Coresilience: Cultivating Inner Safety to Build Resilience Through Connection With Others

Written by Guy Reichard

March 30, 2024

When the Heart Closes to Protect

The other day I was watching a segment of Mayim Bialik’s ‘Breakdown’ – her neuroscience-informed, mental health podcast with guest Stephen Porges. Porges is the much-admired and respected creator of The Polyvagal Theory (you can learn about it here).

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Vagus Nerve lately – the wandering nerve with multiple branches, a communication cable of sorts, that travels from our heads to our hearts to our guts.

Polyvagal Theory helps us understand the autonomic nervous system in new and important ways with significant ramifications. It highlights the roles of the various branches of the Vagus Nerve in regulating physiological and emotional responses, and influencing our ability to experience safety, engage with others, and respond to threats, shedding light on the complexities of social behavior, trauma, and resilience.

When I watched the podcast, I’ll admit, I was in a gloomy mood, feeling really down and hurt by the meteoric rise of Antisemitism around the world, and very very close to my home. The massive protests with hateful, violent chants, the gleeful intimidation, the vandalism, the bullying of children, and on and on. It’s sickening to my core and Polyvagal Theory helps me understand what’s happening inside my brain and body when I find myself retreating within and withdrawing from social engagement.

One line Porges said in particular, struck me:

“The people who have survived trauma teach us about what it is to be human, by teaching us what they’ve lost – and they’ve lost the ability to feel safe enough with another.”

That hit me like a punch in the gut.

I know what it’s like to lose the ability to feel safe with another, how alone that feels, and the true gift it is to recover that ability, even if only in limited circumstances.

It got me thinking deeply about how the need for connection and social engagement, which have so many benefits to our psychological and physiological wellbeing, is often at odds with the need for safety. How, at a time when we could use the support of others, the hearts of others, some of us just can’t open up to receive those benefits – instead, we close our hearts, we isolate and we shut down to protect ourselves.

In this article I’ll explore with you:


This article explores the profound need and impact of feeling safe within ourselves and with others, delving into the neuroscience behind it, and offering practical steps to cultivate inner safety, regulation, and resilience through heart-centered practices, so we can ultimately connect with others, and mutually reinforce resilience and wellbeing.

What’s Important About Our Sense of Safety?

When our bodies register safety, we are open to our full potential, in every way possible:

  • Our nervous system shifts into a state of calmness and relaxation, not to be confused with rest, allowing us to engage fully with the world around us, fostering feelings of connection, trust, and openness.
  • Our physiological responses reflect a sense of security and wellbeing, supporting emotional agility, cognitive flexibility, and social engagement, enabling us to navigate life’s challenges, and its peaks and valleys, with greater resilience, adaptability, and grace.
  • Our brains release neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and endorphins, which promote feelings of warmth, contentment, and connection. This neurochemical cascade not only enhances our sense of emotional wellbeing but also strengthens our bonds with others, fostering deeper relationships and a greater sense of belonging.

When our bodies register threats, our full potential is limited, and our bodies focus on protection and survival, which is completely necessary – however, when in locked in defense/protection mode for too long (for some a lifetime) and triggered into defense inappropriately:

  • Cascades of stress responses are triggered that leave us feeling on edge and hypervigilant, potentially leading to chronic tension, difficulty relaxing, and a constant sense of unease, disrupting our ability to connect authentically with ourselves and others.
  • We may experience a pervasive sense of disconnection, as our innate instincts for social engagement become overshadowed by fear and mistrust. This is amplified for those with trauma or attachment injuries that they may not even be aware of. This disconnection can manifest in various ways, from withdrawing from social interactions to adopting defensive behaviors that keep others at arm’s length, further perpetuating feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Our emotional resilience may be compromised, making it harder to navigate life’s challenges with grace and equanimity. Instead of feeling calm, clear and confident, we may find ourselves feeling insecure and doubtful, easily overwhelmed by stressors, reacting impulsively or defensively to perceived threats, and struggling to recover a sense of balance and perspective.

Our sense of safety serves as the cornerstone of our wellbeing, influencing every aspect of our lives from our emotional resilience to our capacity for meaningful connection. By understanding the profound impact of safety on our physiological and psychological states, we gain insight into the vital role it plays in shaping our experiences and relationships.

