Trauma Healing: Mapping the Nervous System

Mapping the Nervous System

Diagram taken from David Bercelli.

Foundational Map of the Nervous System

I often share this diagram with my clients, it supports them to gain a foundational map of their nervous system. Once we have this knowledge we can begin to understand that our shifts in state are not something to be ashamed of or to be confused by but they are NORMAL responses to the stress we may feel and to the unresolved trauma in our systems.

I want to break it down for you so you can understand what is happening

To begin with lets start at the bottom. Here we are socially engaged meaning people feel safe and being in connection feels good. The new branch of the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, is activated. In this place we feel our most creative most loving version of ourselves, its here that we feel pleasure where we want to engage sexually and where we can experience relaxed states of arousal.

However as a threat comes into our space, whether that’s another person, a dangerous situation or even a thought, our system becomes activated and we shift out of connection and ease into either the trajectory of fight, containing irritation, anger and rage, or flight containing unease, anxiety or panic attack.

The level of activation we feel is in direct correlation to the level of fear we experience so the more fearful we feel the more our system responds with mobilisation. Here our heart rate and adrenaline increases while our digestion, and relational ability decreases.

If the threat continues at some point we are going to reach a place of overwhelm, as indicated by the dotted line on the diagram, where our sympathetic system shuts down and we shift into to the freeze state of immobilisation. Here the old branch of the vagus nerve, which is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, becomes activated and we experience numbness, dissociation and withdrawal from connection with others.

When people experience depression their nervous system is in this freeze state and they are likely to experience shame and hopelessness as their system further shuts down.

Recognise where you are in your nervous system

Recognising these movements from one state to another and beginning to know from moment to moment where you are in your nervous system provides the user with a map. Empowered with this knowledge the user can learn to shift from one state back down to social engagement with greater skill and rapidity. Thus supporting the body to be in a state of repair and restoration so that healing can occur.