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Shutdown / SNB104

Updated: Mar 19, 2023


  • In this episode, I continue our audio master class in the Polyvagal Theory with the dorsal vagal shutdown state of parasympathetic immobilization.

  • My name is Justin Sunseri.

  • I’m a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist obsessed with the polyvagal theory.

  • Welcome to Stuck Not Broken.


  • Lots more PVT resources on, including one-pagers on the fundamentals in the file share section

  • But before I get into things -put yourself first. I keep every episode as safe as I can, but just by the nature of the topics, you may experience some stuff come up. Take a break if you need to.

  • This podcast is not therapy, nor intended to be a replacement for therapy.


Evolutionary benefit

  • safe/social is for social engagement

  • flight/fight is for mobilization

  • Shutdown is for immobilization

    • Conservation of resources

    • Vs burning resources in sympathetic flight/fight

  • Everything slows down


A state we enter when we can’t run away or fight or size differential is too great

  • Collapse, dissociate, immobilize, “playing dead,”

    • Think of a possum, mouse in the jaws of a cat

  • Massive drop in blood pressure and heart rate

    • Slowing down of the body

  • Reduced blood flow to the brain = dissociation

    • Porges quote

  • Apnea - temporary cessation of breathing

    • Sleep apnea is a serious reduction in breathing, not safe

  • Inhibiting movement means less need for food due to decreased metabolism

  • Pain threshold is raised

  • System is located below in the gut

    • This is where you feel it, like around someone that kinda creeps you out


Odd posture, emitting foul-smelling odor from anal glands, stick out their tongue

  • Disgusts the predator because dead prey are a cue of danger. Maybe evolved to avoid a corpse which could carry bacteria or something

  • Sacrificing neighbors by playing dead - Predator will chase and ignore a corpse

  • Animals come out of this state in a short manner of time, will look for cues of safety


When we can’t use socialization to avoid danger, we can’t run or fight

  • A state we go into as a last resort

  • Supposed to be a short duration of immobilization

    • Not ongoing

  • But we can get stuck in shutdown

  • The daily state of shutdown is a reflection of the evolutionary benefit of conservation and psychological disconnection and numbness


The world is: overwhelming, uninteresting, pointless

Feelings of: hopelessness, numbness, foggy, tired, disconnection, alone, abandoned, worthless

Loss of: energy, motivation, connection, hope, executive function

Become more: cold due to poor blood circulation, dissociative, isolated, disoriented, hidden


  • Lots of judgment and self blame

    • Keeps the body in a small state of shame and guilt

  • Pessimism

    • “What’s the point?”

    • “I can’t do it.”

  • Worthlessness

    • “I’m unlovable”

    • “Nobody likes me.”

    • “I’m alone and always will be.”


  • Very difficult, requires patience

  • Not something we can rush

    • The judgment of the shutdown state makes this difficult

Getting out of this state requires a gentle return of energy

  • Through reorienting to the environment

    • Noticing what is around you, especially not too stimulating

    • Stimulate the senses

    • Being outside and feeling the breeze, watching a tree

  • Through small actions like walking

    • Just around my backyard

    • Clients will describe being alone in their room with dim lights under the blankets and coming out in small steps, with their eyes first and just looking around

  • Safe & Social cues like eye contact and smiles

  • Calm, quiet

    • Versus music

    • Sitting with someone versus playing or dancing

  • Coming out is noticeable

    • Energy in the system, sitting upright

    • Thoughts change to more powerful and motivated

  • Tonight I noticed more playful energy and playing catch with my son, helping to make dinner and helping him cut out his mother’s day designs; had more capacity to check in with him about his feelings at bedtime

Moving into flight/fight can trigger a sense of Danger, bringing the individual back into shutdown


  • Often confused

  • Freeze is coming up in the next episode

  • Something called a “mixed state”

    • Like mixing primary colors


  • BSA on website


This week’s Patreon episode -

Intro/Outro music & Transition Sounds by Benjo Beats -

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1 (800) 273-8255

National Domestic Violence Hotline -1 (800) 799-7233

LGBT Trevor Project Lifeline - 1 (866) 488-7386

National Sexual Assault Hotline - 1 (800) 656-4673

Crisis Text Line - Text “HOME” to 741741

Call 911 for emergency

This podcast is not therapy, not intended to be therapy or be a replacement for therapy. Nothing in this creates or indicates a therapeutic relationship. Please consult with your therapist or seek for one in your area if you are experiencing mental health sx. Nothing in this podcast should be construed to be specific life advice; it is for educational and entertainment purposes only.

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