The topic of trauma has been popular across social media platforms.  Some of the information is accurate and helpful. At the same time, other information has not been accurate.

Today, I want to talk about “neuroception.”  Is this a term that is familiar to you?  It’s okay if it isn’t.  Most people only know of the term if they study trauma or neuroscience.  Neuroception is a phenomenon first discussed by Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D., best known for polyvagal theory. It describes our unconscious neurological evaluation of risk and is distinct from perception, part of the conscious mind.  This phenomenon can cause us to initiate a response to a threat or trauma without realizing it.

Neuroception can occur at all ages.  In infants, this may cause a baby to coo in the presence of someone familiar and cry when a stranger enters the room.  For adolescents and adults, think about times in which your body responded before conscious thoughts.  For example, has there ever been a time when you were busy working on something, and someone walked in without your awareness?  Before you even recognize that your friend walked into the room, your heart starts pounding, and you gasp for air.  This is neuroception.

Individuals with trauma histories may experience neuroception more often.  Sometimes, our unconscious misidentifies risk.  In counseling, this is something that I have seen with clients who describe having panic attacks out of the blue.  They will often say, “I had a panic attack, but I have no idea why.  Nothing happened.”  Some clients even experience silent panic attacks, in which they have some of the panic symptoms but often do not have shortness of breath.  Silent panic attacks may include feeling dizzy, depersonalization and derealization, nausea, headaches, vision issues, and intrusive thoughts.

If neuroception is something that you experience, counseling can help.  Counseling provides a safe space to discuss fears and trauma, while unpacking emotional wounds carefully.  Counselors can help clients gain insight into their defense mechanisms and recognize triggers that lead to a sympathetic nervous system response (i.e., flight or fight).  Determining these factors can help create new, healthy coping skills and rewire neural circuits that created faulty neuroception.