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Polyvagal Theory:
8 Co-Regulation Skills
For Healthy Relationships

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By applying the principles of the Polyvagal Theory in co-regulation, we can better navigate the complex challenges commonly experienced in relationships.  It allows us to understand and respond to our emotional states and those of others with greater empathy and effectiveness, fostering deeper connections and aiding in the healing journey.

The Impact of Trauma on Relationships

Understanding Trauma

Trauma can be thought of as a psychological injury that disrupts our autonomic nervous system, the part of us that unconsciously controls bodily functions. This disruption can leave us in a heightened state of alert, making it challenging to relax and connect with others.

Survival Mode

When trauma keeps our autonomic nervous system in constant survival mode, it’s like having an alarm system that’s always on. This state can make it difficult to form safe and secure connections, as we’re perpetually prepared for danger.

Prolonged Impact on Healthy Relationships

The prolonged impact of trauma can ripple through our personal relationships and overall well-being. It can lead to feelings of isolation, difficulty in trusting others, and challenges in maintaining healthy relationships.


The Power of Co-Regulation in Healing

Defining Co-Regulation

Co-regulation is the process by which our interactions with others help regulate our emotional and physiological states. It’s a mutual exchange of comfort, support, and understanding.

Biological Basis for Connection

Our biology is inherently wired for connection. The autonomic nervous system plays a crucial role in co-regulation, helping us attune to others’ emotional states and vice versa.


The Role of Safe Relationships

Safe, supportive relationships can be instrumental in rewiring a nervous system affected by trauma. These relationships provide a foundation for trust and security, allowing for healing and growth.

Building Co-Regulated Relationships

Identifying Co-Regulating Partners

Look for individuals who are empathetic, patient, and understanding. These are people who can sit with you in your emotions without judgment or discomfort.

Creating Safe Spaces

Foster environments where vulnerability is welcomed and respected. This could be a physical space or an emotional one, where open communication and emotional honesty are encouraged.

Practical Exercises for Co-Regulation

Co-regulation is not just a concept; it’s a practice that can be woven into our daily interactions through simple yet powerful exercises. These activities are designed to enhance mutual understanding and support, creating a harmonious rhythm in our relationships. Let’s explore some practical exercises that can foster co-regulation:

Shared Mindfulness

Engage in activities that encourage mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, or even a simple walk in nature. Doing these activities together helps both individuals become present in the moment, fostering a sense of joint focus and tranquility.

Synchronized Breathing

This exercise is a beautiful way to connect non-verbally. Sit face-to-face with a partner and focus on synchronizing your breathing. Inhale and exhale together, finding a shared rhythm. This practice can create a deep sense of connection and calm, aligning your emotional states.

co-regulation polyvagal theory

Physical Connection

Simple gestures like holding hands, hugging, or a gentle touch can be incredibly powerful. These actions release oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘love hormone,’ which can create a sense of trust and bonding.

Mutual Support Tasks

Engage in tasks that require teamwork, such as assembling furniture or planning an event. These tasks necessitate communication, problem-solving together, and reliance on each other’s strengths

Quiet Companionship

Sometimes, the most powerful connection comes from simply being together in silence. Sit with each other, sharing the same space without the pressure of conversation. This presence can offer immense comfort and a sense of safety.

Joint Creative Projects

Engaging in creative activities together, like painting, cooking, or gardening, can be a fun way to connect. These activities require cooperation and often lead to a natural flow of communication and mutual support.

Reflective Listening

Engage in conversations where one person speaks while the other listens attentively, then reflects back what they heard. This exercise enhances understanding and empathy, showing that both parties are seen and heard.

Eye Contact Exercise

Maintaining gentle eye contact for a set period can deepen connection and understanding. This exercise, while simple, can be profoundly moving, fostering a sense of closeness and empathy.

ketamine assisted couples therapy

Overcoming Challenges in Co-Regulation

Addressing Misattunement in Relationships

Misattunement, when two people are not emotionally aligned, is common. Recognize it, communicate openly about it, and work together to find a harmonious balance.

Polyvagal Theory to Navigate Complex Emotions

Managing the complex emotions that arise during co-regulation can be challenging. It’s important to practice self-awareness and patience, understanding that healing is a journey, not a destination.

The Journey to Restoration and Growth

The Path to Well-Being

Co-regulation leads to growth, restoration, and the creation of positive narratives of well-being. It’s a path that rewrites the story of trauma into one of resilience and connection.

Encouraging Personal Reflection

Take a moment to pause and reflect on your own journey with connection, vulnerability and the role of trauma. Trauma, in its many forms, often leaves a hidden imprint on our lives, influencing how we interact with the world and those around us.

Think about the times you’ve faced challenges, the moments of distress, and the instances where you felt overwhelmed. How have these experiences shaped your view of relationships?


Consider the role that your relationships have played in your healing process. Have there been people in your life who provided a sense of safety and understanding when you needed it most? Think about the conversations that sparked a turning point in your healing, or the silent presence of someone that offered comfort without words.


Conversely, reflect on the times when relationships may have added to your struggles. Were there moments where you felt misunderstood, judged, or alone? Understanding these dynamics can be crucial in recognizing patterns and making conscious choices about the people you surround yourself with.


Ask yourself:

Who are the people that have helped me feel heard and understood?
In what ways have my relationships contributed to my sense of safety and well-being?
Are there instances where I felt my trauma was disregarded or misunderstood by others?
How have I changed in the context of my relationships since experiencing trauma?
What qualities do I now value in my relationships that perhaps I didn’t before?

This reflection is not just about understanding the past; it’s about shaping your future. Recognizing the impact of your experiences, beliefs and perceptions will empower you to seek out and nurture connections that are truly healing and supportive.

Final Thoughts on Co-Regulating Skills for Relationships

If you’re dealing with trauma, remember the importance of professional guidance in building co-regulated relationships. You’re not alone on this journey.

Healing through connection and co-regulation is not just a possibility; it’s a pathway that many have walked successfully.



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