Our Internal Safety Detection System: Neuroception

Neuroception is our innate ability to detect cues of safety, danger, or threat in our environment, influencing our physiological and emotional responses without conscious awareness.

Neuroception is preconscious – meaning it’s influencing your emotions, physiological responses and thoughts like a filter, without you knowing about it, and everything you see and experience is through that filter.

This primal mechanism plays a pivotal role in regulating our nervous system and guiding our interactions, enabling us to navigate the complexities of social engagement and self-preservation with remarkable precision and efficiency.


Faulty neuroception occurs when our innate ability to accurately assess safety or danger in our environment becomes compromised. This can manifest in a variety of ways, such as hypervigilance, chronic anxiety, or difficulty forming trusting relationships.

Faulty neuroception may be caused by a range of factors, including early childhood trauma, adverse life experiences, chronic stress, or disruptions in attachment relationships. These experiences can disrupt the development of our neuroceptive systems, leading to biases or inaccuracies in our perceptions of safety and trustworthiness.

As a result, individuals with faulty neuroception may struggle to distinguish between genuine threats and benign stimuli, leading to heightened reactivity, emotional dysregulation, and challenges in forming secure connections with others.

Without being able to form secure connections with others, individuals may experience profound feelings of loneliness, alienation, and disconnection, perpetuating a cycle of emotional distress and social isolation.

This lack of secure attachment can have far-reaching consequences, impacting various aspects of one’s life, including mental health, emotional wellbeing, and overall quality of life.

In the absence of secure connections, individuals may struggle to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and cope with life’s challenges effectively, leading to heightened vulnerability to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

The absence of secure connections can hinder personal growth and hinder the development of resilience, making it excruciatingly more difficult to bounce back from adversity or cultivate a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Ultimately, without the foundation of secure connections, feeling safe and attuned with others, some of us may find ourselves caught in a cycle of emotional turmoil and relational strife, longing for the safety and belonging that comes from authentic, supportive relationships but never able to fully feel safe with another.

Much of this depends on healthy functional regulation, which forms the bedrock of our ability to navigate the complexities of human connection and emotional wellbeing, which we’ll explore next.

What are Regulation and Coregulation?

Regulation, also known as emotional regulation, encompasses the dynamic interplay between our nervous system, emotions, and cognition, allowing us to maintain a state of equilibrium and respond adaptively to internal and external stressors.

Being well regulated doesn’t mean always feeling completely calm and centered. It means we respond appropriately and effectively to various stimuli, whether arousing, distressing, pleasurable, or enraging, and are able to return to our calm, open-hearted selves with relative ease in a reasonable amount of time. A good metaphor is surfing – riding the waves of emotion all the way to completion.

When our ability to regulate is compromised, whether due to early childhood trauma, chronic stress, or disruptions in attachment relationships, it undermines our full potential, our health, and our capacity to form secure connections and navigate social interactions with ease.

Without healthy regulation, individuals may find themselves caught in patterns of reactivity, defensiveness, or emotional numbness, hindering their ability to cultivate meaningful relationships and experience a sense of belonging.

Therefore, cultivating healthy regulation is essential for fostering resilience, promoting physical and emotional wellbeing, and laying the foundation for secure and fulfilling connections with others.

Coregulation – because we do not come equipped to regulate ourselves.

The origins of our regulation abilities are found in coregulation, the life-nurturing process of mutual influence and synchronization between individuals’ nervous systems, particularly but not only in the context of early caregiving relationships.

During infancy and childhood, caregivers play the pivotal role in coregulating their child’s physiological and emotional states, providing a secure base from which the child learns to regulate their own internal experiences.

However, not all of us received consistent, attuned, reliable coregulation in our formative years, which has profound implications for our emotional development and regulatory capacities.

In instances where coregulation was lacking or disrupted, due to factors such as parental stress, neglect, emotionally unavailable caregivers, or trauma, individuals may struggle to develop secure attachment bonds and learn to regulate their emotions effectively. This can result in dysregulated patterns of behavior, added stress, and challenges in forming healthy relationships later in life.

