41 | You’re Stuck Not Broken – Introducing Polyvagal Theory (with Justin Sunseri)


Do you ever feel overwhelmed and confused by the unending conveyor belt of new labels and training programs professing to be the missing piece in the puzzle of your life?

We are sold the latest systems and interventions requiring expert knowledge. We throw our money at solutions with no fixed destination and a never-ending supply of potential new up-sells and add-ons.

Many of us get caught in personal development cycles, seeking the next thing that promises to help us get unstuck. But rather than being stuck because we haven’t found the perfect model, what if the quest for perfect itself, is a symptom of being stuck at a more foundational physiological level?

Therapist and host of the “Stuck Not Broken” podcast, Justin Sunseri, joins us in this episode of the Gentle Rebel Podcast. He shares his passion for Polyvagal Theory and its transformative role in trauma recovery.

Polyvagal Theory and The Science of Safety

Justin refers to Polyvagal Theory as the science of safety in the relational biology of mammals. He suggests that people don’t break; instead, they find themselves stuck. Hope for improvement, change, and growth always exists, but we may find ourselves stuck in a defensive autonomic state, such as flight, fight, shut down, or freeze.

When stuck in this way, we resort to patterns of protection that have kept us “safe” in the past.

I wanted our conversation to be an informal introduction to Polyvagal Theory and to get Justin’s perspective on its theoretical foundations and potential application in everyday life.

In our conversation, we talk about:

  • How Justin stumbled on Polyvagal Theory as a frustrated therapist working in the U.S. school system.
  • Where stuck states arise and what to do with them.
  • Why Polyvagal Theory isn’t a therapeutic and treatment style/metaphorical model (it is a research-based scientific framework).
  • The three core states of Polyvagal Theory (Vagal Safety, Sympathetic Fight/Flight, Dorsal Shutdown). How does their defensive form impact behaviour, thoughts, and feelings?
  • How each of us has different go-to actions in a state of mobilised fight, flight, or life-threatening shutdown.
  • An explanation of the mixed states freeze, play, and stillness. Justin also defines and critiques the three new mixed states recently added: appeasement, faun, and intimacy. Are these helpful or unnecessarily confusing?
  • Puzzle Completion Therapy – a wholly made-up therapeutic system Justin invented in one of his podcast episodes. He shows how simple it is to create a legitimate-sounding model to sell to people looking for help.
  • The temporary nature of therapy and coaching. Plus some red flags to look out for when partnering with professionals.
  • And much more…

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