Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

A journey to healing from complex trauma.

Complex Trauma & The Impact On The Vagus Nerve ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

Several years ago, after passing out and breaking bones in my hand, I was diagnosed with Vasovagal Syncope caused by extreme distress, due to domestic violence and trauma. Prior to that, I had also been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The vasovagal syncope, caused me to have repeated dizziness, going unconscious and physical injury, as a result. It also causes fatigue, sleep issues and this all exacerbates my PTSD symptoms. It’s something I am still dealing with on a daily basis.

After a lot of hospital tests, to check my heart, my brain, blood flow etc, vasovagal syncope, plus doing a ’tilt-table’ test – where I went unconscious, I was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope/vasovagal syncope. Due to my 18-year history of domestic violence, including psychological abuse, coercive control and sexual abuse, the specialist stated I needed to reduce the stress in my life and be very careful with my dizziness issues, as this could lead to further blackouts and more physical injuries. At that time, however, I was then being further abused by my ex-husband, regarding the domestic violence protection order I sought and enduring post separation abuse – legal abuse and financial abuse, which continues now to this present date. So avoiding stress is difficult.

Unfortunately, my ex doesn’t want his children to have the happiest and healthiest mum possible, he wants them to have a traumatized, unhealthy mum, even though that impacts them. Very typical of toxic abusive domestic violence perpetrators.

I discussed this a lot in counselling and did lots of research with regard to the vasovagal syncope and health related issues, caused by chronic trauma, as it is becoming increasingly known that trauma impacts the vagus nerve.

The following is information I have found, which may be of interested to other trauma survivors.

As per Dr Arielle Schwarz PH.D


“According to Dr. Stephen Porge’s Polyvagal Theory[, the autonomic nervous system comprises a three-part hierarchical structure: the dorsal vagal system, the sympathetic nervous system, and the ventral vagal system. The dorsal vagal system, which is oldest of the systems, is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The dorsal vagal nerve immobilizes the body in response to life threatening situations by facilitating a shut down response. The sympathetic nervous system, which is comparatively newer to evolve, mobilizes the body in response to threat by activating the fight-or-flight response. Most importantly, mind-body therapies help to activate the ventral vagal system, which is the newest and most evolved of the structures, This “social engagement” system is the branch of the parasympathetic nervous system that helps you relax and connect to others when you feel safe.

When we experience a threat (real or perceived), we change how we breathe. Here, we can get a clear picture by imagining the ways in which animals respond to predators. In some cases, an animal will breathe rapidly into the upper chest which is a sympathetic nervous system response that helps them flee from or fight in a threatening situation. In other cases, an animal will freeze which involves breathing shallowly or holding the breath in order to avoid being sensed by a predator. This freeze reaction leads the animal to stand very still which is an immobilization response to threat. In some cases, animals will faint so that a predator who is not a scavenger might lose interest in a dead animal. Both the freeze and faint responses are facilitated by an evolutionarily older pathway of the vagus nerve and part of the parasympathetic nervous system.

Most importantly, once safe, an animal will release the stress response through shaking and breathing in a way that restores homeostasis. However, we humans will often stay in both high activation (fight and flight) or low activation (freeze and faint) responses for extended periods of time. This tends to the be case when trauma is chronic and repeated as in the case of Complex PTSD. Additionally, we often do not have sufficient opportunities to process stressful or traumatic events. This can lead to physical tension and restricted breathing patterns that form the basis of our posture, movement patterns, and overall sense of self.

You can learn practices to help reset your vagus nerve; however, not every practice is right for everyone. Instead, I invite you to experiment and explore a variety of breath and movement practices until you find what works for you. Through a process of self-study and mindful body awareness you can start to learn strategies that help you restore a sense of safety and heal from trauma.” 

I highly recommend reading all Dr Arielle Schwarz’s books and information. She is a highly insightful and trauma informed professional in the field of Complex Trauma.

See her website here https://drarielleschwartz.com/

There’s also excellent information in this article by Roman Diaz

“Trauma disrupts the function of the vagus nerve(s) and can lead to dysfunction in other parts of our body.

“Vagus-informed Therapy Creates Conditions for A Person to Heal from Trauma

The trauma field has seen a sharp increase in interest by researchers and clinicians alike within the past 25 years or so. Many factors contribute to the interest in trauma research. One factor may be the impact neurophysiology has had on trauma research. In an attempt to respond to biological naturalism which includes reductionism, emergent scientists like Dr. Porges, Schore, and van der Kolk claim that trauma should be acknowledged equally, while considering etiologies of psychological suffering, along with its biological and physiological substrates. Trauma has been shown to adversely impact the physiological properties of an organism.”

Since being diagnosed with vasovagal syncope, I’ve learned to rest and follow the suggested management strategies and whenever I am dizzy, as per advice, I need to lie down. This avoids going unconscious.

There is increasing awareness of how many complex trauma survivors are impacted by health issues related to the vagus nerve.

I hope to raise some compassion regarding this, as it truly impacts your life.

~ Lilly Hope Lucario

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Author: Healing From Complex Trauma & PTSD/CPTSD

I am a survivor of complex and multiple trauma and abuse, who at the age of 40, began my healing journey. I am using my journey to recovery and healing, to help others, to help survivors feel less alone, validated, encouraged and to enable others to understand themselves more. Complex trauma, particularly from severe, prolonged childhood abuse, is profoundly life changing. Complex trauma produces complex adults. The journey to recovery is a painful, often lonely, emotional daily challenge and it is my aim to encourage others in their daily battle. ~ Lilly Hope Lucario

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