Without the foundation of good coregulation, individuals may find themselves grappling with feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and disconnection, impacting their overall wellbeing and fulfillment in relationships – both personal and professional.

Not Just for Babies

While coregulation plays a crucial role in early childhood development, its significance extends far beyond infancy. Throughout our lives, we continue to engage in coregulatory processes during social interactions, whether consciously or unconsciously. These interactions occur in various contexts, from intimate relationships to professional settings, where individuals influence each other’s physiological and emotional states.

In some instances, individuals may support each other in achieving a state of regulation, promoting feelings of safety and connection. However, in situations of conflict or distress, we can throw each other into dysregulation, as heightened emotions and stress responses are exchanged between parties.

This dynamic interplay underscores the importance of cultivating self-awareness and regulation skills to navigate social interactions effectively and foster positive relationships. Therefore, understanding the role of coregulation in shaping our regulatory capacities is essential for fostering healing, resilience, healthy interpersonal dynamics, as well as, safe and positive leadership and work environments.

The Conundrum of Coregulation

The Conundrum of Coregulation lies at the heart of our struggle to connect authentically with others in the face of stress, trauma, and dysregulation. On one hand, coregulation offers a profound opportunity for healing and growth, enabling us to regulate our emotions and nervous systems in the presence of a regulated other. But for individuals grappling with unresolved attachment wounds, social anxiety, chronic stress, or trauma, the very act of staying regulated with another can feel impossible.

The conundrum arises from the paradoxical nature of coregulation: while we yearn for connection and support, our nervous systems may be locked in a state of hypervigilance, defensive arousal, or emotional shutdown. In these moments of dysregulation, our capacity for social engagement is compromised, making it difficult to trust others, open our hearts, and attune to their presence.

Moreover, the fear and stress that underlie dysregulation create a vicious cycle: the more disconnected we feel, the more we retreat into isolation, further exacerbating our sense of loneliness and disconnection. This self-perpetuating cycle reinforces maladaptive patterns of behavior, hindering our ability to reach out for support and engage in the coregulatory process.

Breaking free from the Conundrum of Coregulation, so we can ultimately regulate and feel safe in connection with others, requires a multifaceted approach, rooted in self-awareness, compassion, and resilience building practices. See the HeartRich Resilience Matrix below for such an approach.

Overcoming the Conundrum of Coregulation requires a shift in perspective – from seeing dysregulation as a barrier to connection, to viewing it as an opportunity for deep personal growth and transformation.

This growth opportunity beckons us to return to our true essence, to our open-hearted, authentic selves – to reconnect with our inner sense of safety and trust. By cultivating what I’d like to call ‘Coresilience’, we embrace the inherent capacity within us to transcend adversity, to grow, and to help each other thrive. It’s a journey back to our hearts, and back to safety within ourselves, so we can extend that safety outward and forge meaningful and restorative connections with others.

HeartRich Resilience Matrix

Coresilience – Leveraging Our Hearts to Build Safety Within and Become a Safe Other

Through intentional practice, self-compassion, and a commitment to growth, we can overcome isolation, connect authentically with others, and become positive influences of safety, love, and vitality. Leveraging the power of our hearts and intervening at the heart level offers a profound pathway to cultivating regulation, coherence, resilience, and holistic healing.

Our hearts are not just physical organs; they are also centers of emotional intelligence and energetic coherence. By learning to tune into the wisdom of our hearts, we can access a profound source of inner guidance, balance, and wellbeing.

At the nervous system level, we can cultivate heart-rich coherence through practices which focus on increasing Heart Rate Variability (HRV) to promote physiological and emotional resilience.

HRV reflects the variation in the time intervals between heartbeats and is a key indicator of autonomic nervous system function. High HRV (also known as high vagal tone – bringing back that Vagus Nerve to the discussion) is associated with greater adaptability, emotional flexibility, stress resilience, and longevity.

HeartMath Coherence App

By engaging in practices that promote coherence, such as heart-focused breathing coupled with generating positive emotions and heartfelt appreciation, we can synchronize the rhythms of our heart and brain, restoring a state of inner harmony and balance.

