Polyvagal theory describes how our nervous system works hard to help us to connect with others, to keep us safe, and to protect us against threat. Many are familiar with terms such as fight, flight and freeze. However this is only part of the picture. This article unpacks three organising principles of polyvagal theory that help to make it accessible, understandable and easy to translate into daily life.
What do the 8 C's have to do with supporting yourself?
Whether you look forward to Christmas, dread it, avoid it, or are indifferent to it, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at this time of the year. Whilst we all have our unique ways to support ourselves, sometimes bringing a fresh point of view can help to bring us out of habituated responses and into presence and connection with ourselves.
I know that for me, coming from this space helps me to support myself best and respond from a place of care and compassion.
The Internal Family Systems (IFS) approach to therapy, created by Richard Schwartz, acknowledges that we are all made of many different parts, and that at our core we all have ‘self energy’.
‘Self energy’ is that kind of state that we experience when we feel calm, strong and clear about ourselves, our intentions and our state of being in the world. It is a place where we feel unhindered by doubt, or those parts of ourselves that become defensive.
Some compare it to a Buddha-like state, where we are kind.
Schwartz describes the 'self energy' below.
We all know about those luminous moments of clarity and balance, in our own lives and in those of our clients, which come briefly now and again. However we get there, we suddenly encounter a feeling of inner plenitude and open heartedness to the world that wasn’t there the moment before. The incessant nasty chatter inside our heads ceases, we have a sense of calm spaciousness, as if our minds and hearts and souls had expanded and brightened. Sometimes, these evanescent experiences come in a bright glow of peaceful certainty that everything in the universe is truly okay, and that includes us – you and me individually – in all our poor struggling, imperfect humanity. At other times, we may experience a wave of joyful connection with others that washes away irritation, distrust, and boredom. We feel that, for once, we truly are ourselves, our real selves, free of the inner cacophony that usually assaults us.
How do we get in touch with this bigger, kinder, wiser core self of ours?
How do we move towards increasing our awareness and sense of openness?
How can we befriend those challenging parts of ourselves and be flexible and connected, whilst turning towards ourselves warmth?
We all have different ways of accessing this quality of connection.
For me, I notice it when I am playing music, swimming or paddling in the ocean or connecting with an old friend - doing things where I am in a state of presence and flow.
Another way is to notice, pay attention to and embrace what IFS practitioners call "The 8 C's".
The 8 C's are one way of describing the core elements of this state of equanimity.
What are the ‘8 C’s’?
- an embodied state of serenity and being at peace
- being unfazed by whatever comes your way
- being able to see things for what they are
- where your perception is unclouded
- a sense of openness to new possibilities
- an inquiring mind and attitude of wonder
- the ability to feel, be with and turn toward oneself with kindness
- a sense of openheartedness
- being able to stay present
- knowing that you are able to manage what comes your way
- having the strength to be with and face difficult situations
- an ability to face struggles head on, knowing that things will be OK
- using the imagination to access new thoughts, experiences, feelings and embodied states
- entering a flow state
- connection to your mind, your heart and your body
- sensing that your are part - your community, the world around you or in a spiritual sense
Some ideas for how we can support ourselves with the 8 C’s:
- Notice which of these values are most present, or come easiest to you
- Pay attention to what you do that promotes each value
- Notice which are less familiar or are challenging for you
- Do you find that some are present when you are with certain people or in particular situations?
- Which are more active when you are thinking, feeling or doing?
- go with one that comes easily
- Is there one of these qualities that you would like to develop or get to know more?
- Is there one that you find easier to connect with at home or at work?
You might like to keep a diary, or make a regular time to connect in to begin to build understanding of where you sit in relation to the 8 C's for you.
If you'd like an opportunity to develop your sense of calmness, you might like to sign up for '3 Minutes to Calm' - a free resource on throughout December - sign up anytime in December.
Within the helping professions we often focus on the more challenging end of the joy - pain spectrum in this work: exhaustion, compassion fatigue, secondary stress and vicarious trauma. This blog series seeks to rectify that, with Part 1 focusing on vicarious resilience, Part 2 unpacking compassion satisfaction, Part 3 looks at suggested changes in terminology and Part 4 addressing the importance of, and risks associated with, connecting with others when in a helping role. Cultivating awareness of both ends of the joy - pain spectrum in the helping professions is essential in supporting worker wellbeing.
The rich array of autumnal colours remind us of the cycles of life, the delight of colour, and the shift from the expansiveness of summer, to our inner world as we head closer into winter. With so much of our focus caught up in busy-ness and the 'doing' of life, this post invites reflection on presence, connection and transformation through creating the safety and space for our inner worlds, through music, art, embodiment and relaxed states.
Post-traumatic growth is a familiar concept to many. But what about other positive impacts that workers can experience? Vicarious resilience and compassion satisfaction help us to understand the ways that workers in helping or caring roles can be positively impacted, or even transformed, by witnessing the strength and resilience of others. Holding an awareness of both ends of the spectrum - the joy and the pain in the work - may hold the key for a healthy, successful and durable career.
Header image: Khadeeja Yasser