information about PolyVagal Theory or Stephen Porges's work, and I am very interested in order to diffuse this paradigm to the Spanish-speaking people.Cheers

  • Thank you Stephen I appreciate this and will share it with my Somatic Experiencing clients, community and family you continue to be a wonderful resource

  • Thankyou so much Sir Stephen for those really important and insightful inputs on caring for oneself and others, social distancing need not reduce our potential to nurture and care for ourselves and others around us.

  • Thank you Dr.Porges for bringing such valuable understanding into society. The Polyvagal theory must become mainstream understanding.
    It can and will change our society for the better. I encourage any therapist to get the SSP device for yourself and your clients.
    Go to the ILS website where you can order the SSP device. Deep changes in our society are necessary. Understanding the Polyvagal theory is the key for therapeutic success and progress.