Building regulation abilities at the nervous system level involves learning to regulate our emotions, thoughts, and physiological responses from a place of heart-centered awareness. This involves cultivating qualities such as compassion, kindness, and empathy towards ourselves and others. When we approach life from a heart-rich center, we are better able to navigate challenges with grace and resilience, fostering a sense of inner calm and stability even in the face of adversity.

Furthermore, intervening at the heart level can facilitate healing on multiple levels – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Research has shown that practicing heart-centered techniques such as loving-kindness meditation, heart coherence exercises, and compassionate self-care can have profound effects on our overall wellbeing, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and promoting greater emotional balance and vitality.

When we live and lead from this heart-rich center, we are able to connect more deeply with ourselves and others, creating new learning experiences for ourselves, updating our neuroceptive systems, and fostering relationships built on trust, compassion, and mutual respect. Thus, creating the safety we so desperately need, which will help us tap into our innate capacity for healing, growth, and transformation, leading to a life of greater joy, fulfillment, and vitality.

Building Inner Safety with Heart

Now, let us delve into practical ways to integrate these insights into our daily lives through a curated list of positive practices. These practices, rooted in mindfulness, compassion, and self-awareness, offer pathways to enhance our regulation, resilience, and capacity for connection, empowering us to embody the transformative potential of the heart.

Start Small and Gradually Build: It’s essential to start with one or two practices initially, rather than overwhelming yourself with too many at once. Begin with practices that feel accessible and manageable for you, considering factors such as skill level, distress tolerance, and personal preferences. As you become more comfortable with these practices, you can gradually explore and incorporate additional ones into your routine.

Seek Reliable Resources and Instruction: Once you’ve identified the practices you’d like to explore, seek out reliable resources and instruction to learn more about them. Look for reputable sources authored by experts or practitioners in the respective fields. (If you’re interested in doing this work with me, please explore The HeartRich Resilience Fundamentals and HeartMath for Leaders.)

Explore Different Formats and Modalities: Keep in mind that different people may resonate with different formats and modalities of practice. Experiment with various approaches and teachers to see what resonates best with you. For example, if you’re interested in mindfulness, you might explore mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), or mindfulness apps that offer guided meditations.

Practice Consistently and Persistently: Consistency is key to deriving maximum benefits from any practice. Commit to incorporating your chosen practices into your daily or weekly routine, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. Set realistic goals and hold yourself accountable to maintain regular practice over time. Remember that meaningful change often occurs gradually, so be patient and persistent in your efforts.

Priming the Positive and Cultivating Regulation (Solo Practices):

Here’s a comprehensive list of practices that individuals can do mostly alone to prime the positive, regulate their nervous systems, and cultivate resilience, followed by steps to gradually connect and coregulate with others (including pets):

  1. Heart-Centered Breathing: Engage in heart-centered breathing to synchronize your breath and heart rhythms, fostering emotional coherence.
  2. Take the HeartMath Experience Course: HeartMath teaches you to build coherence / high vagal tone plus resilience building skills.
  3. Self-Compassion Exercises: Practice self-compassion exercises to cultivate kindness and understanding towards yourself.
  4. Humming & Singing: humming stimulates your vagus nerve and helps the body regulate + explore other Polyvagal-Informed Exercises.
  5. Havening: harness the simple powers of soothing self-touch to promote emotional and physical calm.
  6. Gratitude Journaling: Write down three things you’re grateful for each day to shift your focus towards positivity and the vibe of appreciation.
  7. Mindfulness Meditation: Practice mindfulness meditation to cultivate present-moment awareness, cultivate acceptance, and promote relaxation.
  8. Nature Connection: Spend time in nature to ground yourself, reduce stress, and foster a sense of connection with the natural world.
  9. Creative Expression: Engage in creative activities such as painting, writing, or playing music to express yourself and tap into your inner creativity.
  10. Healthy Nutrition: Nourish your body with nutrient-rich foods to support physical health and optimize brain function.
  11. Positive Affirmations: Repeat believable uplifting positive affirmations or mantras to challenge negative self-talk and cultivate self-confidence.
  12. Mindful Movement Practices: Practice mindful movement practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong or Feldenkrais to connect mind, body, and spirit.
  13. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Practice progressive muscle relaxation to release tension and promote physical and mental relaxation.
  14. Visualization: Use visualization techniques to imagine positive outcomes and reinforce feelings of hope.
  15. Visualization II: Use visualization techniques to imagine distressing events and how you manage and overcome them reinforcing optimism and self-belief.
  16. Self-Care Rituals: Establish self-care rituals such as taking a warm bath, enjoying a cup of tea, or practicing aromatherapy to nurture yourself.

