This is a segment from my Polyvagal One Pagers free PDF in my File Share. There are more short lessons on the fundamentals of the Polyvagal Theory in that PDF as well. These are useful for your own short lessons, classes you might teach or handouts you might give out at a seminar or workshop.
safe & social + flight/fight = play
Play is a mixed state combination. It’s the ventral vagal social engagement system being utilized along with the sympathetic flight/fight system. Play is being mobilized while safe.
Play is shared, synchronous, in the same state and following the same rules. Face to face contact is an important aspect of ensuring that play remains safe. Using the face signals that the autonomic nervous system is still accessing the pathways for safety and social engagement.
Play exercises the ability to self-regulate; to tap into the defensive states while staying in the
safety state. The flight/fight mobilization system is being accessed and utilized, while under the influence of the social engagement system. When playing tag, the flight system is used. In wrestling, the fight system is being used. And when playing hide & seek, the shutdown system is being used. But all while actually safe.
Play can also be sharing attention on a task or game. Doing a puzzle, playing soccer, baking a
cake or even working together can all be considered play.
For traumatized individuals, play may become unsafe or be unappealing. The safety system needs to be accessible, which can be a significant challenge for a nervous system stuck in a defensive state. Both (or all) of the nervous systems that are engaging in play need to be able to give and receive cues of safety.
Have you ever heard of kids that “don’t play well with others”? These are kids who have lost
access to their safety state and what was once play becomes something else. This kid in a defensive state may end up hurting others, breaking the rules or quitting entirely.
For even more information on the Polyvagal Theory, check out these other resources I have:
You can download a 1-page Polyvagal Theory resource in my File Share. There's this and many many other one-pagers for you to use.
The Polyvagal 101 page
the Polyvagal Theory on the Stuck Not Broken podcast, episodes 101-109
plus everything else I have in the blog and the Polyvagal 101 course