Feeling Loved Protects Against Stress : Vagus Nerve Theory

polyvagal theory

Dr Stephen Porge, (former director of Brain-Body Center, University of Illinois, Chicago, USA) describes how the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system and the VAGUS NERVE have TWO SEPARATE PATHWAYS :

PATHWAY ONE : this is the primitive / reptilian pathway that, when we feel under threat, activates the freeze response (for more information on what is meant by the freeze response, see my previously published article : Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn : Trauma Responses

PATHWAY TWO : this pathway, Porge explains, exists only in mammals, and, when we feel under threat, activates a ‘social engagement’ response because it (i.e. this second pathway) connects to the face (including the mouth, middle ear and eyes) and detects non-verbal sounds and facial expressions that signify safety, protection which, in turn, promotes emotional soothing / feelings of comfort.

Furthermore, this second pathway also connects to :

These second pathway connections act together to REGULATE STRESS and also serve to inhibit, or override, activation of the first, primitive / reptilian pathway and its associated, automatic stress responses.

When this second pathway operates successfully, and the sympathetic branch of the nervous system receives these comforting and reassuring signals indicating safety and protection, the fight/flight/freeze/ fawn response is effectively shut down and we can maintain an emotional equilibrium without being overwhelmed by feelings of fear, anxiety and panic.

The Importance Of Feeling Loved :

Therefore, those individuals who are fortunate enough to have been loved as children. and who continue to have people around them by whom they feel loved as adults, will be far more likely to have the second (‘social engagement’) pathway activated during periods of potential high stress than less fortunate individuals who have been deprived of loving relationships.

And, of course, the flip side of this is that lonely, isolated, unloved individuals are far more likely to have adverse reactions to stress than their more fortunate, loved, counterparts; sadly, too, those unloved as children are far less likely to be able to form successful, enduring, loving relationships as adults and are therefore more likely to fall into this category of individuals.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)
Please follow and like us:

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation


Found this blog interesting? Please share.