Gradual Steps for Connecting and Coregulating with Others:

  1. Pet a Pet: spending time with and petting calm animals lowers the stress hormone cortisol and increases levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin.
  2. Identify Safe Others: Identify trusted individuals in your life who can provide support, understanding, nonjudgment and compassion – start with a therapist or highly regulated coach.
  3. Practice Active Listening: Listen attentively and empathically to others without judgment or interruption. Practice attuning while listening.
  4. Share Vulnerabilities: Gradually open up and share your vulnerabilities with safe others to deepen trust and connection.
  5. Seek Support: Reach out to supportive friends, family members, or professionals for guidance and encouragement when needed.
  6. Know Your Limits & Set Your Boundaries: Define and communicate your needs and boundaries clearly with others to ensure healthy and respectful interactions.
  7. Engage in Shared Activities: Participate in activities or hobbies with others to foster shared experiences and strengthen bonds.
  8. Cultivate Gratitude: Cultivate gratitude towards safe others for their presence, support, and contributions to your life.
  9. Express Gratitude: Express appreciation and gratitude towards safe others for their support and presence in your life. Write a gratitude letter.
  10. Offer Support: Offer support and encouragement to others in their times of need, fostering reciprocity and mutual care.
  11. Practice Empathy: Cultivate empathy and understanding towards others’ experiences and emotions, strengthening interpersonal connections.
  12. Celebrate Successes: Celebrate achievements and milestones together with safe others, reinforcing positive connections and shared joy.
  13. Practice Forgiveness: Practice forgiveness and compassion towards oneself and others, releasing resentment and promoting healing.
  14. Communicate Openly: Foster open and honest communication with safe others, allowing for authentic expression and connection.
  15. Embrace Imperfection: Embrace imperfection and authenticity in yourself and others, fostering acceptance and connection.
  16. Tai Chi or Qi Gong: share the mindful practice of Tai Chi or Qi Gong, fostering a sense of unity and well-being through synchronized movement and breath.

By incorporating these practices into your life, you can prime the positive, regulate your nervous system, and gradually connect and coregulate with others, ultimately becoming a strong, positive, and vibrant force for yourself and those around you.


In exploring the intricacies of resilience and the profound impact of coregulation on our ability to connect authentically with others, we have delved deep into the heart of what it means to feel safe, regulated, and empowered in our relationships and experiences. At the core of our journey lies the recognition that our sense of safety serves as the foundation upon which we build our emotional resilience, navigate life’s challenges, and foster meaningful connections with others.

We have uncovered the complexities of coregulation, highlighting both its transformative potential for healing and growth, as well as the challenges it presents for those grappling with trauma, anxiety, or dysregulation.

Central to our discussion has been the recognition of the transformative potential inherent in a heart-centered approach inviting us to cultivate inner safety, regulation, and resilience within ourselves, so we may become positive, safe partners in coregulation with others.

By leveraging the power of our hearts and engaging in intentional practices that promote coherence, compassion, and self-awareness, we tap into our innate capacity for growth and connection. In doing so, we not only enrich our own lives but also create ripple effects of healing and love that extend far beyond ourselves, shaping a world built on trust, compassion, and mutual respect.

  1. Val

    I can’t express how much this article resonates with me. I never realized how deeply the need for safety intertwined with my struggles to connect with others. As someone who has faced trauma and struggled with regulating my emotions, the concept of coresilience feels hopeful, and gives me a sense of direction. I have tried many of the practical suggestions you offered but will keep trying. Thank you Guy for this empowering piece!

    • Guy Reichard

      You’re very welcome, Val. Thank you for sharing and I’m so glad to hear it resonates with you and gives you a sense of hope. Please feel free to be in touch and let me know how you’re doing with the practices, and if there’s any other way I can support you.


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