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Resilience through Systems, Allostasis, & Polyvagal Theories

In addition to my clinical training in cognitive-behavioral and other therapies, my research, teaching, and practice weave three primary paradigms together: systems theory, allostasis, and polyvagal theory. Health from these integrated perspectives recognizes well-being as a dynamic process that is largely subjective. It implies continued activity and change and reflects an individual's capacity for adaptation and creative anticipation of environmental challenges at all levels. We are not and cannot be isolated from the context in which we live. Well-being emerges from healthy, functioning systems. How we nurture our biological and social ecosystems and how we facilitate personal and community growth determines the wholeness of our experience. Emotional safety in our intra- and interpersonal relationships is the foundation upon which we can build resilience. These three theories implore the following three concepts that are key for well-being:

  1. Interconnection

  2. Constant Change

  3. Emotional Safety

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1. Interconnection (Systems Theory):

Health from a systems view is "a state of well-being, resulting from a dynamic balance that involves the physical and psychological aspects of the organism, as well as its interactions with its natural and social environment (Capra, 1982, p. 323).

Recognizing inherent interconnection and the health of systems

within us and around us is key. 


2. Change (Allostasis):


Allostasis is the integrated process of adaptive change of an organism's internal environment to meet perceived

and anticipated demands of changing conditions to maintain viability, life, and well-being. (Allostasis is not allostatic stress, but is a related  concept). Homeostasis is "maintaining stability through constancy," while allostasis is "stability through change" (Sterling & Eyer, 1988). 

How we choose to guide our own adaptation is key.


3. Safety (Polyvagal Theory):

Healthy loving relationships with ourselves, others, and the natural environment are key to our wellbeing. We are not able to connect with others when our nervous system is in a hyper-aroused or in a depressed state. Well-being emerges when we connect to and expand our ability to physically and emotionally regulate, grow emotional safety into a sense of belongingness, and express essential emotions.

How we connect and care for ourselves

and others is key.


Image used with permission of Charrisa Fry.

Elements of Resilience (on a continuum)

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